Interview: Annie Lennox and Paloma Faith

Posted: Tue Mar 8 2011

What happens when you introduce two top female artists and get them to discuss International Women's Day? Quite a lot, actually. Eddy Lawrence sits back while Annie Lennox and Paloma Faith talk femininity, sexuality, equality and Rhianna.

This week sees the hundredth anniversary of International Women's Day. To mark the occasion, singer/sonmgwriter/erstwhile Eurhythmic Annie Lennox has helped to assemble a line-up of musicians, speakers and performers to play a special week-long festival at Southbank Centre. We hooked up Lennox and fellow headliner Paloma Faith to discuss the aims of the event and the philosophy behind it, along with anything else which came to mind.

Paloma Faith 'First of all, could you tell us what's the purpose of the Wow festival and Equals?'

Annie Lennox
'Southbank Centre presents Equals Live is a unique concert to mark the centenary of International Women's Day. We've put together an incredible evening to showcase the power of British female recording artists while celebrating the anniversary of a day created to demand greater equality for women. I'm hoping that between you, me, VV Brown and Kate Nash, we can really convey the strength and unity of women across generations, raise awareness of the ongoing inequalities across the globe, and inspire people to share their vision of what an equal world could look like.
'Equals itself is a new partnership of more than 25 leading charities and arts organisations that I've brought together to celebrate International Women's Day and step up the call for a more equal world. Women's rights have come a long way since 1911 but equality is not reality for the majority of women globally. We still have a long way to go!'

PF Actually, I remember that as soon as I turned 18 my mum said: “Right, it's election day, who you voting for?” And I said: “I don't know, I'm not going.” She went: “Over my dead body will you not vote!” '

'Yeah, that's the point. If it's an abstract thing, why would you even consider it? What difference would it make to you? It's so intangible.'

'Exactly, but she did say to me that women fought long and hard for me to be able to vote, and if I don't use it then I'm backtracking. Ever since then I've always voted. But how do you feel about the way that women are represented in marketing, in the music business now?'

'[Laughs] I don't think I'm really qualified to comment, in a way, on how women are represented, because women represent themselves. And it seems to me that women in the music industry use their sexuality as a kind of magnet. Their sexuality is so predominant. And it looks as if - wow - they're so empowered. But I'm not so sure.
'Personally, I think it's very calculated and I don't find it so empowering. I find it's quite contrived and quite limited. I don't feel there are enough women artists out there who are saying anything of tremendous relevance.'

'I agree, I just had a massive backlash. I was surprised because I wrote recently on Twitter something like “Watching Rihanna's new video makes me think maybe feminism didn't happen”. I got so much shit! Mainly from women claiming that I was jealous. It was just shocking. I was surprised that that was the reaction - very hateful messages. I didn't think it was a bitchy context, I wanted to promote a conversation, but obviously there isn't one.'

'Of course, when you talk about Twitter and blogging and any of that, if you pop your head above the parapet whatever you say will be interpreted and maybe misinterpreted or misunderstood or twisted.'
'I think there's a double whammy. I have no problem with women being really sexual and using their eroticism, it's not that I'm against that. But I think they want it both ways. [Sexuality and eroticism] are selling points. They're really, really powerful selling points.
'Every artist has to make their own statements and they have to live with them. They're free to make whatever they want to express, no question, but personally I often feel like I'm being duped and that the sexuality that they [the women artists] are using is actually just a selling tool. And so I feel the whole thing's so marketed and so hardcore, and there are teams of people around…'

'In the video [I Tweeted about] Rihanna's deep-throating a banana, ha ha!'

'Well, hey, maybe she's just eating some fruit. Although moving on, lots of young girls nowadays think they want to be famous, and they don't really know why they want to be famous, they just do. And so they put themselves in this kind of positon where they think: Oh, that looks good, and they project an idea. Has your experience so far been what you would have thought it was going to be?'

'I've found that throughout my life I've had a very different perspective and upbringing because I'm the child of somebody who was part of a huge movement in the 1960s and I've been brought up with all those ideals that came to the fore at that time.
'So I suppose that I've been raised in a fortunate way with a fearlessness that's given me a confidence that anything was possible and that I was equal to everybody and that I should involve and include everyone regardless of race or gender or whatever. So I guess until I entered this industry, I hadn't really experienced much prejudice in my life in any sense.
'I mean, I was at the Brits last week and I was really proud that singer Laura Marling won the best female category. I thought that was briliant for her. She got up in what would be perceived by the outside world as quite plain clothes and didn't say much except for saying thanks to her mum, and she said “This is a bit weird” and then she sort of scuttled off, and then I heard loads of voices around me going: “Is that it?!!” And I thought: Well, isn't that enough? The fact that this girl's probably essentially quite a shy person or doesn't enjoy that limelight - and she shouldn't have to. She [made music] for the sake of making music, not for the sake of wearing the big frock, which I don't say anything bad about because as you know I love to get dressed up!
'But I was a little bit put out by the fact that people in her industry weren't satisfied by her individual approach to how she wanted to behave, albeit quite a modest humble approach.'

'Because the music industry is [in la-di-dah voice] brash and loud and it's not about being modest and humble or gentle or circumspect, it's a whole other beast. But do you feel that young women - from teenagers to those in their thirties - do you feel they have any consideration about the benefits that they've received? And do you feel that they'd be prepared to engage with the fact that there are so many other women in the world that are just excluded? Or do you just think that most people are like: Well, everything's fine in my backyard, thanks very much? I just see a lot of narcissism, a lot of self obsession, a lot of selfishness, and I just see this kind of plethora of magazines and an obsession with fashion and bullshit and it sickens me.'

'You have to have a sense of humour about it. I agree, but I think that my generation and the generation below me are a very unpoliticised generation generally. I'm talking about everything from the generation of Thatcher's children onwards, because of the fact that capitalism was so forefront and that is what appears to be the most important thing in everybody's eyes in the youth.'

'Here's the thing for me. My values have really evolved over the years, especially with regards to women. I can see that we have come such a long way, but we've inherited so many things, we've dissed the word feminism and kicked it in the teeth and left it outside the door when there's never been more of a need for feminism than now. The world is so aggressive, so crazy and nuts, the feminine aspect is booted down and there's this masculine corporatate consumeristic driven force where everybody's sucked into some kind of mass hypnosis of bullshit. I see women are just scrabbling for the kids to have some food to eat in desperate circumstances, and we don't even know they exist!

PF 'I went to see Michael Moore do a talk at the Roundhouse and I remember that the thing he said with pleading eyes, is that the problem is that everyone thinks they're incapable of helping, but if collectively we got together and everybody did a very small thing then we could make such a huge, huge change. If everyone did it, if every woman in the world said something, then there would be change, and I think that's what we should try and aim for.'