A Close Reading of “The Opener”

My second assignment for my Intro to Musicology course was for a close reading of a piece of music (only the music, so either the sheet music or the audio itself). I chose to examine the audio of Camp Cope’s “The Opener” in terms of what the lyrics are saying, what they make me feel and think about, and how the music sounds/what stands out about it. Hope you enjoy!…

NOTE: It may be better to familiarize yourself with the song before we dive in. You can stream the audio for free on YouTube or Spotify.


“The Opener” is the first song on How To Socialise & Make Friends by the Australian rock group Camp Cope, and it is a powerful and commanding song about sexism in the music industry. This track is a great example of the style and sound Camp Cope has come to be known for, with a riffy bassline played high on the neck, rhythm guitar, simple drums and throaty vocals delivering thought-provoking lyrics. “The Opener” begins with a hypnotic bassline that is steady and consistent throughout the song. It mesmerizes me; I am enchanted as I feel the bassline in my soul. The song is unique in that the bass takes the lead over the guitar and the bass parts are played higher up on the neck than is typical in punk music, so it stands out in the musical landscape of my mind and is why I am so pulled by the music. At the second repetition of the bassline, the guitar and drums join in, with vocals coming at the fourth at 0:30 in to the song.

“Tell me you never want to see me again, and then keep showing up at my house. Tell me you’ll never be in love again, and now you’re walking ’round with someone else.” The lyrics begin with men’s contradictions. They mess with your head as the listener, and if you have not had experiences with contradictions like these, it is likely you know someone who has, or you have seen it depicted in other media.

At 0:48, the music changes. The bassline we had been sucked in with falls back a bit while the guitar picks up the tune, and the drumming is reduced to cymbal taps. Singer Georgia McDonald continues on at a monotonous pace that slowly builds as the instruments return (at 1:06), which culminates in her screaming the last word of this bridge. “If I was hungry then you were starving, and he was so sick but you were dying. If I was hungry then you were starving, now tell the dead man that you’re the one dying.”  This section illustrates how men usually have to one-up a woman’s issues. A woman complains about a problem, like being hungry, but that shouldn’t matter because the man was starving – and in the process, the underlying issue is never resolved for the woman.

The listener is treated to a short musical break with the moving bassline returning to the forefront, and we are allowed space to breathe. The break is welcome after voices are raised. At 1:20 the lyrics return, with: “Treat them like queens until they disagree,¹ and never reflect to think ‘wait, maybe the problem was me.’ Nah, man, just keep smoking weed. Tell this one ‘yeah they were all crazy, unlike you, baby.’” This section of lyrics focuses on men ignoring their shortcomings in relationships. The partner is flawed, the partner caused the problem, they are the “crazy” ex, and once they are no longer romantically intertwined, one no longer needs to treat them well. Which makes the listener wonder: are these men only treating the women they are interested in well and with respect? The lyrics are also sung very casually, and conversationally, which mimics how men may minimize the way they talk to and treat women.

After another ten second musical break, the lyrics return at 1:50. “Tell me that no one knows me like you do, and tell me that my friends don’t tell me the truth. And maybe I’ll come crawling back to you, like, that was your plan, right?”  The listener hears the lines men have spewed at women in attempts to gaslight or manipulate them. By telling them no one else understands them, or is truthful with them, it casts a web to trap women into believing the man in their life is the only one they can trust, and they will go crawling back to him. Georgia McDonald’s sarcastic tone is perfect as she sings, “like, that was your plan, right?” with a beat afterward so the listener can almost hear her eyes rolling.

Following the audible eye roll, at 2:10 the music then repeats what it did in the past bridge (at 0:48) and the bassline drops down a tick, again. We finally hear Georgia’s response to what this man, or men, have been saying and/or doing to her and women everywhere. Like before, her voice starts steady and then rises as the bassline returns, leaving her near screaming as she gets to the last line. Every word is pointed and sang with complete deliberation. Georgia’s voice digs deep into me, it picks at scabs of feelings and experiences I’ve had that I tried to ignore and hoped would heal. The command of her voice reminds me of having to keep my own voice level and steady to be seen as professional, worrying about showing too much emotion and being labeled “hysterical”. It is interesting that her voice has that restraint for the bulk of the song, and only breaks out into something more at a few key moments where the lyrics carry a specific emotional weight to them, as seen here and in other limited instances throughout the song.

