Three Oregon Musicians Champion Inspiring Women with New YouTube Series “She’s Speaking”

Singer-songwriter and ‘She’s Speaking’ co-creator Beth Wood, as photographed by Rodney Bursiel

Last year, during the 2020 Vice Presidential debates, when Kamala Harris silenced Mike Pence with the measured reminder, “I’m Speaking,” three Oregon-based songwriters – Kristen Grainger, Beth Wood, and Bre Gregg – all had the same epiphany. “All three of us felt the lightning-bolt force of those two little words,” Grainger says. “In that moment, one indisputable truth hit home hard: women’s voices matter.”

Stirred by this feeling that women were finally having a moment—and that people were listening—all three individually brainstormed ways they could get their own voices out there. Grainger approached Gregg with an idea for doing a music festival in honor of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who’d just passed away. Wood had just written a song called “One Step at a Time” honoring the late Supreme Court Justice, and when she reached out about an idea she’d long been brewing, Gregg thought they all should do something collectively, in the vein of Wood’s lilting, melancholy RBG tribute.

“I was inspired by not only her life… She was a tiny woman, she was quiet, she wasn’t an extrovert, but she quietly calculated what she wanted, the change she wanted to see in the world, and she made it happen,” says Wood of Ginsburg. “The song is centered around a quote of hers where she says that real change, enduring change, takes place one step at a time. And I look at her life and — that’s what she did.”

Together, Grainger, Wood, and Gregg decided to meld their ideas into one YouTube channel dedicated to women musicians performing original songs about women that have inspired them. The channel, which they aptly named “She’s Speaking,” officially launched on March 8 with a live, pre-recorded virtual show featuring blues artist Lady A.

Wood, who is credited by the other two women for first proposing the YouTube channel idea, says she’d been considering starting something like this for a year or so. “I can’t believe how many amazing women artists there are in the world and how many I’ve had a chance to meet over 20-something years of touring. So I had this thought, like a year ago, like what could we do to bring attention and lift up women’s voices?” says Wood. “And then I was like, what if we write songs about women who inspire us? And all these things just came together at once.”

“She’s Speaking” is essentially a highly-curated video playlist including material from some of the best women songwriters in a variety of genres, from bluegrass and folk to blues. Along with contributing their own songs and videos, Wood, Grainger and Gregg garnered much of the channel’s content by reaching out to friends they’ve made during their decades in the music business.

“One of the really fun things about this is that each of us operates in a different world,” says Wood. “I’m in the folky singer/songwriter world and Kristen is more in the bluegrass world that overlaps with the folky world, and then Bre is somewhat more in the jazz world – they all overlap, but they all have their own separate orbit so we each made a huge brainstorm list of who could we reach out to.”

The response was tremendous. In a little more than a month they received more than 50 submissions of original content for the channel. Most of the songs are packaged as a video of the artist performing their tribute in a simple, straightforward way, much like how they would appear in a small, intimate house concert.

After one song ends, the next begins, forming this great, endless train creative, celebratory songs about every woman imaginable—from women’s right’s activist Susan B. Anthony to inaugural poet Amanda Gorman to many of the artists’ own mothers and grandmothers.

In the description of each video, listeners can learn information about the songwriter and the inspiration behind the song. As well, ways to support each artist are linked, and Gregg says many are taking advantage of the opportunity to support these independent, women artists.

“I was so heartened by the number of donations we got that there were from men. Probably 50%. And people who watched. This was not all women who were watching and giving,” she says. “So part of me thinks when we talk about how women are ready, this is our time to be heard, I think there are a lot of men who believe that as well.”

Though the playlist already contains more than 50 video performances of original songs from professional women musicians, currently—all three of them hope to continue to add more and more videos to the channel as time goes on, from any woman who wants to contribute. In fact, Gregg says her seven year-old daughter is working on a song she hopes to submit.

“We talked about doing this initial launch with artists that we know and curating it; the hope is to put out the call to anyone, any woman who wants to write a song and have her upload it to her YouTube and then let us know about it and we can add it to a playlist on our channel,” says Wood.

After all, Gregg, Grainger, and Wood hope this channel can be a more inclusive platform for women artists—one that generates visibility for all women musicians, regardless of their youth or appearance, and also a platform that exposes more listeners to more variety and talent than what they might hear on the radio.

“There’s frustration associated with the Americana charts and the country charts in seeing how few women’s voices are represented consistently. It can’t be that they’re not writing as good of songs as these men,” says Grainger.

“She’s Speaking” is also designed as a platform where women musicians can come as they are. No need for high heels and sexy costumes, just bring authentic yourself and submit a good song.

