This fall, Minneapolis’s beloved Caroline Smith released her latest musical endeavor “Half About Being a Woman“. The album is an exploration in R&B and soul rhythms (this style is foreshadowed by the retro-styled album cover), a noticeable departure from her previous folk sound. The album is a solo effort for Smith, who had previously been the lead for The Goodnight Sleeps.
Though the album may be an acquired taste for fans who have long followed Caroline Smith & The Goodnight Sleeps, it ultimately works. First, there is the notion behind it: a woman emerging from the support of a male team, and blazing her own trail now accompanied by female backup singers. Half About Being A Woman focuses on a highly personal journey for Smith. She says the project came from a the feeling that “I wanted to find my way back to the reason why I started playing music in the first place. Over the last year I began to embrace that being a strong, confident, opinionated woman is something to be proud of, not subdued. I have to embrace where my roots are and stay true to who I am: an unabashed fan of 90′s R&B, pop, and neo-soul.” The statement is clear – she is a female solo artist who does not need her male counterparts for support or to hold onto her fan base. She is coming into her own, as she has long deserved to. A darling in the Midwest folk scene for many years, Smith is finally representing a musical identity true to her.
Smith states (to Ticketfly.com) that the album was a chance for her to explore and merge two identities: a new musical identity, and a female identity. “I feel I’ve finally created something that is a nod to some of my favorite records while being able to use my own voice to illustrate my personal transition into woman hood; That time in a woman’s life when her ‘fat butt’ becomes her ‘phat ass’. I wanted to make music to celebrate that and to encourage other women to do the same.” In a song entitled “Buy Me Something”, Smith acknowledges her yearning to be wined and dined by a gentleman caller will upset feminists. Yet, she argues “Don’t get me wrong, I know what all the feminists think/ Just ’cause I’m a strong, independent woman doesn’t mean that you/ Shouldn’t buy me something baby/ My love ain’t cheap/ Just a gesture of affection/ Just buy me something please”. In her prose she both stands her ground for her own personal wants and desires, and challenges the tides of acknowledged expectations. (Expectations of both women wanted to be doted on with gifts, and that as feminist, should she not feel this way?) Smith explores these questions of modern and evolving feminism throughout the album.
The album was supported by a Kickstarter effort. (View the Kickstarter page to read charming/inspiring commentary by Smith regarding the album and her thoughts on womanhood). City Pages reported that the funds went to funding “the printing of the record, to alleviate the cost of making music videos for the songs featured on the album, and to help promote it to a wider audience, all while strengthening the connections with her fans that Smith has worked so hard to develop and maintain over the years.” Her effort as a reborn artist has been successful, as seen by the positive comments on the iTunes page for the album, where the album averages five stars.
Her journey to womanhood and the album can also be viewed in this PBS special on the singer. The special, is aptly titled “My Way Back Home”.
By Ilana Ostrin
I was born and raised in Minneapolis; so it was slightly ironic that it took me moving to Washington, D.C. to take a listen to Caroline Smith. After a few of my friends out east raved about her, after reading this article in The Current discussing her new music style and its role in cultural appropriation and finally after a friend sent me an email gushing about the video to “Magazine”, I decided to take a listen to the new album.
What I found was an album with incredibly complicated themes. After a couple listens I still wasn’t sure how I felt but I could not stop listening. I was immediately in love with the song “Walking off Strong” but as I paid more and more attention to the other lyrics of the album, I became frustrated. The title of the album is “Half About Being A Woman” and I felt that all she was talking about was her relationship with men. I sent a quick g-chat to Ilana expressing this. She replied saying, “I think that’s the whole point, that half of being a woman is being consumed and defined by men.” I had an “a-ha” moment here, in the struggle for female empowerment, how much of what is perceived as weakness or vulnerability do we demonstrate and make public? I quickly fell in love with the song on the album that is the most traditional in the topic of female empowerment, I was immediately attracted to its musical tone but also attracted to its message of leaving a relationship that was hurting you, but walking off with confidence.
As I listen to the lyrics of the song “Half About Being A Woman” my heart whimpers a bit with the line “being a woman is half about being wrong, the other half led me to be singing this song.” SHIT. Smith acknowledges that to talk about the experiences of women in a way that leads to empowerment, sometimes we must acknowledge sad realities, including the way in which we are socialized to at times feel dependency on men. This dependency does not only manifest in romantic relationships between men and women but in many aspects of a woman’s life.
In order to feel empowered or move toward the feeling of empowerment, must we express ourselves in the way in which we wish to live or do we open ourselves to vulnerability? Female empowerment does not need to look like Hillary Clinton running for president or Beyonce singing “Run The World.” It can look like the honest and often challenging reality of many women’s lives; the reality of being so wrapped up in their relationships with men that this begins to occupy your definition of what it means to be a woman.
I have found only a few write ups on this album but the two I found online see Smith’s lyrics in a light quite differently than me, this piece in TC Daily Planet and this in You-phoria saw the lyrics as fluffy and at times lacking commentary. I beg to differ. Smith is being a woman in her lived experience as one. This lived experience does not necessarily replicate what we are fed to believe is the way women are to be empowered but it tells the story of a woman, probably many women. Telling our stories authentically and honestly is a necessary pathway to empowerment.
By Sarah Brammer-Shlay