Preliminary notes on girl groups and the Sleigh Bells
There’s a breathless fragility in ’60s girl groups like the Shirelles, Crystals, and Ronettes that I find far more captivating than the polish of the Beatles or the swagger of the Rolling Stones. And I am captivated by the Sleigh Bells, who are, I think, the girl group for the age of Gossip Girl, in which high school means casual sex and hard drugs.
Britain has been the center of the recent girl group revival, with big acts like Girls Aloud making synth-pop hits. More interesting to me are the self-conscious and wonderfully named Pipettes. Sleigh Bells doesn’t fit into the category as easily as these groups. After all, half the group is male (though this is arguably appropriate in an age of coeducation and loaded gender-neutrality). But, they’re the rightful heirs to the greatest girl group of all time, the Shangri-La’s. Like them, the Sleigh Bells express an attraction to the sublime in twisted pop and frigid vocals. Post-punk, post hardcore, post-Destiny’s Child, they’ve updated the influences, but the basic template remains the same.
Susan J. Douglas of the University of Michigan has theorized that the girl groups’ “girl talk” prepared listeners for the “woman talk” of feminism and liberation. Maybe, but it also prepared them for the next generation of girl talk.