“It’s really great to glorify women artists on based on something other than their beauty. No offense to all the beautiful women, but I mean, there is also beauty in the things that [women] create,” says Grainger.

“These are not produced videos of people wearing fancy makeup and clothes,” adds Wood. “These are just people sitting down and being like, here’s a song. And that’s intentional. We want this channel to be about the song and about the artist.”

Gregg, Grainger and Wood also emphasize how much they want this platform to function as a source of role models for the next generation of women—to show them that they can be in the music industry, and in every other corner of the world.

“You can tell people that they can do anything they want to do, but if nobody like them is doing the thing, it doesn’t mean they can’t do it, but it means it is astronomically more difficult for them to think of themselves in that role,” says Gregg. “And if you think of yourself in a role, that’s where it all starts – it’s all about being able to visualize that even as a possibility.”

Follow She’s Speaking on YouTube and Facebook for ongoing updates.

How Songland Contestant Anna Graceman Turned Viral Videos into Songwriting Success

Anna Graceman wrote her first song, “So I Cried,” at age six, after a family member told her about someone in their life who passed away. “I didn’t really understand at all,” she remembers. “But I could tell they were really upset and missed this person, and I felt all this sadness. I couldn’t imagine losing someone I cared about so much.”

She began posting videos of herself performing her songs on Youtube just so that family members could stay on top of what she was doing. Then, unexpectedly, a video of nine-year-old Graceman performing “Paradise” — a song she wrote about natural scenes from her hometown of Juneau, Alaska and the need to take care of the Earth — went viral, and she ended up on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. “I don’t think I really understood how exciting it was,” she recalls.  “I think about some of the things that I did when I was younger and I think I was just completely unaware of how exciting they were – sometimes I wish those things had happened when I was older so I could enjoy them!”

For some, appearing on Ellen would be the pinnacle of accomplishment, but for Graceman, it was only the beginning. She continued writing songs and performing them on YouTube, channeling powerhouse vocal performers like Adele and singing emphatically about a range of emotions despite her young age — in a 2012 performance of her song “Broken Hearted” she admitted that she herself had never had her heart broken or even thought about having a relationship. Buoyed by the popularity of the show-stopping performances that landed her in the top ten finalists of America’s Got Talent Season Six, Graceman released her first first album at age 12, via her own label, Another Girl Records, and performed at residencies in Las Vegas over the next few years.

At sixteen, she released Rebel Days, a record made in collaboration with her sisters; over the next few years she performed at festivals both alone and with her siblings, all while her YouTube videos – most of which are now non-exclusively licensed by Disney – amassed millions of views. She took a break from performing to focus on songwriting for others, participating in “She Is The Music,” an all-female writing camp focused on writing songs for Mary J. Blige. “She’s hugely influential in the music industry, being a female and being successful and so accomplished, so that was definitely a highlight for me,” Graceman says, who noting that even the engineers and producers who participated in the program were women.

In other words, Graceman is an example of a performer who is wise, talented, and driven beyond her years. Honing her prolific songcraft and stunning vocal ability throughout her childhood has landed Graceman where she is today, on the threshold of turning twenty. She recently returned to television to appear on NBC’s Songland, (a reality show where songwriters perform songs to artists who could potentially sing them); a version of the song she pitched to Bebe Rexha on last Monday’s episode was combined with elements of a song from fellow contestant Greg Scott to become that episode’s winner. “Most of time when you’re pitching a song to an artist it goes through an email, and maybe you hear back from the manager, but usually you’re not in front of them singing the song to them,” Graceman says. “It was a huge honor but extremely nerve-racking because you’re not only hearing what she loved about it, but what she didn’t love.”

Just three days prior, on May 29, Graceman released The Way the Night Behaves, her first solo album since 2012. The new album shares many elements in common with her early work, including a powerful voice and universal themes like love and loss, this time based on her own experience. She even sings another ode to her hometown, a soulful track about Alaska’s rare sunny days called “Sunny Point Drive.” But while it contains hints of the star who grew up on YouTube, The Way the Night Behaves also shows how much Graceman has evolved as both a singer and a songwriter. “Through that process of learning to write for different projects, I grew,” she says. “It’s really been able to affect my own writing in a positive way, and it’s different because I’ve just grown a lot as a person.”

The album was born from a project Graceman began in early 2019 to release a new song on Youtube every month. She had 12 singles by the end of the year, then added a few more songs to complete the album. Her voice demonstrates impressive range, as do the songs themselves, from the upbeat, celebratory “Good Things” and the catchy, rhythmic “Man on the Moon” to the deep and vulnerable “Fragile” and the slow but inspiring “Keep on Moving On.”

