Guest Blog: Emily Howarth on Breakup Songs

In this blog post, Emily Howarth breaks down the break-up songs genre and the sexism in the music industry.

Dumped arrives at CPT on Sun 2 June as part of our Calm Down Dear festival of feminist theatre. Click here for more info.

Writing a solo show may seem GLAM and COOL and many other punchy 4 letter words – but in reality most of the writing process, for me at least, has been just sitting behind my laptop doing hours of research and devising that may or may not be helpful or interesting.

Which is why I would like to take this opportunity, in light of ‘Calm Down, Dear’ i.e the coolest innovative feminist festival EVER, to share with you some FEMINIST POP MUSIC RESEARCH.
Firstly: some background. My name is Emily Howarth and I am a comedian. I have written my first solo show. It is called Dumped and it’s at CPT this Sunday, June 2nd. It’s about break-up songs.

I, and I cannot stress this enough, LOVE break-up songs. I got dumped, and then swiftly nose-dived into a full blown passionate obsession and love affair with break-up songs. Pre-dumping I didn’t even recognise break-up songs as a genre, but they are EVERYWHERE. And they are… incredible.

During a particularly lucrative day researching Adele (a break-up song queen) I stumbled across a list written by Rolling Stone from 2012 called ‘Women Who Rock: The 50 Greatest Albums of All Time’. The top ten are as follows:
1. Aretha Franklin – I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You
2. Joni Mitchell – Blue
3. Dusty Springfield – Dusty in Memphis
4. Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
5. Patti Smith – Horses
6. Adele – 21
7. Missy Elliot – Under Construction
8. Blondie – Parallel Lines
9. The Supremes – Anthology
10. Bikini Kill – The Singles

By all accounts: a great list. Full of fantastic women and to my delight, a whole bunch of excellent break-up songs (including ‘Heart of Glass’ – Blondie, ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ – Dusty, ‘Drown in My Own Tears’ – Aretha, and most of the songs that Joni has ever written.)

I continued into the rabbit hole of lists and found another one from Rolling Stone, also from 2012: ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time’. Naive little me thought ‘Great! Another list. What fun’. WRONG. NOT FUN.

Reader, please see the top 10 albums on this list:
1. The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
2. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
3. The Beatles – Revolver
4. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
5. The Beatles – Rubber Soul
6. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
7. The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street
8. The Clash – London Calling
9. Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde
10. The Beatles – The White Album

You might notice that there are no women in this top 10, and also, only 1 person of colour. In fact there are only 8 albums by people of colour in the top 30, and NO SOLO WOMEN until this point either, with Joni Mitchell’s Blue being the first at #30.

There are 5 whole Beatles albums (5!!!!!!) before there are ANY solo women on this list.

The Velvet Underground – which features female drummer Maureen Moe Tucker from 1965 onwards, and often included female German singer Nico, is #13. Rumours by Fleetwood Mac is #26 (#4 on the women only list), and Patti Smith’s Horses (#5 on the other list) comes in at #44. We also have Carol King at #36, but these are the ONLY WOMEN IN THE TOP 50.

Most absurd of all, Aretha Franklin’s album, which may I remind you was #1 on the other list, is #84! EIGHTY-FUCKING-FOUR.

WHAT THE FLYING FEMINIST FUCK IS THAT ABOUT.

Now obviously this list is not the BE ALL AND END ALL of music in its entirety. Indeed, how can something like this even BEGIN to be compiled. I get nervous just thinking about trying to quantify music into this form. But it can’t be denied that this list is representative of a patriarchal attitude to success in the music industry. This includes a lack of diversity from women, people of colour, the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities, and so many other intersectional factors.

I have no real conclusion to draw here other than, and I think we can all agree, this is BULLSHIT.

The glimmer of hope that shines through is that (slowly) the tides are turning. Things are starting to change. It’s amazing festivals like ‘Calm Down, Dear’ that are going to even up these lists, and diversify the world as we see it.

Come on down to CPT to support this incredible festival and all the artists that are calling bullshit on this utter shit-storm. We are anything but calm, dear.

Dumped | Sunday June 2nd | 7:15pm
@emilyhowarthwow
Book both ‘Dumped’ & ‘Girl World’ by Frisky on June 2nd for just £16