A week or two ago, Kathleen Hanna’s new band The Julie Ruin (she previously released a side project LP under this name in 1998) put out their new video “Oh Come On” and it is a bit of late summer pure pop confection.
Everything I love about Kathleen Hanna’s music and the punk and riot grrrl movements that shaped my teenage years are in this song. The video is full of great images: Kathleen screaming while her bangs keep covering her eyes, cute bandmates singing backup vocals in unison, a male keyboard player wearing what appears to be a button up shirt covered in Divine and a male drummer shaking maracas in cut takes.
Bikini Kill was the first riot grrrl band I really heard. I have followed Kathleen’s music for over twenty years, through several bands and formations. She influenced me to get a degree in Women’s Studies and read Shulamith Firestone (RIP) for fun.
I wanted to post about The Julie Ruin’s new music but also how her message shaped me as a person. So I present the five Kathleen Hanna songs that changed my life (or more like affected my growth into a punk rock feminist). [Warning: some of the song lyrics are NSFW.]
5. Bikini Kill, “Strawberry Julius”
Besides making me look up what a Strawberry Julius is (ewww), this song is a powerful narrative about sexual abuse. From later period 7″ release “The Anti-Pleasure Dissertation” (collected on The Singles in 1998), “Strawberry Julius” shows Kathleen’s feminist lyrics shifting from “hey, fuck you!” to really moving storytelling.
4. Julie Ruin, “The Punk Singer”
This Julie Ruin record is so ahead of its time. So ahead, in fact, that its memorable to me more for its lo-fi aesthetic that I came to love a few years later than for its lyrical content. It sounds exactly as it is: like it was recorded on a four-track by in someone’s kitchen. I come back to this record every few years, more so than some of the other Kathleen Hanna output.
3. Bikini Kill, “Tony Randall”
In 1996 when Reject All American came out, it was kind of thought of as Bikini Kill’s sellout record, because it was so freaking melodic. But listening to it so many years later (I don’t even want to count, I’m so old), the lyrics were so feminist still and subversive. I used to play this song when I would get ready ready in the morning in high school and I was so enamored of Kathleen’s pop culture references mixed with her feminist critiques.
2. Le Tigre, “Hot Topic”
This is the most obvious choice ever. I was already a Women’s Studies student when I heard this song. My girlfriends and I would blast it on road trips to shows in other cities and have the best time singing the names of all the people in the fun dance song. Funny thing was, I looked up the people I didn’t know (mostly the non-musicians) and I discovered so many amazing artists and writers and activists. Kathleen Hanna knows exactly what she’s fucking doing.
1. Bikini Kill, “Double Dare Ya”
In my freshman year of high school, a girl named Kari that I met on Prodigy (hey it was 1993!) sent me a riot grrrl mix tape. By “Double Dare Ya” she had written “this HAS to be the first song you hear!” While it wasn’t as melodic as Heavens to Betsy or Bratmobile, two other bands on the tape I loved, the lyrics, “We’re Bikini Kill and we want revolution girl-style nowwwwwww!” cut all the way through my 14 year old brain.
While these are just five songs in the vast Kathleen Hanna catalog, it is by no means the be-all-end-all list of tracks that influenced me. “Suck my left one” is such a huge part of my slang lexicon that I can’t stop saying it. “Alien She” is feminist punk rock anthem. “Carnival” is so fucking fun to sing along with. If I heard “Outta Me” right now I would probably cry. I am so glad Kathleen is still making great records and I’m pleased to see masses of her new fans posting her music on tumblr & feminist sites like Rookie.
I saw Le Tigre in the late 90s–it was my first trip to the Cat’s Cradle. Tami Hart and The Butchies opened up. Tami’s song “You’re No Good” was on another favorite mix tape, but one I received in college from my friend J. I wish someone would cover it so everyone could hear it.
Photos from Wikipedia and Stereogum.