As a young preteen in the 1990s, nothing was more empowering than the undeniable potency of GIRL POWER. As I close out my late 20s, there has been no other impact as profound as learning about decolonization, self-love, and healing. What I love the most throughout these ongoing processes, is watching my sisters and the womxn around me remember who the fuck they are and rise up to change their worlds, through community organizing, education, policy, arts, and music. This week I share some of my all-time favorite girl groups and songs, from R&B to K-Pop, to channel that Girl Power— and of course, to fuck shit up.
* * *
RHAPSODISTAS – First, I NEED to talk about the heart-stopping moment I found out my college professor was a rapper. Professor Irene Duller teaches Asian American Studies at SF State, where I was her student, and during an event on campus she turned out to be prolific AF on the microphone!! To kick off this tribute, let’s bring it back to this Filipina American four-womxn rap crew, consisting of Khristine de Leon, who we now know as Rocky Rivera— then known as EyeASage, Irene “Shorty Rockwell” Duller, Natasha “Sola” Pineda, Valerie “Sho Shock” Francisco, and Liezel “Zelstarrr” Rivera, who later joined as a singer. The Rhapsodistas was formed in 2004, and took on casual topics to radical politics, taking Asian America by storm via Myspace Music, and capturing the hearts of young womxn Hip Hop heads like myself.
After having trouble finding videos online, I reached out to folks on Facebook and hopefully will be receiving footage soon! However, in lieu of finding their audio tracks, I’ve stumbled across a handful of essays and books that cite the group in examples of Filipina American representation within Hip Hop, as artists who not only carry a political message, but also challenge the norm of male-dominated spaces as an all-womxn emcee group. In the meantime, read their story from Hyphen Magazine.
While I’m here, let me add that Rocky Rivera’s “Heart” rocked my world, and if possible in an alternate universe where time isn’t linear, the likes of Gabriela Silang, Angela Davis, and Dolores Huerta as a group would be an amazing girl gang; Which leads me to this joint from Nom de Guerre (2015), “GRLGNG,” with her ride-or-die’s, DJ Roza, and Irie Eyez:
* * *
One Vo1ce – Hailing from Vallejo, California, this Filipina R&B group formed in the late 1990s, during the rise of Filipino R&B acts like Pinay, Kai, and Devotion. Here’s a real question: who DIDN’T new-school cha-cha to “Always On My Mind?” Growing up with One Vo1ce as a Bay Area staple meant that all our school performances from middle school to high school to cotillions had us kickball-changing to this track for over 10 years. Not only is One Vo1ce a treasure and favorite memory, they provided a soundtrack to our Bay Area millennial adolescence.
* * *
“HIJABI” by Mona Haydar – Not only did I want to highlight girl groups, I wanted to include tracks that rally womxn together. As the Filipino American community has been experiencing the sweeping phenomenon of Ruby Ibarra’s “Us,” as an anthem to remember the collective power of Filipina womxn (essay on “Us” coming soon), there came a similarly intense track released a little earlier in March 2017, called “Hijabi,” by Mona Haydar. The song, “Hijabi,” which means ‘womxn wearing a hijab,’ formulates a reclaiming of power in direct response to the worldwide decades-long harassment and xenophobia against Arab and Arab Americans, Muslim beliefs, and similar religious symbols, which has more often than not resulted in violent assaults and murder of womxn wearing hijabs and other forms of coverings, especially post-9/11. With racist propaganda within movies, tv shows, and news outlets, the Hijab and those who choose to wear one in expression of their religious beliefs, becomes a targeted face of “terrorism.” With over five million views on Youtube, the comments section of “Hijabi” has collected the worst of prejudice, and the best of resilience and hope for womxn to dress freely, speak freely, and express our beliefs freely.
* * *
Peaches Crew – This all-womxn DJ crew consists of six long-time staple Bay Area DJs: Umami, Deeandroid, ThatGirl, Lady Fingaz, LadyRyan, and Pony P. This crew was founded in 2009 by a local San Francisco bartender named Masaye “Mama Peach” Waugh, who had an idea to form a supergroup of female DJs, which first started out at Skylark in the Mission district. Nine years later, they are still going strong, and still rocking every first and third Fridays at the Legionnaire Saloon.
