Music

Jill Barber Knows What a "Girl's Gotta Do" to Keep the MeToo Movement Moving (premiere)

Photo courtesy of artist

Canada's versatile vocalist Jill Barber delivers a message of female empowerment with stunning force, striking a dramatic pose with such verve that will give all music lovers an equal opportunity to shake their booties.

Metaphora
Jill Barber

June 22, 2018

Amazon
iTunes

You want girl power? Honest-to-goodness, stand-up-and-cheer for all the single ladies and the better halves who kick ass, take numbers and make the real world really go around? Oh, man, just watch Jill Barber bring it then on "Girl's Gotta Do."

The powerful Canadian singer-songwriter premieres the music video for "Girl's Gotta Do" exclusively today (April 24) at PopMatters, and offers words of wisdom with some frank, enlightening answers in an email interview for this accompanying article.

Jill Barber presents her music video for "Girl's Gotta Do." Photo courtesy of the artist

If the women's movement of the 21st century — whether it's #MeToo or #TimesUp — needed a hashtag theme song to carry its message, this versatile vocalist who can handle jazz, pop, blues, folk and rock 'n' roll on any given night, delivers it with genre-fender-bender style.

"What fun would it be to smash the patriarchy without a little booty shaking?" Barber offered. "'Girl's Gotta Do' is an anthem and a celebration of women's power, strength, and tenacity. It's not just for cisgender women, either. … I know an excellent drag queen that's been working out a routine to this song."

Maybe that will come on the remix version, but for now, enjoy Barber's music video for "Girl's Gotta Do", then follow the rest of her story that covers the inspiration behind the song, views on sexism, inequality in the music industry and progressive Canadians, along with updates on her new album and upcoming tour.

A throwback sound that's reminiscent of Wanda Jackson and the '60s girls groups from the Phil Spector era is an inescapable sensation one experiences after seeing the video or hearing the song for the first time.

The video was directed by Christopher Mills, a Juno Award winner responsible for previous works by the late Leonard Cohen ("Leaving the Table"), Modest Mouse ("Float On") and Broken Social Scene ("Stars & Sons").

"I built a 'miniature stage' out of glass, and then just started filling it with washes of color, and Jill's performance from her collaboration with another talented filmmaker, sort of 'bejeweled' in the middle of all this color, glass and light," Mills said in a quote provided by Barber's publicist.

Mills relied on memories of Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable multimedia shows, experimental films by Oskar Fischinger, vintage perfume commercials and James Bond "Goldfinger" brassy horn sounds in his head to create what Barber said, "was a cool idea [that] fit with the vibe of the song."

Regarding how recent developments that emboldened the #MeToo movement played a part in "Girl's Gotta Do," Barber said, "Everyone has their own inner critic, but I've been trying to rewire mine into my own personal hype woman. One day that voice kept repeating the phrase: 'a girl's gotta do,' and once that chorus came together, the rest of the song fell quickly into place. It was definitely inspired by the mindset I've taken up since the #metoo movement began. It's not a perfect or unproblematic movement, but I believe that it is moving the needle, which I find invigorating as a woman, and as a human being."

Even after what's she achieved during her formidable career, Barber, whose older brother Matthew is also an accomplished musician, looks forward to ushering in what she calls "a new era of equality."

"For a long time, I believed that I was never a victim of sexism in my industry," said Barber, a mother of two who is the author of two children's books and has mentored young women in her role with the Girls Action Foundation's Light a Spark Initiative. "I always felt respected by the men I worked with and empowered as a woman. But I had a few run-ins with some powerful men in my industry that made me realize how naive I was. As in most industries, women in music have to work way harder to earn respect (and a living) and generally put up with way more bullshit along the way."

While that labor of love resulted in a number of music awards and nominations, more than a half-million albums sold and a song ("Chances") featured over the end credits of Orange Is the New Black's debut episode, Barber, a native of Port Credit, Ontario, who now lives in East Vancouver, British Columbia, still doesn't mind looking back for a little inspiration.

"Older music has always had a huge influence on my sound," Barber said. "A lot of those girl groups from the '60s (the Shirelles, the Supremes) were singing about important women's issues, but it was brilliantly crafted pop. That's what I hope to achieve with my music. I'm still ultimately driven by the desire to write a great song, but it matters to me that it has substance."

She delivers that on "Girl's Gotta Do" and eight other songs that will appear on her June 22 release Metaphora (Outside Music), and will hit the road around that time (see the dates below) prepared to "deliver a show that meets all expectations". Barber is working with "a killer new band" and challenging her own status quo by inviting two women — Liz Stringer (guitar, vocals) and Morgan Doctor (drums) — to join what previously was her all-male band.