In the near future, she’s got new videos coming out for several songs on The Way the Night Behaves. She is also working on a release she hopes will be out later this year. “I wrote the songs three years ago and have been holding onto them, waiting for the perfect time to share them with the world,” she says. It’s not surprising that there are even more songs up her sleeve, and there will undoubtedly be many more as she matures even further as an artist.

Follow Anna Graceman on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for ongoing updates.

NEWS ROUNDUP: No More Hate…Policy, YouTube Copyright & More

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Prince would’ve turned 60 on 6/7; his estate will release Piano and a Microphone 1983 in September.

No More Hate…Policy, New Releases & More

By Jasmine Williams

Spotify Says “JK!”

In a continuation of last week’s story, Spotify has completely walked back their recently introduced “hateful content and conduct” policy. The streaming giant announced their decision via a blog post stating that they “don’t aim to play judge and jury” and citing “vague” language that created “confusion and concern” as the reason for abandoning the policy. Critics of the policy accused the platform of censorship and racism; the first and only three artists singled out by the rule were R. Kelly, Tay-K, and XXXTentacion – black males, not yet convicted of their accused crimes.

Spotify’s decision to rescind their policy has also been met with criticism. While only a half measure – the “hate conduct” rule seemed like a step in the right direction for many involved in the #MeToo movement. While Spotify cites ethical reasons for cancelling its new rule, the action could also be seen as yet another example of the music industry pandering to money over the fight against misogyny and sexual harassment. Spofity’s decision to reverse the policy came only days after it was reported that Top Dawg Entertainment (Kendrick Lamar’s label) threatened to remove their artists’ music from the app, while Pitchfork’s Jillian Mapes points out that Sony (R. Kelly’s record label) is a Spotify shareholder.

YouTube Vs. Copyright Infringement

In a preliminary ruling with potentially big implications, the Vienna Commercial Court found that YouTube is at least partly liable for copyright infringement in videos uploaded by the streaming platform’s independent users. YouTube says that it does what it can to prevent copyright-infringing videos from remaining on the site, but that as a “neutral platform” it can’t completely control its users or the content they upload. The court disagrees, thanks to that innocuous little “Up Next” sidebar to the right of the main video that suggests additional content based on whatever the viewer happens to be watching, or has watched in the past. Because the courts see this as helping to determine what viewers watch, they say it nullifies YouTube’s neutrality.

What does all of this mean? It means YouTube could be forced to ramp up its monitoring efforts or face strict fines. Though the hearing in question revolved around Austrian TV channel Puls4, this could change what users see (and upload) on the streaming site the world over.

Meanwhile, the infamous “Dancing Baby” case has been settled after eleven years of back-and-forth between Universal Music and a mom who uploaded a video of her toddler getting his groove on while Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” played in their kitchen. With the kid in question about to enter middle school, the Vienna ruling might’ve put blame on the shoulders of YouTube itself.

Oldies but Goodies?

A recent survey in Britain came to the conclusion that most people stop listening to new music after the age of thirty. Music streaming service, Deezer, surveyed 1,000 people and found that more than sixty percent of them mainly listened to music they discovered before the big 3-0.

Break out of the mold and check out brand new music below!

That New New

Shannon and the Clams vocalist and namesake Shannon Shaw released her solo album, Shannon in Nashville, today. She’ll play some solo shows before reconnecting with her band for live shows this summer.

Yesterday Prince would have turned 60. Perhaps in memory of the occasion, his estate announced the upcoming release of Piano & A Microphone 1983, an album of stripped back, previously unheard music.

Lily Allen stays real on her brand new album, No Shame.

Smashing Pumpkins reunited for “Solara,” their first new single in more than fifteen years!

Death Grips shared the newest track from Year of the Snitch and confirmed the release date for the LP (6/22).

End Notes

  • Kanye West and Kid Cudi’s new album, Kids See Ghosts, released last night via another livestream via another app.
  • A 55-year old original John Coltrane recording has been unearthed and will see release by the end of the month.
  • Afropunk announced their full Brooklyn lineup, including “Special Guest TBA”  Kaytranada!
  • Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon launched a new platform and used it to release music from a new project.
  • M. Ward released surprise LP What A Wonderful Industry, putting to song 20-plus years of music industy beef.
  • Queen mother Dolly Parton announced an upcoming Netflix series based on her songs.


