Last month I watched German electronic band Mouse on Mars light the crowd on fire at Soho, a posh nightclub in Kolkata, India. A hundred desi girls and boys bounced awkwardly around the tiny dance floor—beer in one hand, cigarette in the other—as the experimental techno screaming from the speakers deafened everyone temporarily. This is not the India you see in Bollywood movies.
The reality is that most of those people had never heard of Mouse on Mars, though the band has been making music since 1993. They came to Soho that night because they want to hear music that is entirely different from the popular Hindi dance tracks and '80s pop hits (do you know how many times I've heard "Careless Whisper" in the past 11 months?) that blare from the backs of rickshaws.
Every middle class Indian teenager knows the entire Beatles and John Denver catalogs by heart, and they sing them in campfire-styles groups in Barista, India's version of Starbucks. Yet, now that Hollywood films like Made of Honor are making their way into Indian cinema halls, Sara Bareilles' "Love Song" is just as well known to teenage girls as "Desi Girl" from Dostana.
American feminist media talks about Madonna's appropriation of Indian fashion and Gwen Stefani's Harajuku Girls, and while that's certainly a necessary conversation to be having, we should also explore the ways in which women around the globe are taking cues from American pop culture--as well as creating music, art, and film that is wholly their own.
Contemporary artist Shadi Ghadirian had a photography exhibition up last month at Seagull Foundation for the Arts, one of Kolkata's most popular galleries. Her photographs question the tradition of hijab while simultaneously questioning the futility of modern, Western technology to liberate women. The AccoLade, an all-female rock band in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is using MySpace and Facebook to gain an international fan base and recognition (which has worked pretty well so far, as NPR and the New York Times have done a story on them). In Europe, Missy Magazine has filled a market that has been sorely lacking for today's German hipster youth: a reliable source for pop culture, fashion, art, sex, and music with a political sensibility and intellectual savvy. From the melancholy music of Soap & Skin to Requiem rising star Sandra Hüller to the oddly intriguing photographs of Birgit Twudtke, Missy has its finger on the pulse of what's hot for "girls with brains" in Europe.
These are the kinds of feminist stories I will bring to "On the Map," my very own Bitch blog. Feminist pop culture, meet the rest of the globe. These uncharted waters are an exciting place to be!