You can’t make this shit up. Just as one of the most watershed years for women in music was coming to an end, Bono — riding unreasonably high on the lukewarm reception of U2’s mediocre new record, Songs of Experience — thought it time to announce to the world via a Rolling Stone interview that music has become “very girly.”
In an interview, Jann Wenner, the cofounder of Rolling Stone and a longtime friend of the U2 frontman, let him continue.
“And there are some good things about that,” Bono said, “but hip-hop is the only place for young male anger at the moment — and that’s not good.”
Hip-hop, sayeth Bono, has usurped rock as the place where young men can get in touch with their inner rage, which, as Bono sees it, powers rock ’n’ roll. And that’s not good. For someone who forcibly thrust his band’s album to the entire iPhone-owning world, he sure seems blissfully unaware that The Sex Pistols and Ramones’ discographies are never more than just a few Spotify clicks away. Not to mention how one of the most exciting hip-hop artists to break through in 2017 — you know, in the genre supposedly serving as the last bastion of young male rage — is Cardi B, a woman.
But Cardi B and the entire history of women in rock are inconsequential to Bono, who has offered enough eye roll-inducing opinions in recent years to turn himself into a cringe-worthy meme. Sure, no one bothers to feign surprise when Bono spouts off another ill-informed opinion, but it’s hard to fault ourselves for wishing he would just give it a rest already. A 2007 episode of South Park rightly pinned him as “such a piece of crap,” despite (if not partially because of) his ceaseless displays of charity work.
We’ll stick with calling him reactionary. Bono, a dude-rock establishment for decades who’s somehow incapable of shutting up about what does and does not define rock, seems threatened. U2’s heyday is behind it. And the power dynamics of the music world at large have been shaken loose.
Case in point: Joni Mitchell is finally being hailed as the genius she has always been. The New York Times published a buzzed-about article and round-table discussion titled Rock’s Not Dead, It’s Ruled By Women in September. (Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis, Diet Cig’s Alex Luciano, and Downtown Boy’s Victoria Ruiz all offered insights.) In July, NPR Music published a list of the 150 greatest albums made by women, slating Joni Mitchell’s Blue and Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in the one and two spots, respectively.
The list goes on. Thinkpiece after thinkpiece pointed to Mitski, Japanese Breakfast, Jay Som, Perfume Genius, and Vagabon as evidence that indie rock is no longer the territory of skinny white dudes with girl problems. “Bodak Yellow” hit cultural phenomenon levels. Love her or hate her, Taylor Swift won a symbolic $1 countersuit against a DJ who allegedly groped her, then knocked “Despacito” out of the no. 1 spot on Billboard with “Look What You Made Me Do.” As the year wound to a close, Lorde, St. Vincent, and SZA made regular appearances beside Kendrick Lamar and Vince Staples on year-end best-of lists.
Meanwhile, the #MeToo movement swept through the industry. Sheryl Crow, Björk, and Lady Gaga came forward; PWR BTTM, Brand New’s Jesse Lacey, and Ducktails’ Matt Mondanile fell from grace. L.A. Reid and Russell Simmons fielded rape accusations. The twisted dream, in all its patriarchal toxicity, was over.
Thank goddess for that. #MeToo not only broke the silence, it helped shake rock free of the young-male-anger stranglehold Bono so treasures.
That said, Bono’s comment, alongside the #MeToo accusations, speaks to rock’s innate aversion to women across all eras. Rock prefers its women to be muted muses: Laylas, Mustang Sallys, Sweet Carolines, hordes of nameless women whose narratives begin and end with her effect on a man. Even the rise of political punk in the ’80s left little room for girls — at the front or otherwise — until the women of Riot grrrl demanded it.
But the Riot grrrl sea change failed to turn the tides for good. As the ’90s gave way to the 2000s, new subgenres found creative new ways to marginalize. In her landmark 2003 essay Emo: Where The Girls Aren’t, Jessica Hopper aired her frustrations at emo and punk’s newfound myopic misogyny: “I simply cannot substantiate the effort it takes to give a flying fuck about the genre/plague we know as emo songs that don’t consider the world beyond boy bodies, their broken hearts, or their vans.”
Bono laments rock’s surrender to the girls; most young women revel in how the genre is no longer the exclusive domain of angry young men eager to lament the women who dared wrong them. But if #MeToo has proven anything, it’s that the overwhelming number of victims of male rage are women.
What Bono fails to acknowledge — and it’s difficult to educate yourself on the way culture is changing when you’ve spent every album cycle professing what rock ’n’ roll means to whatever journalist will listen — is that the mainstream influence of the genre he so loves (and is weirdly eager to eulogize) has been on a steady decline for years. Hip-hop is to the 21st century what rock was to the second half of the 20th century. Rock’s cultural capital has lessened, creating an underground environment primed for women to start rewriting the rules.
And that is exactly what is happening — inside and outside the genre. Beyoncé is the biggest artist on the planet, period. Last year, her younger sister made one of the most remarkable R&B albums of all time. It took decades, but women have taken a seat at the table. Bono can think what he wants. We won’t be relinquishing it anytime soon.