A new wave of documentaries about female musicians highlights their accomplishments in an industry that too often failed them
Cyndi Lauper is about to get the feature-length documentary treatment, with news that a film about the singer’s life is in production. It will be called Let the Canary Sing and is directed by Alison Ellwood.
Ellwood made the award-winning The Go-Go’s in 2020, which told the story of the LA rock band’s rise to the top and subsequent implosion. From the documentary about Janet Jackson earlier this year, to Sheryl, out in the US this weekend, about the long career of Sheryl Crow, more and more films are focusing on women’s careers in music and finally taking it seriously.
Many stories written upon the release of Sheryl have followed a similar vein, in that, despite her huge success, she was never given the credit she was due. In an interview with Crow, in the New York Times, younger artists – from Soccer Mommy to Best Coast – said how much she meant to them. On YouTube, you can watch Waxahatchee and Snail Mail respectfully and beautifully covering Strong Enough, a Crow hit from 1993.
If the credit has always been there, the new film is putting it in its rightful place. Certainly, music history has always been askew about recognising its female contributors. In 2020, NPR reported that women made up only 8% of inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (bizarrely, Crow has never been nominated), though this year Pat Benatar, Carly Simon and Dolly Parton joined the club, despite Parton’s initial resistance.
These documentaries stand as correctives to stories that were often told badly at the time. Bad Reputation, the 2018 film about Joan Jett, portrays a music press that hated the Runaways, which thought they were cute until they decided they were “sluts”. This might have been the 1970s, but when I started reading music mags in the 90s, “women in rock” special issues were standard and lists portioned off female musicians as something separate and alien. In 2003, NME put Avril Lavigne on a cover with the line “All hail the heroines of the no-cock revolution!” Different times.
There is a movement towards documentaries that explore pop culture from the past in the context of today’s more considered attitudes. Many shine a light on tabloid culture and its treatment of celebrities, from Jade Goody to Paul Gascoigne. So music, too, is getting its revision. As the gatekeepers change, the record is being corrected, at last.
Eddie Scott: classic dishes with a twist won him MasterChef
This year’s MasterChef came to an end with a final that summed up the eccentricities of what has been a brilliant competition, up there with the best.
Radha Kaushal-Bolland, who is 23, had only been cooking for a couple of years and made John Torode cry, served an entirely vegetarian meal. Pookie Tredell served cocktails from a flower and has dished up rice in every colour of the rainbow, as well as a meal in the colours of the Irish flag.
It felt like a playful year, in which the competition was hungry for difference, whether that was in celebrating rough-and-ready home cooks or wannabe Heston Blumenthals. But in the end, I am not sure the competition was even that close. Eddie Scott, the former Marine pilot who at one point wore a pink shirt and bow tie in homage to his hero, Keith Floyd, won with his combinations of classic French cuisine and Indian spices. His final menu reminded me of MasterChef in its early days, with a focus on technical skill as well as flavour. But that was a stuffier show then and Scott and the rest of the finalists, proved that these days MasterChef is very far from stuffy.
Women’s sport: everyday TV matches are a massive win
One night last week, I was flicking through the channels and settled on the last 15 minutes or so of the Arsenal v Spurs match on BBC Two. At the weekend, I had ended up watching Arsenal trounce Aston Villa. They weren’t matches I had planned to see, but had chanced upon and stuck with. Isn’t this amazing, I said, as Caitlin Foord scored twice in 11 minutes. (Spurs were obviously feeling emotional that night.) Women’s football is on TV and it is completely normal.
It’s a far cry from even a couple years ago when, to watch a number of women’s football matches without being there, you had to track them down online and then hope they had more than one camera trained on the pitch. But times have changed, quickly and definitively. According to new research by the Women’s Sport Trust, more people are watching women’s sport than ever, and they are watching it for longer. “These encouraging figures support our longstanding view that if women’s sport is made visible, then audiences will watch,” said Tammy Parlour, co-founder and CEO of the trust.
People are watching women play football, cricket and rugby. The rise in audience figures is huge. During the first quarter of last year, 6.7 million watched women’s sport; in the same period this year, that stood at 17.9 million. The fact that it is now possible to accidentally catch a match one afternoon or evening feels momentous and I have already started to take it for granted that women’s sport is on mainstream TV. If these figures are anything to go by, and the right people are listening, there should be plenty more where that came from.
• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist
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