Girl Power The Nineties Revolution in Music

Marisa Meltzer

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

176 Pages



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In the early nineties, riot grrrl exploded onto the underground music scene, inspiring girls to pick up an instrument, create fanzines, and become politically active. Rejecting both traditional gender roles and their parents' brand of feminism, riot grrrls celebrated and deconstructed femininity. The media went into a titillated frenzy covering followers who wrote "slut" on their bodies, wore frilly dresses with combat boots, and talked openly about sexual politics.

The movement's message of "revolution girl-style now" soon filtered into the mainstream as "girl power," popularized by the Spice Girls and transformed into merchandising gold as shrunken T-shirts, lip glosses, and posable dolls. Though many criticized girl power as at best frivolous and at worst soulless and hypersexualized, Marisa Meltzer argues that it paved the way for today's generation of confident girls who are playing instruments and joining bands in record numbers.

Girl Power examines the role of women in rock since the riot grrrl revolution, weaving Meltzer's personal anecdotes with interviews with key players such as Tobi Vail from Bikini Kill and Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls. Chronicling the legacy of artists such as Bratmobile, Sleater-Kinney, Alanis Morissette, Britney Spears, and, even the Spice Girls, Girl Power points the way for the future of women in rock.


Praise for Girl Power

"Writing from personal and journalistic perspectives, Meltzer packs plenty of solid information into this innovative popular history. Drawn early to the riot grrrl movement, she subsequently attended Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA, where it flourished and spread. Riot grrrls formed bands, composed and performed their singular brand of punk rock, dressed in girlish outfits and combat boots, spoke openly about politics and gender, and bonded through grassroots fanzines. They defined their own style of music and feminism. Meltzer's in-depth research and interviews blend into a tightly woven yet flowing narrative as she offers incisive commentary on the culture, criticisms, and far-reaching impact of the riot grrrl and her music, with a special focus on the historical lineage of performers, from Bikini Kill to Alanis Morissette to the Spice Girls. Women who grew up during this time period and students of comparative feminist history, psychology, and modern musical genres will find this absorbing. It provides a personal frame of reference for those who lack their own but have an interest in the music and the era."—Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, New Jersey, Library Journal

"There are probably at least a thousand ways to write about popular music, and the vast majority of them are fucking awful. As annoying as the cliche ‘Writing about music is like dancing about architecture' is, there is some truth to it—it's a mostly thankless job, and readers who have tried to muddle through the mess that so much of contemporary music writing has become would be forgiven for just giving up on the genre entirely. Every music fan has encountered the pedantic music snob, who starts off every paragraph with an implied sigh, followed by an explanation of why your favorite band is actually derivative and terrible. Then there's the comprehensive historian, dedicating pages upon pages to every one-off band in his favorite genre. Maybe even worse are the writers who try to capture the sound of the music they're writing about in print—it's rarely successful, and almost always insufferable . . . All that makes it even more gratifying when a relatively new writer takes on pop music and does it flawlessly. Marisa Meltzer . . . manages to avoid every single music-writing pitfall in her fascinating new book, Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music. It's a remarkably well-written book, and it doesn't seek to be comprehensive, indier-than-thou, or preachy—it's a brief history, written with a keen eye for both social and musical context, and it captures the spirit of popular music in the '90s better than anything I've read . . . The book works because Meltzer doesn't confine herself to one single concept (although the finished product is seamless). There's history here, but it's not mind-numbingly comprehensive and bogged down in every single detail of every single record label during every single year. Her research is impressive—there are quotes from interviews Meltzer did with an impressive quantity of musicians, writers, and record label employees, but it never comes across as name-dropping or gratuitous. Meltzer isn't afraid to add commentary, which is good; her observations are fair, original, and unfailingly intelligent. Most importantly, she's able to blend personal anecdotes with the other elements of the book, and it's hard to overstate how much that adds. Meltzer writes about her own experiences with an unbelievably winning mix of wry self-awareness and touching emotional honesty. There's never a moment where the reader feels she's trying to make herself seem cool, distant, and above it all—the result, happily, is that she comes across as an extremely smart friend who always has interesting things to say about music. It's really unlike anything I've read before in the field of music writing. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Girl Power is that it manages to tell us more about popular music, and popular culture, as a whole than the vast majority of music books with broader scopes do. The subtitle of the book, after all, is The Nineties Revolution in Music, not The Nineties Revolution in Women's Music. Meltzer realizes, correctly, that bands like Bikini Kill, Team Dresch, all the heroines of the zine/mix-tape culture, changed music and culture for all musicians, and all fans. It's remarkable how well she articulate this in fewer than 200 pages, and I'm dying to see what she writes about next. Girl Power deserves an immediate place in the canon of popular music writing—Meltzer's accomplishment is remarkable, and her talent is undeniable."—Michael Schaub, Bookslut

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt


The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, is the kind of university that offers neither grades nor majors. Its central quad is called Red Square; its concrete-block, riot-proof buildings are nestled among acres...

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  • 92Y Show & Tell: Marisa Meltzer

    At the home of author Marisa Meltzer, who showed us some of her music and zines.

  • Cooking the Books - Marisa Meltzer

    Cooking the Books is an internet cooking show hosted by Emily Gould in which she invites famous authors into her kitchen to make food inspired by their books. In this episode Emily talks with Marisa Meltzer, author of Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music, while making Alicia Silverstone's recipe for vegan cupcakes.



  • Marisa Meltzer

  • Marisa Meltzer is the coauthor of How Sassy Changed My Life (Faber, 2007). Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Slate, Elle, and Teen Vogue. She attended Evergreen State College and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.

  • Marisa Meltzer © Shayla Hason
    Marisa Meltzer