In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, as Bikini Kill reissues one of its old LPs, we’re highlighting our favorite riot grrrl bands.
After some dispiriting press portrayals of the nascent riot grrrl movement in the early ’90s, its leaders—including Kathleen Hanna, the firebrand frontwoman of Bikini Kill—participated in a media blackout, refusing to give interviews that only seemed to tee up condescending dismissals from journalists and cultural critics. One of the typical themes then, which persists two decades later, is the tendency to portray something that’s feminist or pro-woman as anti-man or anti-fun. (As the headline to the USA Today story that catalyzed the media blackout said, “Feminist Riot Grrrls don’t just wanna have fun.”)
Sexual politics informed much of Bikini Kill’s music, but Hanna put it bluntly on a 7-inch that she wasn’t anti-sex. “I Like Fucking” was the A-side to a 1995 single, with the B-side “I Hate Danger” sung by drummer Tobi Vail. As angry as Hanna sounds, the song still qualifies as optimistic: “Do you believe there’s anything beyond troll-guy reality? / I do, I do, I do,” Hanna sings at the beginning. She bookends it at the end of the song with, “I believe in the radical possibilities of pleasure, babe / I do, I do, I do.”
In between, she grapples with the occasionally conflicting forces of desire and intellect—the need for pleasure versus the painful understanding of how sexuality is used to marginalize her gender: “Just because my world, sweet sister / Is so fucking goddamn full of rape / Does that mean my body must always a source of pain?” (The answer: “No, no, no.”) Body-image issues, inextricably linked to all of this, appear as well when Hanna exhorts, “We’re not gonna prove nothing, nothing / Sitting around, watching each other starve.”
It may all sound like a bummer for what’s an optimistic song at heart, but “I Like Fucking” simply reflects the angles of a complicated set of issues, with the personality of Hanna’s vocals shifting accordingly. She delivers the “troll-guy reality” line in a quasi-valley-girl voice that was her signature, but ferociously howls—another signature—toward the end of the song when she sings “I want, I want, I want, I want it now.” She does a 180 right after that back to the valley-girl voice to tout the radical possibilities of pleasure (babe), neatly capturing Bikini Kill’s dynamic in the space of a few seconds: approachable but untamable. “I Like Fucking” is as nuanced as its title is direct.