The Feminist “Love-Politics” of Labelle in “Morning Much Better”

Labelle, formed in 1971, was all-female rock trio comprised of Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash. Known for their “godless gospel music” fit for the “space age,” Labelle was revolutionary and boundary breaking in a plethora of ways, whether it be their sex-positive lyrics, futuristic costumes or the fact that they were the first Black rock group to perform at the New York Metropolitan Opera and the first Black vocal group to be featured on the cover of Vogue magazine. I contend that Labelle was uniquely “womanist,” in all the senses of activist and author (and also anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist) Alice Walker’s term, as they were a Black feminist group that loved music and dance and promoted sexual and non-sexual love through their intimacy-laden lyrics and “sexual self-expression” focused performances.

In this short essay, I will analyze their 1971 track “Morning Much Better” from their first album Labelle and lay out why I think it is a feminist song. “Morning Much Better” begins with this demand addressed to a sexual partner: “But if you want to keep me happy / Better hear what I’m saying to you.” To me, this sets the song off on a particular feminist note, as it emphasizes the agency of the person making the demand, which in the case of Labelle, is three Black women. This is especially significant given the fact that Labelle was a departure from the girl group model of the sixties and seventies exemplified by The Supremes, who, also as Black women, were subject to a degree of respectability politics that made them look practically identical and sing about sentiments such as “waiting for love,” in the case of their song “You Can’t Hurry Love.” The difference in tone and agency of The Supremes’ song and “Morning Much Better” underlines both the boundary pushing nature of Labelle as well as their song’s feminist message, which rejected the notion of passively waiting for love and/or a sexual partner.

While the song has one mention of “Daddy,” it is otherwise pronoun-less and thus could apply to anyone of any gender identity, which is another unique feature of many Labelle songs that cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon contends, “surely contributed to the group’s appeal among gay men and lesbians.” Thus, “Morning Much Better” is also part of Labelle’s legacy of promoting a more intersectional feminist message that included people of all gender identities and sexualities.

The central narrative in “Morning Much Better” is a desire to have sex in the morning. One line in the chorus goes: “But I usually like it much better in the morning, yeah.” This overall sentiment of the song renders it as one that is, in signature Labelle fashion, sex-positive, which is a feminist ideal exemplified by many feminists including poet and activist Pat Parker. It also renders the song as one that promotes communication and dialogue in sexual relationships, which I contend is a feminist principle in that it is the foundation of healthy relationships of mutual respect in which both sexual partners have the ability to express their desires as well as what makes them feel good.

In advocating for sexual partners vocalizing their own personal desires and preferences, “Morning Much Better” exemplifies what writer, feminist and civil rights activist Audre Lorde envisioned as radical self-care, which she writes, “is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” While self-care today has veered far from this conception as it has come to adopt the kind of “competitive atomistic” and “liberal individualism” that author and feminist bell hooks claims “undermines the potential radicalism of feminist struggle,” Labelle in “Morning Much Better” is advocating for a radical self-care based on consensual and fulfilling sex, healthy relationships and a good night’s sleep! As the song goes: “But I don’t know, baby, just what it is, but that’s mmmm, when I feel good / Oh, with seven (I assume hours) behind me / Oh, you better come find me, yeah.”

All in all, “Morning Much Better” is a “sonically intimate” and vibrant feminist, and arguably womanist, boundary breaking song that incapsulates a Black feminist tradition of “love-politics,” in the sense that it advocates not only for relationships of love and intimacy that personally feel good, but also a relationship of love with oneself through its promotion of radical self-care. According to a member of the Atlanta Feminist Lesbian Alliance, Labelle’s impact was indeed felt. In their words, Labelle represented “very together women who love people and each other. And they have a heavy feminist message.”

Listen to “Morning Much Better” here.

Feminist MixTape: “enough for you” by Olivia Rodrigo

If you ever feel the need to go for a drive and cry about how much the patriarchy sucks, listen to “enough for you” by Olivia Rodrigo. Olivia Rodrigo is a singer, songwriter, and actress. She blessed the world with “enough for you” in 2021, as part of her album, Sour, which also presents several feminist perspectives. I particularly recommend listening to the final song, “hope ur ok,” as it reaches out to the LGBTQ+ community through its discussion of abuse, sexual orientation, and acceptance. 

The first way that Olivia Rodrigo instills feminist beliefs in “enough for you” is through the theme that she, as a woman, felt as though she did something wrong or was flawed and that is why she is experiencing a breakup. This feeling of self-hate is obvious in the lyrics, “You found someone more exciting The next second, you were gone And you left me there cryin’, wonderin’ what I did wrong…”. When listening to this song, it reminds me of the book I read for the book review, The Tragedy of Heterosexuality by Jane Ward. I sense a similarity between this song and that book because of its connections with the misogyny paradox. Essentially, the misogyny paradox asserts that boys’ and men’s desire for girls and women is expressed in a society that simultaneously encourages them to hate girls and women. This is evident in everyday life through men’s practices of abuse, mansplaining, and disrespect towards women (Ward 35-38). Olivia Rodrigo’s lyrics demonstrate the harmful effects that the misogyny paradox has on women. Specifically, it leads to negative thoughts in which women think that they are at fault for men’s poor treatment of them. In reality, women have done nothing wrong and this is a flaw of the patriarchy. 

