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Revolutionary Sounds: 7 Feminist Albums That Turn 30 This Summer, Just Like BUST Magazine!

by Faith Green

It’s hard to believe that the 90s were only 10 years ago…

Because they’re not. 30 years have passed since 1993! 

It’s been three whole decades since the rise of oversized flannel shirts, Doc Martens, the premiere of The X-Files, the inauguration of Bill Clinton, and the original launch of TY’s Beanie Babies. It’s also been about 30 years since we here at BUST began operations, and we’ve come a long way since that very first issue, (which was xeroxed and stapled together; can you believe it?!) In order to celebrate 30 years of publication, here are 7 feminist albums that are also celebrating their 30th birthday with us this year. Beware: some of the records on this list may surprise you!

Liz Phair – Exile In Guyville

Many know Liz Phair as the singer of the melodic and lovey-dovey pop song, “Why Can’t I?”, which makes sense considering the song was Phair’s only charting Top 40 Hit. But before hitting pop radio airwaves with boppy love songs, Liz Phair was a grungy lo-fi artist who wrote angsty songs about sex, isolation, and yearing on cassette tapes she passed out like candy on Halloween. Exile In Guyville is the debut studio album from the indie-rock singer-songwriter, who previously released cassettes under the pseudonym “Girly-Sound” (the Girly-Sound Tapes have since gained a massive underground cult following.) Exile In Guyville, which was a song-by-song response to the Rolling Stone’s Exile on Main St. has received tons of underground critical acclaim; publications Spin and the Village Voice: Jazz & Pop Critics Poll both named it the “Best Album of 1993,” and Rolling Stone ranked Exile In Guyville as 56th on their list for the “Greatest Albums of All Time.” Songs like “Fuck and Run” explore themes of craving intimacy through lyrics that oscillate between brash vulgarity and poetic vulnerability. Liz Phair’s music has had a major impact on third-wave feminism, and her song “Batmobile” was featured in the 1996-2000 riot grrrl documentary Dirty Girls. Just as recently as 2017, the aforementioned song “Fuck and Run” went viral after Phair performed it at a Planned Parenthood rally in 2017.

Björk – Debut

Icelandic experimental artist Björk changed the music industry forever with her 1993 debut album, aptly titled Debut. Before this, she had been part of the ‘80s band The Sugarcubes, but it was this solo album that really allowed her to make her mark. The album explores a variety of genres, including psychedelic rock, alternative dance, shoe-gaze, art pop, and electronic house. Debut ranked 31st on LGBTQIA+ magazine Out’s “Greatest, Gayest Albums of All Time,” and the hit single “Human Behavior” received a Grammy nomination for the “Best Video of The Year.” Despite paving the way for female noise artists and defying gender roles in her performances, Björk has had an up-and-down relationship with the feminist movement. In a 1996 issue of BUST, when asked if she was a feminist, she claimed that “feminists really… bore me to death.” She’s since expressed full support of feminism in recent years. That being said, Debut was the first in a long line of successes for Björk, who has since earned numerous accolades, awards, and even her own retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 2015. 

Janet Jackson – janet.

Janet (often stylized as janet.,) is the fifth R&B album from musician Janet Jackson. At the time of the sultry album’s release in 1993, Jackson had only recently switched record labels, and her new contract with Virgin Records made her the highest paid artist in the industry at the time. The album is a deeply erotic, experimental, and sophisticated masterpiece that focuses primarily on women’s sensuality paired with experiences of rage, lust, voyeurism, and longing. The album’s lyrics were primarily written by Jackson, who has claimed that janet. is her most personal album ever. Maturely romantic jams like “That’s The Way Love Goes” work in harmony with intense electro-rock dance songs like “If.” The album expertly showcases Jackson’s range, and reinvented her pop stardom image into that of an international sex symbol. It’s been speculated that the audacious sensuality displayed by Jackson in this era is responsible for an influx of sexual liberation within young women during the mid-90s. The infamous cover for both her issue of Rolling Stone and for her self-titled album features Jackson topless, with her breasts being held up by an obscured man (who was her then-husband at the time.) The cover stirred up major controversy, mainly amongst her deeply religious family members. But Janet Jackson’s bold embrace of black women’s sexuality was monumental activism in the 1990s; as she stated in the accompanying interview for her 1993 Rolling Stone Cover, “For me, sex has become a celebration; a joyful part of the creative process… You could say I’ve entered a happy phase of sexuality… Listening to my new record, [i think that] people intuitively understand the change in me.” 

