The New York Times Correctly Declares Women Are Rock's Saviors. What Now?

via Bao Ngo, Lora Mathis, and Johnny Fabrizio

The New York Times recently published an extensive multimedia package centered around a crucial and undeniable fact: Women Are Making the Best Rock Music Today. It follows the cover story in last week’s Sunday Arts & Leisure section, a roundtable discussion with front-members of inventive indie acts Sheer Mag, Vagabon, Diet Cig, Sad13, Downtown Boys, and Snail Mail, among others. The story highlighted a diverse group of women, of all ages, ethnicities, races, and backgrounds, in conversation with one another, an introductory exploration into everyday injustices and realities. The online counterpart furthers the conversation by offering a 50-artist playlist and a 25-band feature, made up of acts who prove the initial claim to be true—rock’s not dead, it’s being revolutionized by women just south of the mainstream.

More often than not, pieces that attempt to discuss gender in music miss the mark and have an opposite effect: they other identities in a piss-poor attempt at inclusion, if it were genuine and healthy representational endeavors in the first place. But the New York Times’ did not put together another “Women in Rock” feature—they wrote into canon “Women are Rock,” a specific distinction that does not marginalize a minority group’s skillset, but instead serves to illustrate that the most exciting and innovative voices in guitar-based music (and beyond) are coming from women, non-binary, and trans people. They’re occupying the spaces once reserved only for cis-gendered, straight white men and they’re doing it better.


The NYT’s interactive list of 25 women/non-binary/trans musicians describes each project by its sound, not its extramusical narrative (though most of me wishes the posts were longer than a straight-to-the-bone sentence or two). Far too often women are written into history emotively—it’s an unfair rarity that their chops will be highlighted or expounded upon (gravely disappointing in the case of someone like Sad13’s Sadie Dupuis, who can easily shred circles around her male counterparts) and this feature did an excellent job of introducing the idea, though there’s more work to be done. The question is, now that these incredible women have been given space in the paper of record, where do we go from here?

Rock music is a hotbed for inequalities because they are inherent in its ancestry and framework. (It’s no coincidence that the genre and its subgenres are littered with hit songs predicated on misogyny, stolen from the sounds of black and brown artists.) That means even the most empathetic eyes can struggle to see they’re isolating somebody in their lyrics, in their touring lineups, in their studios. It means fans of this music must work to unlearn apathy and acceptance for wrongdoing. It’s a continuous task, but features like these serve to assist in the struggle to make music the democratic and universal experience it should be.

But with that said, nothing is perfect. I couldn’t help but notice that the images used to represent Brooklyn’s Aye Nako, for example, didn’t include the band’s two trans members, and that in the package’s 25 predominately featured bands, there appeared to be no Asian-American artists, when discussing indie rock in 2017 seems impossible with the inclusion of Mitski, Japanese Breakfast, Jay Som, and others. (For what it’s worth, all three make an appearance on the playlist.) Those are perhaps oversights, but I can’t help but think they probably made someone feel excluded. Once again, the conversation must continue.

Inspired by the New York Times efforts towards transparency and inclusion, we’ve compiled a playlist of 50 more women/non-binary/trans musicians (under the loosely defined rock umbrella, of course) to listen to. TheNYT opened their platform to comprehensive conversations happening in and around D.I.Y. music, and we’d like to continue to it for those looking for a deeper dive. Enjoy!


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About the author

Maria Sherman

this is my day job: senior writer at jezebel