Olivia Rodrigo also presents the societal expectation that women should be responsible to beautify and improve themselves to be “acceptable” to men. The artist sings, “I wore makeup when we dated ‘Cause I thought you’d like me more If I looked like the other prom queens I know that you loved before Tried so hard to be everything that you liked Just for you to say you’re not the compliment type…”. These lyrics remind me of the efforts by the diet and deodorant industries to exploit people’s insecurities so that they feel motivated to buy their products. A similar practice is at work in the heterosexual-repair industry, as I learned in The Tragedy of Heterosexuality by Jane Ward. Women are led to believe that they must keep their bodies “fresh” and “sexually appealing” to their male partners. Advertisers then put the strain on women to maintain their appearances to keep their partners happy (Ward 47). Olivia Rodrigo also falls victim to this harmful burden put on women. She sings about how she felt as though a romantic interest may have liked her more if she used more beauty products. 

While this song speaks to me as a straight, white woman, there may be some limitations in that the song is not inclusive of Black feminist theory and Olivia Rodrigo appears to be singing about a heterosexual relationship. While Olivia Rodrigo is unlabeled in her sexuality, she uses the term “boy,” to describe the person she is singing about. Therefore, a member of the LGBTQ+ community may feel ostracized from relating to the lyrics of “enough for you.” Furthermore, Olivia Rodrigo seems to be singing very generally about problems faced by women and does not acknowledge Black feminist theory and the increased inequity faced by Black women due to the intersectionality of their identities. 

To conclude, Olivia Rodrigo finally establishes at the end of “enough for you” that there is nothing wrong with her, she is a strong, beautiful, powerful woman. Instead, there is a problem with the patriarchy and the expectations put upon women. She demonstrates that in the following lyrics: “Yeah, you always say I’m never satisfied But I don’t think that’s true You say I’m never satisfied But that’s not me, it’s you…”. Overall, I find that this song has its most profound impact when I think about any relationships with men, whether that is professional, familial, or romantic relationships. It is in these relationships that I find myself questioning my self-worth the most and feeling as though I am never good enough. In response to that, Olivia Rodrigo reminds her audience to be kind to themselves despite patriarchal barriers. Listeners need to keep in mind that despite societal pressures and expectations, there is nothing wrong with them. 

Feminist Mix-Tape: “Kings and Queens” by Ava Max

Image of Ava Max on a throne from the music video for her song “Kings and Queens”

The song “Kings and Queens” by Amanda Ava Koci, known better as Ava Max professionally, is a feminist song of empowerment. Max compares the positions of kings and queens and how they are differently perceived by society. She points out the inequalities and expectations of women compared to men. In addition, she sings that women are much more capable of things than men. Women can rule and lead others, control their emotions unlike many think as a result of stereotypes, and give birth. Women are strong and amazing and Max makes sure that this is known to the listener with her analogy containing royalty. 

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“Little Miss S.” by Edie Brickell & New Bohemians

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Edie Sedgwick posing in Vogue.

Edie Brickell & New Bohemians is an alternative rock band that originated in the mid-1980s, broke up for a few years, and got back together in 1997. Since releasing their debut album, Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars, the band has released four other albums, all highlighting the band’s eclectic personality and style that was not made as present in their first album and more popular songs.

One song on the album, “Little Miss S.,” chronicles the life of Edie Sedgwick, an actress/model who rose quickly to fame, but died young at 28 after overdosing on a mixture of barbiturates and alcohol. “In a blink of the public eye,” Sedgwick was seen as a feminine icon, dubbed as an “It Girl” at the time. She became known for multiple reasons, one of which being her popularization of the miniskirt, noted by the lyrics: “Little Miss S. in a mini dress” (Songfacts.com). She also became a muse for the artist Andy Warhol, who included her in many of his films but mainly helped her create a media presence for herself, specifically focusing on her avant-garde style. This outside judgment reflected on her private lifestyle, creating a misunderstanding between her public and private image. Her private life of “shooting up junk in the bathroom” and “swinging on the branch of a broken family tree” was drastically different from the role model facade she outwardly displayed. 

In Luisa Capetillo’s A Nation of Women, she describes how women dedicate themselves entirely to their appearance, “squandering their intelligence in trying to become more beautiful” (Capetillo 8). She argues that in doing so, women are no longer themselves and are wasting time, money, and health by trying to live up to society’s expectations. She says that women should be “beautiful because of [their] strong constitution,” which is exactly what Sedgwick embraced (Capetillo 9). By living to create her own style in a way that was comfortable to her, she was admired by others, “living it up to die” rather than wasting away following the strict confines of daily life at the time. 

The representation of Sedgwick in “Little Miss S., however, is a limited portrayal of femininity. While she is portrayed as a role model, changing the name of femininity in the 1960s, her story is ultimately influenced by pressures from society; forming relationships with famous men like Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan and coping by using copious amounts of drugs and alcohol, leading to her early death. Her social status as a celebrity allowed for her to be free in expressing herself in more controversial forms since that was the way she gained popularity. While she stood as a role model, her story is not representative of an entire generation of women, simply due to diversity in social classes, races, and sexualities.

Works Cited