John Harris

Journalist & Author

For rock music to survive it will have to cut back on testosterone | John Harris

The leather trousers, the cars – it once seemed thrilling but now looks ridiculous. Thankfully guitar sales to women are soaring

One of the best albums released this year is called Tell Me How You Really Feel. It was created by Courtney Barnett, a 30-year-old singer-songwriter from Melbourne in Australia recently described as “the ultimate paradoxical millennial”.Her writing is fresh, eloquent and full of surprises. One of the album’s best songs is aimed at a male internet troll, and has a chorus that paraphrases Margaret Atwood: “I wanna walk through the park in the dark/Men are scared that women will laugh at them … Women are scared that men will kill them.” It is called Nameless, Faceless, which has obvious echoes of Nirvana’s 1991 track Endless, Nameless – and highlights the fact that one of Barnett’s clear inspirations is Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, who once wrote of “the comfort in knowing that women are the only future in rock’n’roll”.

At long last, this might finally be coming true. In September the annual Mercury prize was won by Wolf Alice, the London-based quartet whose creativity seems to be chiefly driven by their guitarist and singer, Ellie Rowsell. Any list of contemporary musicians who are doing interesting and iconoclastic things with rock(ish) music ought to be brimming with women’s names: Barnett, Rowsell, the genre-defying American solo artist St Vincent, the Anglo-French group Savages, the all-female Brixton band Goat Girl. And last week there was news of a remarkable development at music’s grassroots: according to the guitar manufacturer Fender, 50% of “all beginner and aspirational players” of the instrument in the UK and US are now women. This apparently chimes with the findings of research in 2016, which were linked to the popularity among girls of Taylor Swift. Though she is not seen with a guitar nearly as much these days, the trend has continued. This is nothing but a good thing, and it would be even better if the gender balance were tilted even more.

Related: Half of beginner guitarists in US and UK are female, survey says

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