New review: Sing Us a Song, Piano Woman
Holly Combe // 21 October 2013
The iconic Tori Amos and her devoted followers do not fit the stereotypical view of women’s place in music. But what about the women who just crave a good tune? Louise Allan takes a critical look at US scholar Adrienne Trier-Bienieck’s recent book about Amos fans and argues that there are a variety of female music lovers out there doing their own thing who cannot all be categorised by “women’s issues”.
So I’m a feminist. I’m a woman. I’m a fan of music – very often, of female musicians. I’m not, I have to declare up front, a dedicated Tori Amos fan. I think she’s a fascinating figure, some of her tunes are great and I’m glad she’s out there doing what she does – but I don’t own any of her albums. However, I jumped at the chance to read a book that might tell me something about this mysterious, talented lady and, more importantly, about ‘female fans’.
Because female fans have, as Trier-Bienieck establishes early on in Sing Us a Song, Piano Woman: Female Fans and the Music of Tori Amos, been largely ignored in studies of popular music and fandom. It’s always the punk boys, the skinhead boys, the mod boys and the metal boys. Women are generally consigned to the role of scantily clad, underage Stones groupie or pant-wetting Belieber and dismissed in terms of musical credibility. For example, I was disheartened recently to hear an interview with Blur in which they complained that, at the peak of their success, the entire front row was made up of 15 year old girls. As (probably) one of those 15 year old girls, I can tell them this didn’t make me an any less genuine and dedicated a fan.
So it’s refreshing to come across a study of a genuine, modern day feminist icon that examines her relationship with her female fans. Sing Us a Song branches out into a wider exploration of female fan culture, the relationship between feminist music and activism, along with the stereotyping of women both performing and consuming music, but Tori remains a guiding light throughout.
Trier-Bienieck begins by dissecting the restrictive stereotypes of gender in pop culture – from ‘cock rock’ to ‘teenybop’ – which perpetuate themselves by constantly reminding young men and women of how they’re expected to behave. She challenges the perception of many female pop stars as powerful, arguing that all too often they are silenced by the men who dominate the industry and who write, negotiate and profit on their behalf…
This is the cover for the book, Sing Us a Song, Piano Woman. The approximate top two thirds of the picture are indigo and contain the following title and author details: ‘SING US A SONG, PIANO WOMAN’ (whole of the left in light blue capital letters), FEMALE FANS AND THE MUSIC OF (top right, in olive capital letters) TORI AMOS (middle right, in white capital letters) and ADRIENNE TRIER-BIENIEK (final portion underneath, horizontal, in orange capital letters).
The approximate bottom third of the picture is taken up with photo of Tori looking over her right shoulder in a white dress, while singing into a microphone at a piano. There is another microphone behind her and a white backdrop event wall hanging in the background on the stage.