“You worked so hard but we were ‘just lucky’ to ride those coattails into infinity. And all my success has got nothing to do with me. Yeah, tell me again how there just aren’t that many girls in the music scene.” It is common in the music industry to have one’s place as a woman be questioned as if they did not have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously or seen as authentic in the boys’ club of rock and roll. It is something I have experienced so many times I have sadly lost count. There are these myths about women, that any success is a result of who-you-know, not what-you-know and is a result of tokenization – that there’s already one woman on the label, on the tour, on the line-up – do we need another?

From this point in the song on, I genuinely have chills every time I hear it. I am a woman working in the music industry, specifically in the rock scene. I have had to work harder than my male counterparts to be taken seriously. I have had my motivations questioned constantly, from when I first started in the business when I was sixteen to now, as a 28-year-old woman. I have been faced with many men telling me I cannot do something, or that they would not let me do something because I am a woman, and received countless bits of unsolicited advice from men who assume they know better or know more than me. As I sing along to this part, in particular, I feel the words catch in my throat as if I’m about to cry as I proclaim, “and all my success has got nothing to do with me.” It forces me to think about the times when my work was questioned. That I must be lost or confused backstage, that I must be hanging around the venue before or after the show because I was dating someone in the band, or that I was just a groupie, hoping to catch a glimpse – not ever because I was there to work, because to those men who questioned my existence they believed “there just aren’t that many girls in the music scene.

As the song progresses, Georgia lists off the men who have pissed her off over the years at 2:35, who have mansplained the music industry and path to success to her and Camp Cope.² Again, she delivers each line with deliberation and contempt for those who doubted their abilities.  “It’s another all-male tour preaching equality. It’s another straight cis man who knows more about this than me. It’s another man telling us we’re missing a frequency, show ‘em Kelly!³ It’s another man telling us we can’t fill up the room. It’s another man telling us to book a smaller venue. ‘Nah, hey, c’mon girls we’re only thinking about you.’ Well, see how far we’ve come not listening to you.” The music remains steady while the voice builds here, becoming louder, freer and bolder, and with the rise of Georgia’s voice the listeners’ emotions – my emotions – rise as well. The penultimate lyric of the song is triumphant and cathartic, challenging all these toxic behaviors from men in rock music.

The final line of the song comes at 3:14, and Georgia switches back to her sarcastic tone as she sings: “‘Yeah just get a female opener, that’ll fill the quota.’” Being a rock group made up of women, Camp Cope can undoubtedly assume they have been booked for shows just to diversify the lineup, which tokenizes them and does not take them seriously as artists. It also fails to support other women or non-cis male artists within the music scene. Not to mention, according to the group Book More Women, “in 2017 only 26% of acts playing major music festivals in the United States featured at least one womxn or non-binary musician.” As the old saying goes, you can’t be what you don’t see, and representation within the music industry – especially within the rock or punk scenes – is limited and left desperately wanting. The crisis is not necessarily a lack of women musicians (and women to work behind-the-scenes), but a lack of opportunity for women and non-cis men from the male-dominated industry. Considering “a female opener” something to check-off an itemized list is the epitome of “The Opener”, and of the issues brought up through the song.

Listening to “The Opener” is an experience all of its own for me. I am pulled in, mesmerized by the music and by Georgia’s voice. I have sat with this song on repeat so many times, just letting it wash over me as I feel many things about my career in music so far and my future. It makes me angry, but also makes me hopeful for the future that maybe someday women and non-cis men will be involved with music without facing the misogyny and sexism that my peers and I have faced. It was validating to hear some of my experiences sang about and equally comforting and enraging to know I am not alone. “The Opener” resonates with anyone who has had music mansplained to them.

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Notes:

  1. “Treat them like queens until they disagree” is believed to be a dig at the lead singer of The Smith Street Band, Wil Wagner, who Georgia McDonald dated. In The Smith Street Band’s song “Sigourney Weaver” Wil sings “treat women like queens even after they leave”. It is speculated that this lyric in the Camp Cope song suggests Wil was a hypocrite, and the sentiment of his song did not match up with real-life.
  2. “‘The Opener’ is our big diss song,” says Georgia. “Literally the whole end is just quotes of what men have told us.” (LNWY, 2017)
  3. ‘“Kelly-Dawn Helmrich was once told “she should go on lead guitar to fill that missing frequency and it was just like, ‘Fuck off!’”’ (LNWY, 2017)

Works Cited:

Acknowledgments:

Thanks go to my friend and local musician Craig Shay of the band Cold Wrecks for discussing some of the technical aspects of Camp Cope’s music with me.

Image Credits:


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