Nirvana – In Utero

Nirvana is mostly known for bringing the grimiest underground movement of the 90s to the forefront of pop culture. Their hit 1991 song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” changed both the music and fashion industry for good. Happily, Nirvana has always been an outspokenly feminist band, and their 1993 album In Utero exemplifies that best. Tobi Valli of Bikini Kill was Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s close friend and partner before his relationship with Courtney Love. He was also good friends with Kathleen Hanna, who inspired the title for “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Valli was even the subject of the song “About A Girl,” which explores the complicated nuance of love and relationships from a humanistic (and thus subversive) standpoint. The emotional vulnerability and personal connection with the subject of the song was unusual for rock stars at the time, who usually expressed more misogynistic views. In Utero also features the song political anti-assault “R*** Me,” of which Cobain has had to clarify the intention numerous times: “…Having to resort to doing something like that is almost embarrassing… People didn’t understand the songs ‘About A Girl’ or ‘Polly’… So I decided to write this in a way that’s so blunt and obvious that no one can deny it.”

In 1992, Nirvana performed a benefit concert for the Opposition to Measure 9 (which was a bill that called for the cessation of the “promotion of homosexuality”), which the band publicly denounced. Stating, “Nirvana wants to do their part to end bigotry and narrow-mindedness everywhere.” They also turned down the opportunity to perform with Guns N’ Roses on their “Use Your Illusion” tour. When asked why, Cobain stated the following: “Those people are total sexist jerks, and the reason we’re playing this show is to fight homophobia in a real small way. [Axl Rose] is a fucking sexist and a racist and a homophobe, and you can’t be on his side and on our side.” This would be the last studio album Nirvana would ever record before the death of Cobain one year later, in April of 1994.

Ani DiFranco – Puddle Dive

Anti-corporate queen Ani DiFranco has been a mainstay in the underground alternative scene since she created her independent record label, Righteous Babe Records, in 1990. DiFranco is a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and an outspoken anti-consumerist activist. In 1993, long before her Grammy nomination for “Shy” and right around the release of BUST’s first ever issue, she released her fourth studio album titled Puddle Dive. The folk-rock album channels the bleakness of touring through the country and dives into DiFranco’s relationships on the road. The album embodies a twangy and upbeat sound, which is contrasted with poetry-beat lyrics that express disquietude, rage, and contemplation. This is best exemplified in the song “Blood In The Boardroom”, which recounts her experience with unexpectedly getting her period at an uppity boardroom meeting. “It ain’t no hassle, it ain’t no mess/Right now it’s the only power/That I possess/These businessmen got the money…/But I can make life/ I can make breath/Sitting in the boardroom/The I’m-so-bored room/I didn’t really have much to say… So I just left a big brown bloodstain. On their white chair.”

PJ Harvey – Rid Of Me

This dynamic album from punk blues singer-songwriter PJ Harvey took the world by storm nearly 30 years ago. The album features outstandingly raw and grungy hits like “Man-Size,” which explores themes of toxic masculinity and Harvey’s desire to be “set free” of girlhood. The album is characterized by askew time signatures and heavy guitar riffs, which are accompanied by Harvey’s primal and ethereal vocals. Simon Reynolds for The Guardian has said that he was “immediately struck by how thunder-quakingly Led Zep the drums [in Rid of Me] sounded.” When asked by BUST in 2004 if she was a feminist, Harvey responded by saying “I mean, it doesn’t cross my mind. I certainly don’t think in terms of gender when I’m writing songs.” PJ Harvey collaborated with another artist on this list; she and Björk joined forces to perform a haunting cover of “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” at the 1994 Brit Awards.  

Four Non-Blondes – Bigger, Better, Faster, More!

Bigger, Better, Faster, More! Is the only album ever released by the 90s alternative-rock band, Four Non-Blondes. The album was home to their biggest hit, “What’s Up?” and the song was even listed on Harper Bazaar’s 53 Greatest Feminist Anthems of All Time. That’s no surprise, considering that the lead singer of Four Non Blondes, Linda Perry, is an outspoken feminist and a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. She even created her own record label, We Are Hear, which has signed popular artists like Imogen Heap, Dorothy, and Natasha Beddingfield. Perry has also been inducted into the “Songwriters Hall of Fame”, and has been nominated for 5 Grammys. Although many have written off the band as a one-hit wonder, real ones know that the impact of both Linda Perry and the Four Non-Blondes remains pertinent today. 

It’s been a wonderful 30 years. Here’s to (at least) 30 more.

Top Photo Credit: Mick Haupt via Unsplash

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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.

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