"What excites me most is that this album (the ninth of her career) is a busting out of genre limitations that started to feel artistically restrictive to me," Barber concluded. "Not only did I feel like it was time to put my feminist principles where my mouth is, but I also needed to find a bold new musical expression to help me deliver my message. It's the biggest artistic risk I've ever taken, but ... ultimately a #girlsgottado."

Jill Barber offers sweet thoughts: "The more men we can get involved in celebrating female empowerment, the better."Photo courtesy of the artist

FIVE MORE DEEP CUTS FROM JILL BARBER'S SHOP

1. You co-wrote "Girl's Gotta Do" with a guy, Ryan Guldemond. What did he bring to the song creatively and did you have any second thoughts about letting a man inside a world of female empowerment?

Jill Barber: "Listen, I believe that the more men we can get involved in celebrating female empowerment, the better. Ryan is an ally, and he really understood my message and cared deeply about helping me to express it in a powerful, musical and punchy way. He's an incredibly talented songwriter, and was a huge part in bringing this song to life."

2. Generally speaking, how accepting do you think Canadians are to the principle of equality for women and minorities compared to Americans?

Jill Barber: "Well, we like to think we are more progressive than Americans (sorry!). On the surface, it seems like women and minorities in this country are in decent shape (under the leadership of our feminist Prime Minister), but if you look at our more vulnerable populations, like our indigenous women and girls, we have a shamefully bad track record, and these communities continue to be marginalized by violence, poverty, and neglect. It's a national crisis that very few Canadians want to acknowledge."

3. The end of the video states: "This project is funded in part by FACTOR, The Government of Canada and Canada's Private Radio Broadcasters." What can you share about the government's involvement and what it means to you for this project?

Jill Barber: "In Canada, artists' work and careers are often subsidized by government funding, and look how incredibly successful Canadians are worldwide ... The Arcade Fire, Drake, Justin Bieber, The Weeknd, Carly Rae Jepsen ... all these artists have benefitted from this support. I have also been a huge benefactor of government support. I feel very fortunate to live in a country that values its artists, and I try to never take that for granted."

4. What changes in the industry since your career began have been the most difficult to overcome and did they influence the way you write songs and what you write about?

Jill Barber: "The cross I bear is that I have never fallen into one particular genre of music. Is it folk? Is it jazz? Is it pop? 'We like it, but we don't know how to "sell" it'… blah blah blah. I've heard that my whole professional life! The great thing about the music industry now is that the world is listening ... music is way more accessible to more people. A lot of musicians complain about the way the business is going ... about the role of online music platforms and the algorithms at play ... but I think it's cool. I try to embrace new technology and get excited about it. But I still print vinyl for every record I make. Some things never go out of style."

5. Who were some of the women in your life that inspired you to record Metaphora and what is the album title a metaphor for?

Jill Barber: "I find so much inspiration from women in my life and community. I gravitate toward strong and powerful women so that I can learn from them … everyday women whose names you wouldn't know. The metaphor is that women are like bullfighters, fighting the 'bull' with style and grace. I see it happening every day."

JILL BARBER'S UPCOMING U.S./CANADA TOUR DATES

  • 6/18 Winnipeg, Manitoba — Winnipeg International Jazz Festival
  • 7/6 Montreal — Jazz Festival Theatre Maisonneuve w/Leslie Odom Jr.
  • 8/4 Kaslo Bay Park, British Columbia — Kaslo Jazz Etc. Summer Music Festival
  • 9/22 Chicago — Schubas
  • 9/24 New York — Rockwood Music Hall
  • 9/25 New York — Rockwood Music Hall
  • 9/26 Boston — Regatta Bar
  • 9/28 Ottawa, Ontario — Ottawa National Arts Centre Theatre
  • 10/9 Fredericton, New Brunswick — Playhouse Theatre
  • 10/11 Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island — Confederation Centre
  • 10/12 Truro, Nova Scotia — Marigold Theatre
  • 10/13 Halifax, Nova Scotia — Rebecca Cohn Theatre
  • 10/16 Toronto — Roy Thomson Hall
  • 10/19 London, Ontario — Aeolian Hall
  • 10/20 London, Ontario — Aeolian Hall
  • 10/25 Saskatoon, Saskatchewan — Broadway Theatre
  • 10/26 Edmonton, Alberta — Triffo Theatre
  • 10/27 Calgary, Alberta — Bella Concert Hall
  • 11/1 Vancouver, British Columbia — Vogue Theatre
  • 11/3 Victoria, British Columbia — Capital Ballroom

Michael Bialas is a journalist and photographer who enjoys writing about entertainment and sports for a number of online publications, including PopMatters and No Depression. Follow him on Twitter: @mjbialas

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