NEWS ROUNDUP: Alice Glass, YouTube & More

Alice Glass, YouTube & More

By Jasmine Williams

The Indomitable Ms. Alice

Thanks to #MuteRKelly the #MeToo floodgates have opened in the music industry with more stories of rampant sexual abuse and harassment coming out every day. Just this week, allegations surfaced against Dee Dee Warwick and Boyd Tinsley of Dave Matthews Band. While it feels daunting to read more and more about disturbing abuses of power, there is a silver lining. Victims are finally being taken more seriously and with everything coming to the surface, the tides may finally be changing.

Case in point – Alice Glass. Last October, the ex-Crystal Castles front woman authored a blog post accusing her former bandmate Ethan Kath of almost a decade of sexual, physical, and mental abuse. In response, Kath attempted to  sue for defamation, calling Glass’ allegations “pure fiction.” His case was thrown out in February, in part because of Glass’ legal team’s citing of anti-SLAPP legislation.

Recently, Kath tried to re-open his defamation case and lost, again! Yesterday, Glass revealed that a judge denied Kath’s appeal. Glass’ statements are protected under the First Amendment right to free speech; she and her lawyer, Vicki Greco, were also able to prove that her comments were made in the public interest. Glass was also awarded $20,000 in damages for her legal fees.

It will be interesting to see if the Crystal Castles cases create a precedent for similar situations such as Gaslamp Killer’s case. The producer has filed a defamation suit against two women who alleged that he drugged and raped them in 2013.

The Stream Team

YouTube is throwing its hat in to the streaming ring. YouTube music will launch in several countries, including the United States on May 22nd. The video giant’s global head of music Lyor Cohen is on a publicity tour ahead of the launch. He sat down with NPR to discuss the future of YouTube and his hopes and fears for the industry. Cohen made his name with Def Jam and 300 Entertainment and has long been a controversial figure in the industry. Only last month he was accused of flashing a white power symbol in a photo with a MAGA-hat-wearing, Kanye West. Cohen maintains that his hand gesture has long been associated with 300 Entertainment.

That New New

Courtney Barnett’s new album is out today! Tell Me How You Really Feel is a more personal follow-up to 2015’s Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit. Christine and the Queens is also back this week, she rolled out a new track called “Girlfriend.” Mitski also gave us a new single, as well as a video. She calls “Geyser” one of her “vaguest songs.” Lindsay Jordan of Snail Mail released the song, “Let’s Find An Out,” this week. The nineteen-year-old is getting lots of love in the media lately. She was recently profiled in The New York Times and W Magazine.  Disclosure fans got a gift this week – the brothers just released the six-minute track, “Ultimatum.” Australian duo Kllo dropped “Potential,” their first single since their 2017 debut album.

For more new music, check out recent Audiofemme features on Knotts and Maria Taylor.

End Notes:

  • Issa Rae has partnered with AfroPunk on a contest to find new music for her hit (amazing) series, Insecure.
  • Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” is number one on Billboard this week. His video also surpassed 100 million views. His choreographer celebrated the milestone by posting a dance tutorial of the routines in the clip.
  • This week in random Kanye tweets, the Trump apologist rapper showed some love for the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.

ONLY NOISE: Let Them Eat CupcakKe

You don’t have to be intimately familiar with Chicago rapper CupcakKe to glean that her work might be sexual in nature – if titles like “Deepthroat” and Cum Cake don’t tip you off, I’m not sure what will – but on Tuesday, YouTube saw fit to censor her video channel, pulling clips for the aforementioned 2016 track and “Duck Duck Goose,” which appears on the artist’s latest LP Ephorize. The video platform replaced them with a message that read: “This video has been removed for violating YouTube’s policy on nudity or sexual content,” failing to realize that CupcakKe is a lot more than just a raunchy female rapper. She’s a one-woman revolution.

Born Elizabeth Harris, the MC discovered her love for performing in church, where she read original poetry “strictly about God.” But by age 18, CupcakKe was ready to pursue less pure material. She unleashed her single “Vagina” in 2015, and its corresponding music video went viral, racking up over two million views on YouTube. The homemade short features a half-naked CupcakKe getting hot and heavy with sexy foods like cucumbers and a pinwheel lollipop. Like many of CupcakKe’s music videos, “Vagina” is a frill-free production, positioning the artist amongst un-styled couches and kitchen tables. CupcakKe is in a familiar space; she is unburdened by the presence of men, and most importantly, she is in complete control of her situation. The combination of these factors produces something very interesting: subversion and perhaps mockery of the male gaze. CupcakKe may be deepthroating a squash and rapping about her “young twat,” but she makes it explicitly clear that her pleasure is the number one priority here.

