Music

Grrrl Gang's 'Here to Stay!' Is a Tremendous Rejection of Cultural Conformity

Photo: Adrian Paanday / Courtesy of the artist

While Here to Stay! points to their Riot Grrrl and indie-pop influences, Grrrl Gang methodically transcend redundancy to chisel a concrete space for themselves.

Here to Stay!
Grrrl Gang

Damnably

14 February 2020

Formed in 2016 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Grrrl Gang formed casually one evening during a car ride. Emerging from the DIY scene, a movement responding to the country's political unrest, Grrrl Gang offer a revisioning of cultural and individual identity. Consisting of college students Angeeta Sentana, Akbar Rumandung, and Edo Alventa, the bandmates use their music to explore the intersection of personal and political. Here to Stay!, the remastering of their past EPs, is a decisive call to action. While the album points to their Riot Grrrl and indie-pop influences, Grrrl Gang methodically transcend redundancy to chisel a concrete space for themselves.

Sentana's vocals are unquestionably both energized and laconic. The opening "Dream Grrrl" and "Just a Game" are reminiscent of the power Talulah Gosh packs in their vocals: an ability conveying strength and vulnerability. "Dream Grrrl's" call and response between Sentana and Rumandung endows the song's fear-inducing persona with a sense of playfulness. More so, the lyrical brevity pacifies while the instrumentation growls. Sentana's vocals are sweet, often lulling the listener into imagining her as childish. Sentana is well aware of this misrepresentation and uses the lyrics to remind of her ferocity: "She, she's got a mean look / Giving you death glares / But she can be your dream girl / She's a vision of heaven and hell." This sentiment is visually reiterated on the album's cover, where under Grrrl Gang's photo, "Be Aggressive" is spelled out in Scrabble tiles. The call for fierceness is shaped by their spiritedness.

The succinct lyrics carry over to "Bathroom". With only seven lyric lines, the listener can't avoid the repetition of "my baby is taking a shit / In the bathroom." Grrrl Gang revisits the Riot Grrrl movement's authentic representation of the human body and its basic functions. But Sentana is careful here: she is not discussing her bathroom proclivities, rather her partner is going to the bathroom. The lyrics paint her 'baby' as emotionally dishonest, and in doing so, Grrrl Gang are literally and figuratively describing a shitty relationship. Grrrl Gang know these conversations are considered especially abhorrent when defined through the female lens. But they don't care and use the track to reject kowtowing to patriarchal belief.

Grrrl Gang present an intrepid dismantling of dominant gender and sexual ideologies. "Guys Don't Read Sylvia Plath" critiques the expectation that women stay home and become the primary caretaker for children, an ideology still ubiquitous in Indonesia. Sentana is especially empathic as she worries about compromising her ambition for normativity. "Thrills" is an unapologetic recounting of a one-night stand. Reveling in pleasure, Sentana unabashedly recounts the attraction, sex, and "feeling good all night long". Here, Grrrl Gang reclaim the often disparaging narratives constructing women's sexual promiscuity. Instead, the band align female sexuality with power and fun. The two tracks are uncompromising and Here to Stay! dislocates the dominant ideologies dictating social and gender norms.

"Pop Princess" offers a moment of indie-pop lightness, but the lyrics are intentionally barbed. Developed from Sentana's perspective, she implores another woman to leave her "jerk and maniac" boyfriend. Considering the lyrical empowerment heard throughout Here to Stay!, "Pop Princess" is emblematic of female solidarity. But Sentana's purpose is not innocent. According to the press release, "Pop Princess" is defined by the "dump your shitty boyfriend and come to me" trope. 'Come to me' establishes the track's queerness, reaffirmed when Sentana sings "Pop princess, you're the kind of girl that I'd love / Pop princess, you're the key to my heart / Pop princess, won't you take me home tonight?" That is a clear nod to the diverse Indonesian understandings of non-binary genders and sexuality fluidity. Grrrl Gang redresses the queer narratives often smothered by colonization and the importation of homophobia. Adorned with a catchy hook and infectious melody, "Pop Princess" is a takedown of normative sexual politics.

Here to Stay! is a tremendous rejection of cultural conformity. Grrrl Gang's ethos is relatable, and the album is a clear-eyed call for individual authenticity. Here to Say! will garner Grrrl Gang the global recognition they deserve while also slaying oppressive ideologies.

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