The Barden Bellas are known, and beloved, for their creative aca-mash-ups of hit pop songs in the Pitch Perfect franchise. Whatever you've heard on the radio, whether it's last year or in the last decade, they probably have a take on it. The song selection generally and largely exists to move the plot forward or offer some commentary on the choices the ladies are making. In the latest instalment, the Bellas take on an original song, delivering on a plot point from the very first film, when Becca (Anna Kendrick) reveals she wants to be working in music as a producer. The song, called "Tribe," also delivers on a theme that all aspiring Bellas should hold near and dear: girl power. In a year where the #MeToo movement shook up the world, and certainly the entertainment industry, songs of female empowerment have a momentous resonance.
A version of "Tribe" that was recorded by emerging artist Kim Viera for the Pitch Perfect 3 soundtrack draws heavy sonic and lyrical parallels to the girl power-influenced pop of the '90s — and song cowriter Heidi Rojas told Refinery29 that is by design. "Tribe" is a song entirely about women supporting other women, that focuses female friendships for its message of empowerment.
Rojas, who also cowrote Little Mix's girl-power friendly first single "Wings" and a number-one hit in the U.K. with her co-writer of "Crazy Stupid Love" for Cheryl Cole, conceived of the song while she was driving in L.A. She then took it to one of her best friends, songwriter Steph Jones, to finish it off and make it a track entirely written by women — a rarity in modern pop singles. "Behind the scenes, even when the artists are female, the voices have been men," Rojas says. "Music is male-dominated, in the same way that film and TV are. Producers, A&R, and songwriters influencing young female artists, and trying to get the voice of a female artist out: Throw the voice of a woman in there who knows what it's like to be a girl."
Though 2017 has seen album releases from some of the biggest female artists in pop, including Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato, Pink, Katy Perry, Lorde, Miley Cyrus, Kelly Clarkson, Lana Del Rey, Kesha, and Fergie, it has not seen an increase in opportunity for female songwriters — and this is part of a bigger pattern in the music industry, where Rojas says opportunities mirror those in film and TV: They're largely given to male producers, songwriters, and A&R. She'd like to see more voices of women amplified, so we hear more songs that accurately reflect the female point of view.
"Female empowerment songs are often themed 'I don't need a man, I hate guys, and I'm done with you,'" Rojas explains. "On the other side of it are songs saying I'll do anything for you and be your slave, basically. I don't think a lot of people are writing flat-out 'all about me because I'm strong and powerful' songs for women. Growing up, I had those songs from Kelly Clarkson, Pink, or even Christina Aguilera. Women sang gorgeous songs about being beautiful and being strong. A lot of songs lean, in their lyrics, on the guy being a jerk or being in control."
Rojas makes the point that diversity, both in gender and in background, will make for a more eclectic Billboard Hot 100, filled with songs that reflect more of the population. She is a first-generation American, with a father from Cuba and mother from Guatemala, and it makes her a fierce champion of the idea that hearing the different things that songwriters who have had different experiences. What Rojas, along with many female songwriters, brings to the table, is a point of view and a life of experiences utterly different from the core crew of producer/songwriters we're used to hearing about (i.e., Max Martin, Shellback, Jack Antonoff, Benny Blanco, Jeff Bhasker, and Greg Kurstin).
If 2018 is going to be the year of the woman, Rojas hopes that "Tribe" and Pitch Perfect 3 are there to help kickstart the message. "Towards the end of 2017, it feels like women have really put our feet down to insist that the world hear what we have to say," Rojas says. "We're not going away, we're not going to shut up. We want to feel comfortable and safe speaking our minds, sharing what we want and how we feel."
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