Within the Peaches Crew, DJ Deeandroid is also known as the second half to DJ Celskiii, founding Skratchpad together in 2003, which provides a space for people to hone and develop their skills. In 2014, the dynamic duo was featured on KQED Arts and continues to rock the Bay:
* * *
2NE1 – When we think of K-Pop we often think of bubbly, bright, and super feminine figures. And well, 2NE1 was also fierce, edgy, with strong, unapologetic personalities. While they weren’t the only girl group who exuded “girl power,” they were thought to have stood out as a girl group within the K-Pop industry as “intimidating” ladies, who adopted elements of R&B, power vocals, and bilingual Korean-English rap into their performance. (Maybe because Hip Hop was thought to be too “rough” for womxn performers within South Korean media, since it was not yet fully accepted in pop culture without the gimmicky gangster rap trope?). As one of the most successful groups in Asia already, 2NE1 also reached new heights with their hit song, “I Am the Best,” which was included in a 2014 Surface Pro commercial, breaking 2NE1 into United States mainstream media. While CL still continues her solo career, unfortunately, our beloved 2NE1 was disbanded over some BS in 2016, but their music lives on in our #blackjack hearts. From their last studio album together, CRUSH (2014), my favorite visual, “Happy,” which was shot in Los Angeles, California:
As a solo artist, CL’s hit song, “Hello Bitches,” visually packs a punch, featuring the best of the choreographed dance world— The Royal Family, led by globally renowned choreographer and artist, Paris Goebbel, in a fierce, aggressive, and in-your-face performance.
“Want me to love ’em long time and I tell ’em NO!” -CL, “Hello Bitches”
* * *
SPICE GIRLS – Who else covered their notebooks with Spice Girls collectible stickers? How did we ever figure out which of the Spice Girls we are without a Buzzfeed quiz? One of the first CDs I ever owned as a preteen was the Spice Girl’s STOP single. With its four tracks consisting of the album version and three remixes, I begged my mother to buy this for me, and I played it to scratched-CD-anti-skip hell. I would later learn as an adult that the Spice Girls not only sang about prioritizing yourself, demanding respect from boys, and sticking to your girl friends, they also confronted a music video director for putting them in skimpy school-girl costumes. In the thick of the #MeToo #TimesUp movement right now in 2018, and for any one who struggles with self-worth and agency, we could all use a little more Spice in our lives to remind us who’s in charge.
* * *
TLC – When “Unpretty” hit the airwaves, I was watching BET at my grandma’s house after school. Going into adolescence with changes happening in my body made for an incredibly impactful reception of the music video; The storyline of prescribed notions of beauty, struggling with eating disorders, and changing your physical form to find inner happiness was all too relatable as a young girl, learning to see, listen, and love, my own body. What language do we learn to use with ourselves? As an eleven year-old, already experiencing cat-calling, verbal assault, emotional abuse, peer pressure, lack of self-esteem, and with a family member struggling with bulimia, “Unpretty” showed me an explanation of something greater that was happening to all of us. And if “Unpretty” was the track that reassured us that we’re doing just fine, “No Scrubs” was the track that reminded us we’re doing better than just fine, and that we have every right to walk away from trash:
RIP Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes
* * *
Danico, Mary Yu. Asian American Society: An Encyclopedia. SAGE Publications. Aug 19 2014.
Kuga, Mitchell. “Ladies Delight: Rocky Rivera and the Female Hip-Hop Movement.” Hyphen Magazine. Web article. Sep 01 2010.
Li, Christina. “Peaches Party’s Lady Fingaz and Andre: We Aren’t Good Lady DJs, We’re Good DJs Period.” SFWeekly. Web Article. Sep 05 2012.
* * *
Share your favorite Girl Groups and Girl POWER tracks with me! Stay tuned for more SOUNDBITES next Friday.
Make a submission to SOUNDBITES.