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The Bechdel Test for Music

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April 3, 2015

Photo of Kim Gordon by Bertrand from Paris. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Kim Gordon by Bertrand from Paris. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

You might be familiar with something used to critique the film industry called The Bechdel Test. In 1985 it was created by a cartoonist named Alison Bechdel as a way to measure female representation in films. The test has three easy parts,

  1. A film has to have at least two women in it
  2. They have to talk to each other
  3. They have to talk about something other than a man

Seems simple enough? Amazingly however today still about half of films don’t pass the test.

As the test remains a good starting point for critiquing our film consumption I wondered if the test could be applied to other fields as well, like television or music. Then I found an article written for Pitchfork by Paul de Revere that adopts the Bechdel Test for music. De Revere modified the Bechdel Test as such,

  1. The song must have at least one female-identifying lead performer, performing as themselves or a female-identifying likeness
  2. Involve the female self, another woman, other women or otherwise an implied female audience in the song’s lyrics
  3. Have a central lyrical topic or theme that’s something or someone besides a man

As I listen to a broad range of music genres and a fairly large amount of female musicians I thought I’d give this a try. Here are five of my favorite songs that pass the Bechdel Test for  Music.

  1. Sleater Kinney- Price Tag (2015)
    One of my most recent finds has quickly become a favorite band of mine. Sleater-Kinney is a three piece all female band that formed in the mid 90’s in the Pacific Northwest during the Riot Grrl feminist movement. Newly reunited after an eight year hiatus their newest album tackles issues facing society at large. In Price Tag in particular the focus is on a woman trying to make a living for herself in today’s economy.
  2. Rilo Kiley- A Better Son/Daughter (2002)
    Rilo Kiley was a Jenny Lewis project of the late 90s that featured her as the lead singer in a band also made up of Blake Sennett, Pierre de Reeder, and Dave Rock. In this song Lewis comments on a person’s struggle to remain true to themselves in the face of hoplessness.
  3. Now Now- Separate Rooms (2012) 
    One of my favorite bands because of their hauntingly dark lyrics Now Now is a  three piece band comprised of lead singer Cacie Dalager, Bradley Hale, and Jess Abbott. This song comments one of the members dealing with a parent’s divorce. 
  4. Dixie Chicks- Not Ready to Make Nice  (2006)
    One of the few country bands that I love, mostly because of my mom playing them in the car so much when I was younger, the Dixie Chicks are three piece band comprised of Martie Erwin Maguire and Emily Erwin Robison, and lead singer Natalie Maines. This song is in response to a comment Maines made in 2003 regarding President George Bush and her disdain of his being from Texas. The song explains the animosity that she faced and her refusal to apologize.
  5. First Aid Kit- Master Pretender (2014)
    A swedish folk duo  Klara Söderberg accompanies her older sister Johanna to make First Aid Kit. This song comments on growing up and moving away while simultaneously feeling very alone.

Finding these five songs was a lot harder than I imagined mainly because a lot of my favorite music is commentary on relationships (and more often than not heterosexual ones.) It’s important to remember as well that the Bechdel Test of whichever form is only the bare minimum in achieving gender equality in film or music.

Can you list some of your favorite songs that pass the Bechdel Music Test? List them in the comments below!

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