As expected, the 50th anniversary of Sgt Pepper has resulted in a huge number of articles being written about it. The opinions range from ‘greatest album of all time’ to ‘most overrated album of all time’. And then there’s this — an article by Amanda Marcotte for Salon which argues that Sgt Pepper was essentially music for males.
Marcotte says that the album marked “the point when rock music stopped being the music of girls and started being the music of men.” As a female Beatles fan, I have to disagree. First of all, when was rock considered the music of girls? If anything, it was always males who were seen as the ‘serious’ appreciators of the genre, while females were unfairly viewed as superficial; the ones who had a physical attraction to their rock and roll idols and didn’t care quite as deeply about the music (which, of course, was a myth). So Sgt Pepper certainly didn’t bring about any change in this regard.
Secondly, this statement implies that women didn’t appreciate the album in the same way that men did. I don’t know any female fan of The Beatles who doesn’t love their work from Sgt Pepper onwards just as much as they love what came before. The same applies to male fans. Everyone has their own preference when it comes to songs and albums, but I’ve honestly never heard any Beatles fan dismiss an entire era of their work.
The article notes that teenyboppers claimed ownership of The Beatles until they were “taken away” from them and their music was “turned into a respectable art form.” I can of course acknowledge that teenage girls made up a considerable proportion of The Beatles’ fanbase from the beginning, a fact that the media always focused in on. I can also acknowledge that, when their music became more experimental, critics who might have dismissed their earlier work as disposable pop began to take them more seriously as artists. However, it’s not as if The Beatles didn’t have male fans in their early years. They have always been loved equally by men and women.
In criticising some of the album’s tracks, Marcotte bemoans the fact that there is very little that would, as she sees it, “make a lady want to shake her hips on the dance floor.” She seems to think that this was the main aim of any girl or woman listening to music at this time, which is kind of insulting. It’s not all about finding something to dance to.
She also makes generalisations about several other genres, dividing them into “music for girls” and “music for men”. Who’s to say that only girls like Duran Duran, that disco is “music for girls and gay men” or that only “white dudes” listen to EDM? Why does any form of music have to be associated with a particular gender, or indeed sexuality?
Another part I disagreed with was the idea that on the cover of Sgt Pepper, The Beatles wore uniforms “that couldn’t be better suited to repel the female gaze” — as if this was somehow a deliberate move. Leaving aside the fact that plenty of female fans continued to find them attractive after they ditched the suits and moptops, the implication seems to be that for women it was all about the image and not the music.
The overall picture that emerges from this article is one of female Beatles fans being shallow people who just want to have a dance while drooling over their idols, and I resent that. We’re equally as capable of freaking out over a beautiful George Martin string arrangement as we are of freaking out over Paul McCartney’s puppy-dog eyes. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to listen to some of that ‘music for men’.