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Shut Up and Drive - Coveralls

Shut Up and Drive

A Spotify Playlist That Puts Women In The Driver Seat

It’s hard to think about cars and women and not flash back to Thelma & Louise. Like so many movies with men in cars, it’s an attempt to find the long-term freedom that they experience in the short term on the road. Unlike many road movies starring men, Thelma and Louise didn’t feel doomed from the start, in part because their relationship gives the film its engine, and because swapping the gender of the star of the car movie at least temporarily short-circuited audience expectations. We didn’t see the last act coming because we hadn’t seen the first acts before.

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The same is true when women sing songs about cars and the road. They usually provide figurative language for songwriters to talk about sex, freedom, and hope, and in the hands of male artists, they’re inevitably tied to masculinity. When Bruce Springsteen recorded “Born to Run,” you could still imagine him changing his own oil. He presented himself as someone who could do it, and he wasn’t so big that the idea seemed ridiculous.

As our “Shut Up and Drive” Spotify playlist shows, women songwriters use cars in much the same ways, but without the overlay of macho authenticity. That absence and our lack of experience with them opens the songs up to speak more clearly and powerfully. You can hear Rihanna relishing the authority in her own desire in “Shut Up and Drive,” the sincerity of Tracy Chapman’s ache to escape in “Fast Cars,” and Mickey Guyton discovering her power in “Pretty Little Mustang.”

What is distinctive here is that the car hasn’t become the cliché in the hands of women the way it has for men, and instead of being a way for men to avoid opening up, it gives women a way to do just that.

Some find a place for the car in spheres that have been traditionally thought of as women’s worlds. When Shania Twain sings “In My Car (I’ll Be the Driver),” she makes the car part of a conversation about domesticity and accommodation, and Brandi Clark mourns the last miles in “Bad Car” because the car she sings about was central to some of the most dramatic moments in her family’s life. For Megan Thee Stallion in “Crying in the Car,” it’s the place where she can break down.

It’s tempting when listening to these songs to think that the women sing with a little extra verve as they mess with traditionally male tropes, but that’s probably just the context talking. Aretha Franklin sings like she’s on a joyride on the “Freeway of Love,” but in 1985, Aretha sounded like she loved singing everything on Who’s Zoomin’ Who, so the metaphor probably wasn’t as motivating as it sounds. Gwen Stefani sings “Crash” with the broad elasticity of a Japanese animé character, but she sings like that all over 2004’s Love Angel Music Baby, the album that also gave us the similarly styled “Hollaback Girl.”

What is distinctive here is that the car hasn’t become the cliché in the hands of women the way it has for men, and instead of being a way for men to avoid opening up, it gives women a way to do just that.

Do you have favorite songs by women about cars and road? One we missed? If so, please share.

— by Alex Rawls, the force behind MySpiltMilk.com, a website focusing on New Orleans Music and Culture

 



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