Rap Sh!t and the Rise of Girl Bands on TV
ItThe first episode Rap Sh!tIssa Raie has created a HBO Max comedy called. In it, an angry rapper declares her resignation. “Y’all’s favorites are out here doing the bare minimum, with no originality, while I’m living and breathing this rap sh-t,” Shawna (Aida Osman) chides her social media followers in a video. “Y’all say, ‘Ooh, I want a different type of female rapper.’ No, you f-ckin’ don’t.”
Shawna’s life has been difficult. She is a talented MC, who gained short viral fame but has struggled to find an audience for socially conscious lyrics. To collaborate with a producer, she left college and opted to be a surgeon-educated white woman who can rap in a bikini. A pal who works at Spotify isn’t helping. Meanwhile, Shawna’s long-distance boyfriend is too busy flirting with his NYU Law classmates to care.
What she doesn’t yet realize is that she has just reconnected with the person who will reignite her aspirations. MiaLove & Hip Hop: Miami star KaMillion), a long-lost friend from high school, has a daughter in elementary school, a musician ex who’s turned out to be a disappointing co-parent, gigs doing makeup and teasing men on OnlyFans, and a robust social media following. Streaming live from a parked car after a night out, Shawna spins a fire freestyle around Mia’s catchphrase “seduce and scheme.” The song builds buzz, and they’re suddenly a duo.
Aida Osman and KaMillion, in “Rap Shu!t”
Alicia Vera/HBO Max
Rap Sh!tThe premiere of ‘The Black Woman in the Mirror’ is July 21. It tells the story about how two Black women believe in one another when there are no other people in their lives. It’s also the latest in a string of recent series—including Girls5eva, Lady Parts is what we areAnd Queens—that revolve around all-female musical acts. Although TV’s preoccupation with women’s friendships predates Sex and the CityThis new perspective on the topic is refreshing and inspiring in these difficult times. These characters are neither lonely achievers or snarky foes. They can only achieve their goals by supporting one another. They do this because it is their passion.
A compelling mystique saturated tales of female friendship in the pop-feminist 2010s, from Elena Ferrante‘s Neapolitan novels to Rae’s Unsecure. These works suggest that women have a higher innate ability to form complex, intimate friendships. The intensity so many of these relationships share comes out of life in a sexist society; they’re the consolation prize for enduring gendered humiliations that would be inconceivable to any man. Ferrante captures this sense of gallows camaraderie with her words, “Inside the Gallows.” A New Name: The Story of an Old Name: “If nothing could save us, not money, not a male body, and not even studying, we might as well destroy everything immediately.”
The tension that female friendships may create can be a problem for some, as they try to balance out the competition for autonomy and success only reluctantly allowed to second-sex members. It’s this dynamic that predominates in stories about female singers—like musical soap Nashville pitting Connie Britton’s country diva against a young upstart played by Hayden Panettiere.
L-R: Busy Philipps, Sara Bareilles, Renée Elise Goldsberry and Paula Pell in Peacock’s ‘Girls5Eva’
It can be hilariously humorous to take a light approach to mixed messages about sisterhood or rivalry that are being sent out by women. You can find more information at In Girls5eva, whose second season aired on Peacock this past spring, the four surviving members of a short-lived Y2K-era pop quintet reunite after a rapper samples their retrospectively ironic hit “Famous 5eva.” Their lives have taken divergent directions. While Dawn (Sara Bareilles) has settled into anonymity, with a family and a restaurant job, Wickie (Renée Elise Goldsberry) keeps chasing fame. Busy Philipps’ Summer, a Christian airhead in a sham marriage to a closeted boy-band alum, is the foil for Gloria (Paula Pell), a divorced lesbian dentist.
In the group’s original incarnation, the girls were exploited, underpaid pawns of a scuzzy producer, Larry (Jonathan Hadary). Among their darkly hilarious singles was “Dream Girlfriends,” in which they wooed boys with pandering come-ons like: “Tell me again why Tarantino’s a genius.” Now, with the deck stacked against them as women over 30 in music, the characters still sometimes succumb to the industry’s grossest expectations. But when they succeed, it’s through collaboration. Season 2 finds Girls5eva recording a reunion album, and although it’s slow going at first, their creative breakthrough comes when Dawn and Summer improvise a song about leaving Larry behind.
Queens, an uneven but exhilarating melodrama that ABC canceled after a single season, couldn’t be more different in tone from the absurdist Girls5eva, yet the two shows’ premises are extremely similar. Built around a cast of late-’90s TRLBrandy and Eve are staples Queens also follows a quartet of middle-aged female musicians–in this case a hip-hop act in the mold of Salt-N-Pepa—who reunite after two decades out of the spotlight. Like Girls5eva, they’re determined to reclaim the agency they signed away in their youth. Their first decision collectively was to give up their sexualized band name Nasty Bitches for Queens.
Brandy as a Queen
This show attempted to create a soapy drama while avoiding the outdated directive of soap operas that every female character must be in conflict. The show was cancelled before it was even started. QueensIt was expanding its goals when the group created a record label in order to inspire the next generation of hip-hop women. Although the group’s girl-power messages sometimes seemed a bit generic, their fantastical stories highlighted how far off ideal the music industry is.
These shows aren’t just about women rejecting a lifetime’s worth of misogynistic messaging for the sake of getting rich or topping the charts. This context shows that a girl group is much more than just an alliance of girlbosses. These collaborations are based on creativity. In music, women have faced greater scrutiny than men. This is especially true when it concerns technical skills such as playing the instruments. It’s telling that rock ‘n’ roll had existed for two decades by the time Fanny, in 1970, became the first all-female rock band to release an album on a major label—and that girl groups, from the Ronettes to the Runaways, have often been treated as puppets by a controlling male Svengali. Today, perhaps more so post-World War II.Roe, it’s still subversive to see women unite in uncensored self-expression, regardless of how many people are listening.
This spirit of freedom is alive Lady Parts is what we are, Peacock’s wonderful comedy about an all-female Muslim punk band in London. Although the Lady Parts have a common gender and a religious affiliation, the five Lady Parts members (including their band manager) are from a wide range of backgrounds, ethnicities, and personalities. Each woman practices Islam differently. Music is the creative outlet that unites these characters. For the show’s protagonist, Amina (Anjana Vasan), Lady Parts is a revelation. She is focused on her studies and fitting in with the perfect Muslim friends. After making the right arrangement for her marriage, Amina joins Lady Parts unknowingly and discovers a rebellious voice that she didn’t know she had.
Lucie Shorthouse portrays Momtaz. Faith Omole plays Bisma. Anjana Vaan plays Amina. Juliette Motamed is Ayesha. Sarah Kameela Impey is Saira.
All the desires and frustrations left unarticulated in the women’s daily lives come out in their songs. “Voldemort Under My Headscarf” playfully pokes fun at people who can’t deal with hijabi. Watching frontwoman Saira (Sarah Kameela Impey) transform Amina’s boy-crazy ramblings into the crush anthem “Bashir With the Good Beard,” songwriters might protest that the process is never that easy. But what resonates in the scene is the ecstatic experience of collective artmaking—of conjuring a perfect chorus out of the ether, just by jamming with your bandmates.
These pleasures aren’t just for boys, and they haven’t been for generations. Yet it’s a novel thrill to see them celebrated on the small screen. Shawna and Mia were in Rap Sh!t, spontaneously jump up on a table the first time their song plays in a club to rap along in front of a captive audience of fellow revelers, that’s a vision of female friendship that revolves around making each other better rather than tearing each other down. Or, as Mia puts it: “Real bitches gon’ ride for you.”
It appears in TIME, July 25, 2022.
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