The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #369: Rebel Girl by Bikini Kill (KEXP)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #369: Rebel Girl by Bikini Kill.

A few posts ago, I wrote about an all-girl trio named “Sleater-Kinney”. In that post, I spoke about how it was difficult for female musicians to crack the burgeoning alternative rock market around Seattle at the time that Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and the like were all making their debuts, as well. “Sleater-Kinney” were part of a feminist push-back movement called, “Riot Grrrl”. But, while “Sleater-Kinney” were an important part of this movement, the face of the Riot-Grrrl Movement was a band called, “Bikini Kill”. The anthem of the Movement was their song, “Rebel Girl”. Here is the story of a feminist anthem.

“Bikini Kill” was formed in 1990 and consisted of lead singer, Kathleen Hanna, Guitarist, Billy Karren, Bassist, Kathi Wilcox and drummer, Tobi Vail. Their shows were centred upon feminist themes or, generally speaking, topics that they felt weren’t being written about in the mainstream media or by male-centric rock bands. They encouraged females to come to their shows and, once there, the band offered a very interactive experience for those women who did show up. The point of it all was to provide a safe environment for female musicians to express their own concerns/interests/ideas, as well as, a safe environment for women to attend a rock n’ roll show without fear for their safety from testosterone-driven males and their amped-up sensibilities.

While “Bikini Kill” was definitely involved in their own music scene, all of the members of the band inter-mingled with the boys in the other Seattle bands. In particular, lead singer, Kathleen Hanna was involved, for awhile, in a relationship with Nirvana frontman, Kurt Cobain. He thought highly of her for her willingness to stand up for her beliefs, for the intensity of her stage performances and for the craftsmanship of her song lyrics. One of the legendary stories to emerge from their relationship is one in which Hanna helped inspire Cobain to write Nirvana’s biggest hit, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. There is a video clip that I will place in the below in which Hanna, herself, describes how this all unfolded.

The song, “Rebel Girl” was produced by the legendary rocker, Joan Jett and features Jett on guitar. The song is a lesbian-oriented song which was meant to take the traditional “Boy-Meets-Girl” format of most male-oriented Rock songs and come at it from a female perspective. Hanna hoped that, by singing about female-driven desire, “Rebel Girl” would become a song a female empowerment. She wanted women to take greater initiative when it came to their relationships and felt that many might feel safer and more willing to do so, if they object of desire was also female. As it turned out, “Rebel Girl” came to define the Riot Grrrlz Movement and is, definitely, “Bikini Kill’s” signature song. The song was, also, the lead single in the soundtrack to the movie, “Ghost World”, which starred Scarlett Johansson, Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi.

As Punk-Rock songs go, “Rebel Girl” is one of the best. The energy shown in the video below is the same energy that I enjoy so much when in attendance at live musical events. The action, the volume, the inter-activity between the band and the audience, the importance of the lyrics…..this is all what I love about live music! As with many bands who are defined by one big hit, “Bikini Kill” actually have many intelligent, high-energy songs to their name and as such, are well worth checking out on YouTube; especially, if you are someone (or you know someone) who would benefit from watching women rocking out as hard as any man and being totally in charge of their musical message. Good role models are important. This is, especially, true if you know young girls who may want to play music but, may be wondering if there is a place for women in the industry (besides, as sex objects). So, without further delay, here is “Bikini Kill” with “Rebel Girl”. Enjoy.

The link for the video for the song, “Rebel Girl” by Bikini Kill, can be found here.

The link to the video of Kathleen Hanna talking about how she inspired Kurt Cobain to write “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, an be found here.

The link for the video showing “Rebel Girl” as seen in the movie, Ghost World”, can be seen here.

The link to the official website of Bikini Kill, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP for supporting all forms of great music. A link to their website can be found here.