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Exploring Sleater-Kinney: What it means to be a 'Modern Girl'


Sleater-Kinney formed in Olympia, Washington, in 1994 amid a flurry of grunge-inspired ventures that would go on to define a generation. With their heels dug into the Riot Grrrl movement that included contemporaries in Bratmobile, Huggy Bear, and, of course, Bikini Kill, the band eventually transitioned into an instrumental fixture of the indie rock scene.

Although the mid-2000s saw a hiatus from the band, they are still going strong today, with their most recent album hitting the shelves just last year in 2021. They’ve put out music prolifically, even with other commitments and projects, which is commendable and rare.

We’d be remiss to talk about Sleater-Kinney without mentioning Carrie Brownstein specifically. Although the conversation about Sleater-Kinney and Riot Grrrl inevitably leads to Brownstein, the inverse isn’t always the case. Brownstein is a million things: musician, actor, comedian, author. How does this woman have time to sleep?

In all seriousness, Sleater-Kinney didn’t come out with one of their most popular songs in question until 2005, shortly before their hiatus. Off their album, The Woods, ‘Modern Girl’ emerges. “I’m so hungry/ Hunger makes me a modern girl.”

Although the lyrics toe the line of the abstract, the song and the notion of being a ‘Modern Girl’ are clear enough for any listener — the hunger, the joy and the anger. They all find their place in the song and in this broader idea. Almost as a leftover from the Riot Grrrl movement, it centres on embracing and incorporating the humanity of existence into womanhood, which seems simple enough, but we must remember: it was 2005, after all.

The song, and the line in question specifically, share a title with Carrie Brownstein’s book, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl. In it, she writes about her experiences through music, “So much of my intention with songs is to voice a continual dissatisfaction, or at least to claw my way out of it.” This is a curious notion, considering the happy tone of the song. The optimism it offers. It’s almost as if that very optimism is tied to the freedom in what it means to be a ‘Modern Girl’, whatever that actually is.

Brownstein is a woman with scores of outlets. Music, writing, her hit comedy with Fred Armisen, Portlandia. And while the song, or even the title of the book, don’t claim to foster anything loftier than the beauty and simplicity of letting go of expectations, that feels like a part of it. Again, it’s a simple concept. But sometimes, embracing the progress on a personal level (one that deals with things like hunger, happiness, anger) must be reduced to its most simple notion. And that’s why these words, both on the page and set to music, have become important to so many.

You can listen to the song here and see what it feels like to be a ‘Modern Girl’.