Bananarama on how they fought music industry sexism back in the ‘80s

Jayne Cherrington-Cook
·4-min read
Bananarama said they had to fight against sexism when they first started out. (Michael Putland/Getty Images)
Bananarama said they had to fight against sexism when they first started out. (Michael Putland/Getty Images)

As one of the most successful UK all-female groups, Bananarama achieved a high level of success, including 11 Billboard Hot 100 hits in the US, however, the trio had to fight hard against the sexist music industry of the 1980s.

Speaking on White Wine Question Time, Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin revealed there were many incidents during their career that were outwardly sexist – none more so than that infamous Band Aid record, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’

Recorded in 1984, the line-up was predominantly male, with Bananarama and US singer Jody Watley being the only females.

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“None of us had a lead line – it was all the males,” recalled Dallin of the recording.

“I think that's a throwback from hundreds of years where it's patriarchal and it's just the way life is and you just have to challenge that now. You have to stand up and be counted really.”

Listen: Bananarama talk about their life-long friendship and writing their first memoir together

The two life-time friends have recently been looking back over their career for their memoir Really Saying Something. One such incident they detail in the book was when they were asked, over a tannoy in a hotel, to join several male record executives in a jacuzzi.

Woodward exclaimed: “So many women in the jacuzzi with all these execs and it was just so yuck!”

She continued: “We just didn't look the part anyway - DMs on, in our Boy regalia. We were like Kevin and Perry 'We're not doing that!’”

As well as eschewing sexy photo shoots, the band also knocked back the help of punk king Malcom McLaren, who promised to help them with their career.

“We went to meet him and he was quite domineering,” recalled Woodward. “I think he was trying on purpose in some ways to make us feel a bit awkward.”

Dallin continued: “He went away and said that we looked like boys or something. It was really weird!”

Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin, who still perform as Bananarama, said that youth gave them self-confidence to fight back (Image: Getty Images)
Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin, who still perform as Bananarama, said that youth gave them self-confidence to fight back (Image: Getty Images)

Another thing the trio said no to was a big money advert for curling tongs in the US, just after their first hit single over there.

“They showed us the storyboard and it was three fluffy girls in short skirts and tiny tops tonging their hair and giggling,” said Dallin.

“I just thought…That's your idea of what three young girls should be doing and it was so far removed from who we are. Everybody knew they couldn't change our minds. I think we were so desperate to be taken seriously and credible and so if we start doing hair curlers, it's just going to look so cheap!”

While Thornton praised the duo for sticking up for their rights, they both agreed it wasn’t something they consciously did.

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“It was post punk, you know, there was a sort of attitude in the air,” exclaimed Woodward.

“We wanted to not even consciously challenge them,” added Dallin. “It just felt like it came naturally. Just because we're a girl, why would we wear that? Not in a bolshy way, although sometimes a bit bolshy, but just in a ‘These are my rights. Let me have my rights.’”

One way they did that was by challenging the stereotypical norms – and none so controversial as their infamous Brits performance in 1998 when they were backed by a throng of scantily clad male backing dancers!

“It was something that you would see in any video,” said Woodward. “In a rap or rock video you would - probably still now - have gyrating women…”

“It was tongue-in-cheek,” added Dallin. “I mean, we didn't want to exploit them in that way. We just thought was a fun idea for an awards show.”

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Sara said a lot of their self-confidence was down to youth.

“When you're young, it's like, you don't care because we didn't,” she admitted.

“I didn't grow up thinking I'd be in a band. The fact that we were in a band was kind of by accident - but once we started it, it became very, very serious for us. But we didn't care if it ended the next day. It wasn't that kind of career planning!”

Listen as Keren and Sarah talk about writing their memoirs and why they paved the way for other female groups in the latest episode of White Wine Question Time. Listen now on iTunes and Spotify.

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