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Revolt through rock

Updated: Apr 5

By: The Charger Account Editorial Staff Dec. 14, 2023

Amid pulsing snare beats, jarring strums of electric guitar and a turbulent bass line, lead vocalist of punk rock band Bikini Kill Kathleen Hanna belts out a dare to her female audience—starting with an affectionate “Hey girlfriend!”—to unashamedly be themselves.

This first track in Bikini Kill’s debut album—“Double Dare Ya”—was revolutionary, but not alone. Formed in 1990, Bikini Kill was a pioneer in the riot grrrl movement, a genre of feminist punk rock that flourished in the 90s. Groups including Lunachicks, Bratmobille, Emily’s Sassy Lime and Slant 6 all candidly expressed emotions less socially accepted for women to show.

Headlining issues such as rape, domestic abuse and even the flaws of capitalism through straightforward, explosive lyrics, riot grrrl called on society to confront topics that were considered taboo. As opposed to songs like Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun,” which more cryptically protests the Vietnam War, the bluntness of riot grrrl lyrics makes their messages difficult to ignore. In a world where societal problems are neglected by those who are not directly impacted by them, direct music may be necessary to achieve social change.

Although the original riot grrrl movement ended in the late 1990s, its relevance persists. For example, Olivia Rodrigo’s “GUTS” topped the charts this year because of its authentic portrayal of societal standards for young women. Her 12-second scream in “all-american b*tch” and its hints of alternative rock highlight the enduring spirit of riot grrrl.

Aside from a form of expression, confrontational music has given artists a voice in oppressive environments. As of January, Cambodia has gained notoriety over frequent instances of human rights violations, such as the beating of garment workers by military police and extensive censorship. Cambodian rapper Kea Sokun detailed the suffering of Cambodian citizens in a raw, hard-hitting song titled “Workers Blood.” Artists like Sokun are rare, but their impact is monumental. In Thailand, hip hop collective Rap Against Dictatorship (RAD) highlights human rights abuses and social injustices to inspire demonstrations across the country. These artists refuse to let the truth be silenced, and, like riot grrrl, demonstrate the significance of unabashedly voicing opinions.

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