In 2000, a rap-rock band from Los Angeles named Crazy Town briefly dominated the American pop charts with the song “Butterfly.” The song reached number one in 15 countries. It features a sampled Red Hot Chili Peppers guitar hook and lyrics such as, “Such a sexy, sexy, pretty little thing/Fierce nipple pierce you got me sprung with your tongue ring.” To hear it is to hate it. In the music video, shirtless band members dance in a Lisa Frank-inspired forest, sneering arrogantly at the camera while animated butterflies float in the air around them.
“Butterfly” should have never been allowed to happen, but the silver lining is that the song will be transformed into something hilarious and awesome on Saturday, October 18 at Aurora, when Girls Rock! Rhode Island celebrates its five-year anniversary with “Take Back the Mic: Good Covers of Bad Songs.” The all-ages show features local bands and performers including Mother Tongue, Virusse, Roz and the Rice Cakes, and Gertrude Atherton, all performing rewritten and/or re-appropriated versions of otherwise unsavory songs.
Girls Rock! has come a long way since its inception in 2009, when executive director Hilary Jones and a few other founding members decided they wanted to establish a local rock camp for girls modeled after similar programs around the country. Today, the organization is one of more than 50 camps worldwide that operate independently but share the same mission: to empower girls via music creation, performance, collaboration, workshops, and being introduced to positive role models.
“I think one of the major takeaways from camp is that campers are doing this thing that’s kind of impossible in some ways,” says Jones. “Learning an instrument and writing a song with a band that didn’t exist five days ago and then playing it in front of 500 people — the hope is that it makes them think, ‘If I did this, what else can I do in my life?’ ”
Over the last five years, Girls Rock! RI has expanded its programming to include year-round lessons, a Ladies Rock Camp for adults, and most recently, an after-school chorus program at the all-girl Sophia Academy, a Providence middle school focused on economically disadvantaged students. “It’s not about playing perfect guitar solos, it’s about expressing yourself through music,” says Jones. “The outcome we’re looking for is empowerment, and not necessarily the ability to be a crazy shredder.”
During a recent after-school workshop, guitar instructor Ana Mallozzi sat with four students on the floor of the Girls Rock! West End headquarters and began class by asking if anyone in the group had ever tuned a guitar before. “I have, several times!” shouted a girl named Cecily, who looked about 12 and sat holding a black electric guitar that looked disproportionately large against her small frame. The group learned about tuners, amplifiers, distortion, and feedback, and not one of them seemed even slightly self-conscious or frustrated at their ability level, despite this being only the second day of class. This, says Jones, is exactly the type of atmosphere that Girls Rock! strives to create. “It’s a little bit like a utopia, in some ways. You really do feel like you’re in a bubble. And when you leave the bubble and go back to your job or whatever you do afterwards, it feels weird. It’s pretty nice, we have a very supportive community.”