Typical Girls

The feminine mystique of 2010

The Slits on the cover of 1979's <i>Cut</i>
The Slits on the cover of 1979's Cut

Who invented the typical girl?

Who's bringing out the new, improved model?

– "Typical Girls," the Slits

Ariane Forster passed away late in 2010, leaving in her wake a generation of female musicians who side-stepped tradition and expectation. She was better known as Ari Up, and the Slits, naturally, were not typical girls, having elbowed out space in a male-dominated music scene by taking concepts of beauty and sexuality into feral territory. In an interview with the Quietus, 2009, she explained thusly: "When we started in '76, why did we say: 'Anarchy for the UK'? Why did we take part in that whole revolution, all of us? Because there was that total oppression. The system is fucked, it's totally fucked."

She may have been speaking for women or speaking more generally, but in a year when we endured Internet-invented genres like "rapegaze" and "slutwave," how much has changed? There were shit-starters, sure: When Nicki Minaj growled, "First things first, I'll eat your brains" on Kanye West's "Monster," the NYC rapper asserted herself as both masculine ("My money's so tall") and feminine ("that my Barbie's gotta climb it"), but her much-anticipated debut, Pink Friday, didn't quite live up to the in-your-face persona. Jean Grae's been doing the same thing for more than a decade, albeit in a far less sexualized way, which is probably why she's not on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Minaj, like many women this year, used identity to channel issues, and the female experience was more physicalized. Lady Gaga's women-in-prison revue sat at the opposite end of the Barbie Dream House, a fetishistic take on glamour-horror. Willow Smith dealt with the pressure of being a 10-year-old by whipping her hair back and forth. Katy Perry shot fireworks from her breasts. Then there were more unique trailblazers, like Big Freedia and Invincible, reclaiming ladies' night for their scenes – New Orleans and Detroit, respectively.

It was also a year in which women made some of the best albums below the radar. L.A. quartet Warpaint's elegant debut, The Fool, was a tribute of sorts to the Slits' tribal buzz. Glasser's Ring, Zola Jesus' Stridulum II, Grass Widow's Past Time, Best Coast's Crazy for You, U.S. Girls' Go Grey, and Sharon Van Etten's Epic were variations on a theme, from rooms with different views. Locally, KB the Boo Bonic's Scars Are Sexy, No Mas Bodas' Erotic Stories From the Space Capsule, Agent Ribbons' Chateau Crone, and Dallas songbird Sarah Jaffe's Suburban Nature all revise the art of storytelling.

The idea of reinventing the typical girl never felt more appropriate than in 2010. Which begs the question: Should we remodel the dream house or have a demolition party?

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Ariane Forster, Ari Up, the Slits, Nicki Minaj, Jean Grae, Warpaint, Top 10

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