“I was happy when I saw my dance all over,” Jalaiah Harmon, 14-year old dancer, choreographer, and creator of the Renegade dance told Taylor Lorenz of the New York Times. Last fall, the suburban Atlanta teen, trained in all the classical forms, took to her bedroom and created movement to accompany the stuttering 808s of “Lottery,” a single by Atlanta hip hop artist K Camp. Its lyrics and sonics describe a flamboyant kind of self-possession. Harmon recorded the moves on her phone, uploaded her recording to the social video app Funimate, and then to Instagram. The dance went viral when TikTok influencers recorded and uploaded themselves doing it, buoyed by the attention of celebrities like Lizzo and Kourtney Kardashian. Harmon — young, Black, female and Southern — was rarely named or linked to in the frenzy. But Black Twitter intervened, and by the following winter, she would be. Harmon performed centerstage with cheerleaders at February’s NBA All Star game, and publicly, K Camp thanked her for making his song “the biggest in the world.”
In the early days of rock and roll, according to Ann Powers, “Girls ran the fan clubs, bought the records and the magazines, filled the concert halls.” Harmon’s creative brilliance, an extension of the girl-fueled heritage of popular music, is also a reminder of all the credit we have yet to give.
Women are underrepresented, missing, even, in many areas of influence and power in the music industry — as journalists, songwriters, producers, and executives. But they’ve long been the quiet center of music culture, keeping it vital. This is especially true of Black teenage girls and femme people, whose tastes and creative responses to what they love shape and originate many trends. You don’t get Beatlemania without teenage girls, or Sam Cooke without swooning adolescents like my mother, who remembers slow dancing to “You Send Me” at junior high school dances and blue light parties with Blue Magic crooning from the speakers. My memories of our household of women thrum. The TV, brown and boxy, atop a shelf of vinyl, taller than me by miles, playing “Freeway of Love” — the pink Cadillac, Ms. Franklin’s short cut and stonewash denim an everlasting, glamorous imprint. My teenage sister’s blouse with lace and ruffles and her feathered curls bouncing to the first saxophone notes of “The Glamorous Life.” My mother and her marcel irons in the bathroom mirror singing “You Bring Me Joy.” These women make the music I love, live. They help me remember that despite the dominance of male critics and tastemakers in the mainstream press, teenage girls — in hallways between classes, scrolling on their phones, making up dances in their rooms — are shaping what’s next.
Welcome to Hive, a new Longreads series about women and the music that has influenced them. The pieces in Hive live in the gap between the swarm or hive — the crowd of girls and femmes who form the base of pop trends — and the critical male voice that has shaped the “formal,” “legitimate” interpretation of music culture. The essays embrace fandom and rigor in equal parts, considering both as conduits for creativity. “Strange things happen when an artist is moved to a new depth by another,” writes contributor DJ Lynnée Denise, in her forthcoming essay about Southern crunk funk artist Joi. In this series, each contributor trusts their tastes and thinks with and through the music to tell a story of unexpected connections and embodied intellectualism.
Hive is inspired by: the Beyhive; the family of women who shaped my tastes; zines from the ‘90’s; viral Vines, the hustle, mashed potato, and dab; epistolary essays; Tumlbr; group texts; the voice of Alice Smith; and each contributor’s voice and experience.
“I wanted to be less peripheral to the things I poured my attention into,” writes contributor Eryn Loeb, in an upcoming essay about how creating a zine in her local scene as a young girl shaped her as a grown woman writer and critic. I imagine the Hive essayists writing to their teen selves, to each other, and maybe to you, reminding us that we’re all already in the center.