The two videos that YouTube erased on Tuesday are extensions of CupcakKe’s empowered, sex-positive ethos. Both are shot in modest home settings and feature a lone CupcakKe interacting with both banal and sexual objects. “Duck Duck Goose” feels particularly impactful, and could stand alone as a treatise to reclaim the female body from a musical genre that has exploited it for decades. In the opening moments, CupcakKe crawls into bed with a few of her favorite dildos, licking and sucking and propping them up against a miniature Statue of Liberty to demonstrate height. But unlike the sultry, “come hither” gaze we are so accustomed to seeing in music videos, pornography, film, and fashion ads, CupcakKe is smiling ear to ear. She nibbles and strokes her multicolored dicks, but she also places them on chairs and pats them on the head, as if they were little dolls attending her tea party. It quickly becomes apparent that CupcakKe is commanding her own desires, and she is doing so with a high dose of humor and self-awareness. She is carving out her own piece of female identity, one that doesn’t fit squarely in the “angel” or “whore” packaging society likes to wrap women in. But women who burst out of these boxes are rarely welcomed by the people who boxed them in to begin with.

On Sunday, before CupcakKe’s videos were pulled, music journalist Margaret Farrell saw the rapper live when she made a guest appearance at Charli XCX’s Elsewhere gig. When CupcakKe performed, Farrell overheard “two dudes” standing behind her who seemed to completely miss the point of CupcakKe’s work. “[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][They were] discussing how they loved Cupcakke because she rapped about weird, gross things, but since she’s a woman it’s cool,” says Farrell. The dudes went on to say that it’s problematic when a guy “raps about ‘fucking in the ass and fucking in the mouth’ but when [CupcakKe] does it it’s like ‘fuck me in the ass, fuck me here,’ and that’s just cooler for her to say,” Farrell continues. “Yes, it is amazing that she is asserting her sexual agency and creating a new narrative around sex, but the way they phrased it was like she is their sexual object – it was extremely gazey… It was just a shallow assessment of what she’s doing.”

My assessment of these dudes’ assessment boils down to perceived ownership; that many men cannot understand art in which a woman is not the object of a man’s desire. These dudes clearly couldn’t hear what CupcakKe was really rapping. She’s not draped across a convertible waiting to be fucked; she’s doing the fucking, and it’s not about you. Nearly every musical genre has difficulties with this concept. Rock has a long history of objectifying women and reducing us to greased up RealDolls, and hip-hop has a similar relationship with women. Whether its 2 Chainz throwing cash at butts in “I Luv Dem Strippers,” or the lady bodies used like stage props in 50 Cent’s “Disco Inferno,” it’s not hard to find examples of sexism in the genre. Rick Ross can rap about date rape, Bizarre can rap about getting his sister gangbanged for her birthday, XXXTentacion can land on a Vulture “Best New Songs of the Week” list after gruesome domestic abuse charges. But when CupcakKe raps about enjoying blowjobs? God forbid.

It feels crucial to support an artist like CupcakKe, who is not only wildly talented as a poet and MC, but who is reclaiming her body and right to pleasure, as well as inverting and subverting traditional modes of objectification. The disembodied dicks in “Duck Duck Goose” and the banana in “Deepthroat” signify farce as much as they do arousal; CupcakKe may be swallowing them in one frame, but she’s patting them on the head and pulverizing them with her teeth in the next. She’s reducing one of the most over-analyzed symbols in the post-Freud era – the phallus – to a couple of candy-colored, silicone toys. It’s a righteous reduction, as women have been rendered like plastic playthings for far too long. But even when CupcakKe is trying to extinguish a long enforced double standard of the music industry, she’s not afraid to champion her sexual enthusiasm. One lyric from “Self Interview” sums this up perfectly. “Females have sex on the first night, they get called a ho for that one night stand,” she raps. “Men have sex on the first night, congratulations!” “Most wouldn’t comprehend/Double standards need to end.”

On Tuesday, in response to YouTube scrubbing her videos from its site, CupcakKe wrote on Twitter: “I kn the fuck y’all didn’t deleted deepthroat video off YouTube at 23 million views @YouTube PUT IT BACK UP NOW” When she noticed another video had been pulled, she lamented, “And they just deleted duck duck goose one more and my entire channel is gone.” After only a few hours, and an outpouring of support from fans, the video platform ceded and returned the music videos to the channel. A representative from YouTube spoke to Pitchfork on the matter, stating: “With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make the wrong call. When it’s brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it. We also offer uploaders the ability to appeal removals and we will re-review the content.” All CupcakKe had to say was, “They back up thanks y’all.”