First published on Monday the 16th of April, 2018, this piece comes in at number 6 in the top 30 most read Villainesse stories of 2018.
The music video for Helen Corry’s new song La Femme drops today, and we’re stoked to premiere it here on Villainesse. It’s the kind of video you should watch if you feel like putting on some war paint and overthrowing the patriarchy. Gold body paint and glittery nipples are only the surface; this is a song with an unapologetically feminist message.
To celebrate its release, I talked to Helen Corry, the songwriter and director, about the song and video, female nudity, #MeToo, and hiding political messages in pop songs.
The La Femme video was so intense, I loved it. How are you feeling for the release?
I feel a little bit nervous. The video is the final part of the process. Once it’s out, you just have to let it do its thing.
Where did the idea for La Femme come from?
I was talking with a group of female friends one evening. We all felt this shift and sensed something about to change in terms of women having influence in the creative industry. We talked about how exciting it would be if there were more females in positions of influence within that industry – more female stories told and more opportunities for women.
It was an inspiring conversation. Often, I leave that group of women and we’re all still struggling to get our break or make it. For the first time, it was uplifting and positive.
I was in the studio the next day and I wrote La Femme. Four months later, #MeToo and #TimesUp started happening. I went back to adapt the lyrics of La Femme and make it sit within that conversation. As an artist, my job is to listen and respond. I saw the opportunity to say something with that movement. With a new female Prime Minister, it was an empowering moment for women and I drew inspiration from that.
The decision to include the “time’s up” in the lyrics was intentional?
Very deliberate. Women have been having conversations about empowerment and sexual harassment for years, but they have never been so dramatic or public. I felt it was important to keep that conversation alive.
The movement kind of backs up the music and the video. The video seems to get right to the heart of that, and it feels very relevant.
Within the music industry, it’s easy to make a video just for the sake of the video. But I was proud of what I was saying in the lyrics of La Femme. There was an opportunity to say something visually, so I didn’t want to just make another video.
I think the La Femme video is quite challenging. Almost to the point where it might not get played on television. That’s an important part of the conversation to me – why are these partially naked females in my music video not okay?
But when it’s in a male music video, like Jason Derulo for example, female nudity is totally fine.
Yeah, if there was a man who they were dancing up against, then it’s gonna fly. Which is really frustrating.
The interesting thing for me now is to see whether it does get played on TV. The opportunity to ask “why not?” helps that conversation stay alive. I find that quite exciting.
The nudity is very confronting and provocative but not sexualised, how did you manage that?
That was the challenge when I made it and when we shot La Femme. How do I showcase how beautiful the female figure is but not sexualise it? And how do I make comment on sexual harassment without being explicit?
That’s a difficult balance to strike. Where did you get the idea for the powerful images in the video – the gold paint, for example?
I was talking with a few friends about the video and we were throwing ideas around about powerful New Zealand women. My friend Julia Croft, who’s an amazing theatre actress, talked to me about Freda Stark – I don’t know if you know anything about her.
Freda Stark was this dancer from the 30s who used to completely paint herself gold and dance naked on the stage of the Civic Theatre. Incredibly challenging and boundary pushing for the time, and the story behind her is also incredible. Freda had a lesbian relationship with a conductor’s wife, who was eventually murdered by her husband. At his trial, their relationship became public. He only got 12 years because it was illegal to have a lesbian relationship.
That gold paint struck me and symbolised something powerful, so I ran with the idea. It turned into something more ominous. In the end, it represented the pressures of society on females. All of the expectations on women around how we’re meant to look and behave.
What are the main influences on your music? How do you stay original?
I’ve always been sceptical of pop music. But what I’ve been making recently is unashamedly pop. I try to write lyrics with substance or an agenda and combine that with that pop music, which can reach a wide audience. I like to write about things that are political.
If La Femme goes mainstream, every chauvinist in the country might accidentally sing, “I fight for La Femme”.
You direct your own videos, so what is the video production process like?
The video actually took a lot this time. Normally when I write, I have the clear visual in my head immediately. For La Femme, I was scared because I knew that it was going to be an opportunity to say something. I really didn’t want to get it wrong.
For La Femme, I got a group of women together (it was full female crew and cast), and we shot it. I own a bar in Grey Lynn so we just got some pipe and drape and just blacked out the event space. We got two lights and shot it that evening. And we finished an hour ahead of schedule. It was amazing, one of the greatest creative experiences I’ve had.
I know that lots of other women like Georgia Nott are creating with an all-female production team and it’s happening more and more. I would absolutely do it again, it was an amazing experience.
Tell me about your feminism.
I am absolutely a feminist, but I never thought of myself as an activist. That’s something that has awoken in me in the last year. It’s a new voice for me and it’s something that I’m really proud of. And I feel like it’s happening in a lot of my peers as well. We’re starting to understand what we’re capable of.Support Villainesse