Girls still wanna have fun The post-50 women redefining pop
It’s not just male rockers ageing (dis)gracefully... Lisa Verrico heralds the post-50 women redefining pop
Of the many gigs I saw in 2017, only one made me laugh out loud, dance arms-aloft down an aisle and not care that I could hear myself singing out of tune. Bananarama’s comeback concert at London’s Hammersmith Apollo was a night of pure joy. Watching the ‘girl group’ – now in their late fifties and early sixties – flu their dance routines just as they used to, gasp at the size of their ’80s hair, and tell stories about how they became friends wasn’t just a nostalgia trip. As a pop critic, I’ve seen scores of reunions over the years – from Simon & Garfunkel ignoring each other on stage to The Police burying hatchets. All were fantastic but none as much fun as Bananarama. The trio attempting to mimic moves from one of their old videos, or teasing each other
for being out of breath, was brilliant because of who they are now, not who they were decades ago. It reminded me of nights out with pals after years apart.
Whatever musicians claim, most reunions are about money. Bananarama’s wasn’t like that. The joy the audience felt came straight from the stage. Sara Dallin, Siobhan Fahey and Keren Woodward obviously loved being back together in front of fans who shared their excitement. The reunion came about after they got drunk several summers ago at a dinner at Fahey’s house. At 2am, they talked about touring together for the first time – Fahey quit the band in the late ’80s, just before their first tour. The delay was partly due to other commitments, but there was also the worry that no one would care. In fact, when their comeback concerts were announced, all 13 dates sold out so quickly that another 10 were added. As Keren joked, “That’s 23 dates in a month – at our age!”
Bananarama are by no means alone in proving pop isn’t a career that women outgrow after a certain age. Debbie Harry, 73, has never stopped touring or releasing records. She reformed Blondie 20 years ago, and began having hits all over again. And unlike, say, The Rolling Stones, much of the band’s new material has been fantastic. If you love classic Blondie, check out their current album, Pollinator – it has all the hallmarks of
Parallel Lines, but brought up to date. Fellow American singer Madonna, 60, is an equally tireless performer. She’s expected to release new material any minute now, and we’re expecting big, glossy tunes that’ll be household hits.
And then there’s Petula Clark. Over two years ago, I watched Petula, then
83, rock a basement club in Berlin, playing old songs and new, including the dance hits she’s been having across Europe in recent years. Crucially, Petula doesn’t try to keep up with the kids – she writes songs she likes and performs them. She doesn’t need the money, but said, “What else would I do? It’s my job.” In a sea of male musicians whose careers seemingly have no sellby date – Paul Mccartney, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Robert Plant, Paul Weller, The Stones, The Who… women post-50 making >>
music have often been viewed as an anomaly. When Kate Bush took a decade out of the limelight to bring up her son, she was seen as an eccentric recluse. The 60-year-old has since released three astonishing albums.
Like Kate, Cher, 72, chooses when she wants to work. After a five-year break, she headed back to the recording studios, inspired by her time on the set of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.
Her new album Dancing Queen includes 10 ABBA covers that the ‘Goddess of Pop’ has made her own – and it sold around 153 000 units in the first week!
AGE IS AN ASSET
Since going solo, former Everything But The Girl singer Tracey Thorn, 56, has made her age an asset, touching on topics including menopause and dating after divorce in her songs. Her latest album, Record, is a must-hear for middle-aged moms. A highlight is Go, a dreamy pop song that describes empty nest syndrome almost too beautifully to bear. “You must outgrow it all/those marks on the wall/you should leave it all behind/and I should never mind,” she sings. “To wave you out the door/it’s what my love was for.”
Listening to Go or the glorious disco song Babies – on which Tracey looks back over her life and compares 3am on a dance floor to 3am in a rocking chair, feeding – I was shocked to realise that, despite being a middle-aged mom myself, I’d never noticed that next to no pop songs depict that side of my life. Now, I’m in search of any that do.
My current obsession is Kylie Minogue’s new album, Golden. Released shortly before the singer turned 50 in May, it’s by far the best record she’s made since her thirties, partly because it acknowledges her age. Kylie mixes country with her trademark disco-pop – “Dolly Parton on a dance floor”, as she describes it. Golden is a survival album, made in the wake of Kylie’s very public break-up with the actor Joshua Sasse. I love the song A Lifetime To
Repair not just because it makes me want to dance, but also because it
THESE SUCCESSFUL ARTISTS ARE ALL MAKING MUSIC THAT SUITS THEM AND EXCITES THEM
captures a relationship break-up in middle age, so dierent from how it feels in one’s teens. Go listen, and while you’re at it, check out her hit
Dancing, which has a killer chorus for anyone worried about losing their lust for life. “When I go out/i wanna go out
dancing,” sings Kylie, as eervescent as ever, but referring to the rest of her life, not her bygone clubbing days.
But it’s not only international singers who’re changing perceptions of post-50 women in pop. On home soil, Mango Groove’s lead singer Claire Johnston, 50, says she enjoys performing now more than ever. And PJ Powers, 58, is using her years of experience and influence as a musician to spread the word about social justice – her track Walk In My
Shoes is music with a message.
What these successful artists have in common is that they are making music that suits them and excites them, rather than trying to compete with a new generation with dierent ideas and influences. Björk, 53, is currently making the most challenging music of her career; whereas Lisa Stansfield, 52, recently released an eighth album that’s as classy and soulful as its predecessors.
I’m looking forward to rediscovering more of my teenage idols. In 2017,
I saw Alison Moyet, 57, formerly of Yazoo, on her first world tour in 30 years, for which she rightly received ecstatic reviews. I’ve also fallen back in love with Kim Wilde, whose new album,
Here Come The Aliens, recalls her Kids In America era, but adds rock guitars. It’s exciting to see that the women we discovered on those weeknight
Pop Shop sessions all those years ago are still going strong and rocking stages. As country pop star Shania Twain,
53, would say, “Let’s go girls!”. w&h
Performing live in 2017 at London’s Hammersmith Apollo Bananarama The original trio reformed in 2017 for a successful tour. From left: Siobhan Fahey, Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward
Kate BushHer 2014 live shows – her first since 1979 – were well worth the wait. Right: in the late 1970s
She’s set to shake things up with new music out in 2019 Madonna
Debbie Harry Blondie’s frontwoman is still one of the most iconic women in music. Right: in 1978
Kylie Her new album Golden is a survival album, which she made after a break-up
Kim Wilde She may be 58, but she’s a true rock chick!
Tracey Thorn Writes about her experiences of menopause and empty nest syndrome
Alison Moyet 2017 saw her first world tour in 30 years