Hanna 67e27

5 Powerful Things Bikini Kill Members Are Talking About on Tour

by Carmella D'Acquisto

Nearly 25 years since they disbanded, riot-grrrl pioneers and punk phenoms Bikini Kill are back on the road and sounding as bright and powerful as ever. Now on tour, Kathleen Hanna and drummer Tobi Vail are sharing stories from their history, and the state of the world. Here are a few things on their minds: 

Their Messages Mean More Now Than Ever

Bikini Kill songs are chock full of feminist messaging. Throughout their career, they’ve written songs about abortion, rape, slut shaming, misogyny, white privilege and more. Their songs have backtracked feminist moments across generations, but sadly, their messages are needed now more than ever.  “I woke up in 2023 singing the same songs I sang when I was 25, and now I’m 54,” said Hanna. “And what’s scary as hell is I’m feeling them more today than I did then.” After the overturning of Roe v Wade last summer and the deterioration of the country, Bikini Kill’s songs ring just as true in the 2020s as they did in the early ‘90s. With abortion rights basically obliterated, trans lives being legally threatened, an increasing number of racial and religious hate crimes and years of near-daily mass murders being completely ignored, Bikini Kill’s ethos is still (unfortunately) necessary.

Punk Isn’t Just a Genre

“Seriously, punk is more than a genre,” Hanna reminded the crowd towards the end of the set. “It can be about creating community and creating spaces outside of corporate culture.” Though the punk subculture is closely tied to music, you don’t need a musical bone in your body to live by a punk ethos. Anti-corporatism, DIY, anti-consumerism and anti-authoritarianism are at the heart of the punk mindset. Anyone who lives these values and are dismissed by “traditional” culture (read: white, male, cis, straight, wealthy, able-bodied, neurotypical) are likely to have a streak of punk in them. Hanna’s words aren’t just lip service, as pioneers in the riot-grrrl movement, the members of Bikini Kill have “united women and girls against capitalist and patriarchal cultural ideologies” for over three decades.

They’re Celebrating Life While Acknowledging Things Are Fucked

Throughout their career the members of Bikini Kill have experienced a lot of loss, heartbreak and adversity both in their personal lives, and as active participants in the world around them. During their show on Wednesday, April 19, they shared stories of friends they lost to drugs, suicide and other tragedies through the years. Both Vail and Hanna paid tribute to their late friend Kai, who passed years ago but  would otherwise be celebrating a birthday that very night. Hanna shared a touching story where he helped her after a tough moment, and cried along with her instead of trying to find a solution. “Find that happy medium of celebrating that we’re all still fucking alive, but also acknowledging how fucked up everything is. It shouldn’t be a separate part, we can be sad and joyous at the same time, we can hold those things in our hands at the same time.”

They’re “Preaching to the Converted” 

During the show, Hanna shared that sometimes they get criticized for making music for people who align with their ideologies. “People say: ‘aren’t you preaching to the converted with your music?’,” said Hanna.  “I’m like ‘yeah!’ Yeah I am, we make music for people who care about the planet not burning up, and understand the connections between racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. Yeah we make music for those types of people because it’s not Larry the Cable guy who is making comedy for us. It’s not like Tim Allen is going to show up and write good punk songs, although that would be fucking hilarious.”  She then goes on, further “preaching to the choir” about how in a world that’s against you, it’s hard to get up every day and live a life of resistance. “I don’t want to say this song is about not giving up, because sometimes you have to give up,” said Hanna before going into their song, Resist Psychic Death. “But then the next day you can do a little thing, and then the next day you can do a big thing.”

Feminism Helped Hanna Release Self-Guilt

“When I first started learning about feminism, when I was I guess about 19 or something, and I took it very seriously, said Hanna.” “I was very happy because I found out a lot of stuff that happened to me like rape, sexual harassment, my professor not giving me an evaluation, but a back rub, all that stuff was not my own personal affliction, it was tied to all this other stuff, and I wasn’t the only one it was happening to.”

She goes on to share a story about a group of women that helped her see how feminism plays out in day to day life. “I remember at our school Evergreen State College, in the bathroom someone started writing a list of rapists on the wall,” shared Hanna. “The administration kept going in and cleaning it up, and the women kept going in there and writing it back up. That was such a huge inspiration for me to be in a band and write songs because I was just being one of those women, writing that name on that list over and over and over to warn other people.”

Top photo: Kathleen Hanna at the Riverside Theater, photo by: Melissa Miller

You may also like

Get the print magazine.

The best of BUST in your inbox!

Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter

About Us

Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

©2023 Street Media LLC.  All Right Reserved.