As part of The Newstatesman’s ‘Female Friendship Week’, Wolf Alice’s frontwoman Ellie Rowsell wrote an article for the magazine depicting the friendship that inspired their hit ‘Bros’. In it, she reminds us of the ‘intensity’, the ‘love’, the ‘obsession’ a friendship can bring us. Yet, despite this intensity, it is a subject that is often forgotten about in music. With one study showing that 92% of all singles that made it into the Billboard Top 10 in 2009 were directly or indirectly about romantic and sexual relationships, the topic’s almost complete exclusion from the charts is reflective of a society that overlooks something almost vital as water to us, which we all need in order to survive: friendship.
‘If I have ever known what it means to be loyal; to be jealous, to admire and to obsess; to feel love and to feel hate’, writes Rowsell, ‘it never was as intense as with my girlfriends’. ‘Bros’ depicts Rowsell’s childhood best friend, a girl she identifies in her article as a woman named Sadie. The opening lines ‘shake your hair, have some fun / forget our mothers and past lovers, forget everyone’ is not only a reminder of the innocence and euphoria of childhood friendships, but also reminds us of the longevity of these relationships. It is our friends who are there the morning after our first kiss, demanding all the details. They’re then when we get too drunk in the park and have to explain the mess to our parents. They’re there when we fail. They’re when we fall in love. They’re there when we’re heartbroken. They become the pieces of furniture that we become so accustomed to that we forget that they are luxuries.
Yet they remain invisible, and this fear of invisibility and forgetting is an anxiety that also underlies the song. In questioning ‘are you wild like me? / Raised by wolves and other beasts / I tell you all the time / I’m not mad’ Rowsell captures the conflict between trying to cling to a former moment and accepting that times have changed. While her narrator remains in their magical make-believe world of ‘wolves and other beasts’, their friend is beginning to move away from these make-believe fantasies. People grow, people change. But, despite these changes, ‘there’s no one who knows me like you do’. Relationships, like people, grow. And with growth comes the birth of new complexities. We may change, but we change with our friends at our side. We owe who we are to them as much as we owe ourselves.
But where is there any evidence of these relationships in society? Look at our music charts, our art, our media and you’d be forgiven for forgetting about its existence. In 2010 in all of the songs that appeared in the Billboard Top 100 (including songs that appeared in the chart one week to remain in the chart for various weeks afterwards) sex was directly or indirectly referred to 1,500 times. We are a society that is sex obsessed. Society loves sex. Of course, this can be viewed as a positive, as it removes the taboo surrounding sexuality, in particular female sexuality. Artists like Miley Cyrus and Rihanna have both been accused of being overly sexualised in recent years, however, both stars have dismissed claims, arguing that they have been reclaiming female sexuality.
However, this gradual sexualisation of the music industry since the 1960s has also been incredibly problematic. One needs only to think back to 2013 and the storm caused by Robin Thicke after his music video for ‘Blurred Lines’ featured an array of naked women strutting sensually around him while he informed them ‘you know you want it’. Sorry Robin, I forgot that, as a woman, ‘it’s in my nature’ to want to be your ‘bitch’. Sorry I forgot that I need a man to ‘liberate’ me. Sorry that I forgot that there are ‘blurred lines’ when it comes to consent.
This sexualisation of women from the male gaze (in contrast to Cyrus’ and Rihanna’sreclaiming and empowerment of their sexuality) helps to reinforce sexist attitudes that perpetuates ‘lad culture’, such as women should be judged purely on their sexual appeal. When we only focus on sex, we forget about the person behind the act.
This focus on love and sex as the number one aspiration in life – the only topic of any importance of life – also helps to reinforce the hetero-normative ideals. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie states in her spoken appearance on Beyoncé’s ‘Flawless’, ‘we are expected to aspire to marriage’. When we are bombarded with arrows of love and sex in our media and music every day, our music is, in fact, reinforcing social monolithic ideas that the only way we can have a fulfilling life is by being in a long term romantic relationship.
‘I had [a fear], not of growing up,’ describes Rowsell, ‘but of growing up without Sadie’. This is not the voice of our music charts that presents a limited portrait of human experience and love, but of a real person. ‘Bros’ shifts the societal gaze from what is expected of us, and demands we re-examine the white elephants in the room that we have polaroid photos stuck to our bedroom walls, that dominate our Facebook timelines, that dominate our lives. ‘Love’ need not be romantic to make a difference. It just needs to matter.
Lovers come and go, relationships end, but our best friends never leave. It is them we turn to when we fail, when we’re hurt, when our hearts are broken. Friendship is the invisible pillar that keeps our lives held up right, so let’s not do the people who keep us afloat a disservice and forget their existence.
Thus, in the wake of female friendship, let’s ‘shake our hair’ and embrace our eccentricity. Let’s celebrate our bros.
Words by Juliette Rowsell