When Massachusetts band Kalliope Jones -- Isabella DeHerdt, 16, Alouette Batteau, 14, and Amelia Chalfant, 14 -- entered a local battle of the bands competition, they expected to be judged based on their music. However, after placing third, they found themselves being judged in a totally different -- and entirely not cool -- way.
In a Facebook post that’s since taken the Internet by storm, Kalliope Jones explained how they were told by the judges to “use the sultry to draw in the crowd,” and had lost points for not utilizing this aspect during their performance. They were also critiqued on their outfits in a note that was signed with the phrase, “Chicks Rock.”
Unsurprisingly, these comments didn't really fly with the band. “A woman's sex appeal, or anyone's for that matter, should not be the defining factor in their success in the music industry, and in addition to that, WE ARE CHILDREN! WE ARE 14-16 YEARS OLD,” they combatted via Facebook.
In an interview with MTV News, Kalliope Jones -- who’ve been playing together since 2012, and are influenced by artists such as Haim, Aretha Franklin, and Amy Winehouse -- opened up about their first experience with sexism, how this incident might impact their music and why girls actually do rock, regardless of what others might perceive.
MTV: What was your first reaction when you received the judges’ notes, and what did you say when you confronted them about it?
Kalliope Jones: There were three judges... two women and one man... and they ranked each band on different aspects of musicality and performance. They also commented on what each band's strong points were and how they could improve. We were really excited that we got third place. In the comments, however, we were told that we should have used our “sultry” to connect with the audience more. Our first reaction was shock and confusion. According to the dictionary, “sultry” means “attractive in a way that causes feelings of sexual desire.” We are 14, 14 and 16 years old! It just seemed… inappropriate.
We didn’t actually even talk to the judges. Our parents did. They expressed concern that “sultry” is not a word that should be used to describe teenage girls. There was never any actual confrontation. It was a conversation, a little heated maybe, but still just a conversation. Because of our ages, our mothers asked the judges if they actually meant “sultry.” The judges became defensive, didn’t apologize, and said it was meant to be positive. When asked if they made similar comments about any of the boy fronted bands, they said, “no -- it’s a completely different thing.” It’s not, obviously. We hope they just made a mistake, and accidentally used the word “sultry” in an inappropriate context. We don’t know though.
MTV: The “good outfitting” comment was really striking. How much do you think girls who play music are judged unfairly on their appearance? Do you think someone would ever notice what a boy is wearing onstage, and judge him for it in the same way?
KJ: We wish this wasn’t true, but we think people really do judge musicians based on their gender. I (Alouette) recently read this article that had reviews on male musicians, which were based off of how people talk about female musicians. Not surprisingly, it was all about the outfits, the makeup, etc. Nothing about the individual’s actual musical abilities.
MTV: In addition to the inappropriate use of the word “sultry,” the note “chicks rock” feels pretty condescending, to say the least. Why do you think it’s still shocking to people that girls would play music? Do you think it’s harder for girls to get started in bands?
KJ: For some unknown reason, it does still seem to shock people when girls are in bands -- especially when the band is all girls. It’s definitely harder for girls to get started in bands, because they aren’t taken seriously. The “chicks rock” note was probably meant as a compliment, but to us it seemed insulting. Why did they find it necessary to give us extra points just for being as good as the boys? Why wouldn’t we be as good as the boys?
We got the confidence to start a band from the IMA (Institute for the Musical Arts in Goshen, MA), whose co-founder June Millington was a member of Fanny, one of the first all-female bands to be signed by a major record label in the '60s -- and, of course, from Amelia’s mother and aunt, who are The Nields. At the IMA, the message was that, as girls, we have the same right to be musicians as boys have. Maybe if people just judged the quality of the actual music being produced, whether it is a boy or girl performing would become unimportant.
MTV: Is this the first time you’ve experienced sexism in relation to your band?
KJ: This is the first time. We were warned about this happening, and we knew it would come along sooner or later, but we never expected it to happen to us at an event that was geared toward 12-16 year olds.
MTV: Do you ever address feminism in your music, and is there any feminist message you hope to promote?
KJ: Our music comes from the perspective of being teenage girls in this culture/world. We haven’t addressed feminism directly in our music, but I think after this experience it may become a more prominent issue for us. It seems that just being an all-girl band is a feminist issue. In the end, however, we just want to play music and not have our gender be the central focus.