Magazine article Newsweek

The Girl Problem: While Critics Slug It out over the Meaning of 'Women in Rock,' New Albums from Mainstream Divas Shania Twain and Celine Dion Soar above It All

Magazine article Newsweek

The Girl Problem: While Critics Slug It out over the Meaning of 'Women in Rock,' New Albums from Mainstream Divas Shania Twain and Celine Dion Soar above It All

Article excerpt

While critics slug it out over the meaning of 'Women in Rock,' new albums from mainstream divas Shania Twain and Celine Dion soar above it all

CELINE DION AND SHANIA TWAIN are two of the biggest female stars of the '90s, but you won't either of them in Rolling Stone's 30th-anniversary "Women of Rock" issue or Spin's November "Girl Issue." Apparently they didn't qualify. What does it take to be a "Woman in Rock"? After spending some time with these two issues, we constructed a handy quiz to help readers understand the eligibility requirements.

(A) The women's movement of the '70s: thumbs up or thumbs down? If you answered "thumbs up," deduct 10 points. According to Spin, "Girl Culture" girls don't necessarily revere the brave women who cleared the path: "Feminism gave women critical tools, but it never offered enough fantasy."

(B) True or false: it's a Spice World; we just live in it. If you answered "false," deduct 10 points. Rolling Stone advises a pro-Spice stance for aspiring W.I.R.s: "The Spice Girls might look like pop's latest blowup dolls to some cynical eyes, but for a new, ready-to-bleed, prepubeseent, unclean, unholy army of the night, those five women are wailing 'Under My Thumb'."

(c) Do you own the albums "Cut" by the Slits and "Pottymouth" by Bratmobile? If you answered "no," deduct 20 points. Spin calls them "essential discs" that "you'll find in most every self-respecting Girl Culture girl's bedroom, right next to the hair mascara." If you don't own hair mascara, deduct an additional 10 points.

Did you flunk? Chin up--so, probably, would Shania and Celine. Women in Rock is a concept that's almost as old as rock itself, but in the past two or three years it's become a dizzyingly complex issue. For a long time, W.I.R. was just a straightforward media handle, a way to categorize performers by gender. It was indiscriminately applied to such varied types as new wavers the Go-Go's, punk-metalheads L7 and folkie Tracy Chapman. Lately, though, the phrase has taken on new twists. Women in Rock is no longer a gender-specific term; it's a political one. Being female isn't enough; you have to be correctly female. Do you pledge allegiance to the Spice Girls? Do you accept Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, in all her multidimensional personae? Do you promise to wear torn slip dresses, smeared makeup and a constant expression of Fiona Apple-style fetishistic victimhood? Follow the rules, or you're not in the club. "Touchy-feely consciousness may not be Girl Culture, but the Girls' Aggressive Skate Team is," goes Spin's agenda. "Raising your voice with a thousand other earth mothers to a Holly Near ballad doesn't cut it, but spitting out the sexy-defiant words to an Ani DiFranco song sure does."

Under these guidelines, no one is likely to mistake Shania and Celine for Women in Rock. Their politics are all wrong. They do womanhood the old-fashioned, unironic, hyperfeminine way. They comb their hair and flaunt their bellybuttons, and it's not a statement. Their music is unabashedly domestic, without complicated subtexts; rock critics don't often write about them, because there isn't a lot to explain. But out there in the real teenage bedrooms of America, Twain and Dion have had real impact. Dion's last album, "Falling Into You," has sold more than 9 million copies and is still on the charts after a year and a haft. Twain's "The Woman in Me" has also sold more than 9 million; it recently surpassed Patsy Cline's "Greatest Hits" to become the top-selling album ever by a female country artist. …

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