Finding Fun in Feminism with Stella Donnelly’s "Beware of the Dogs"
“You only like me when I do my tricks for you”
“My friend told me of a secret / Told me that she blames herself / You invaded her magnificence / Put your hand over her mouth”
“We sat there silently while you kept your job / And your place and your six-figure wage”
“I know when you're telling lies / I don't wanna seem unkind / But what the hell is going on / I don't buy it”
Where’s the Meaning?
Stella Donnelly’s debut album – “Beware of Dogs” -- cuts through the noise of the current indie-pop scene with its entirely empathetic and comical take on modern social issues. This Australian singer-songwriter’s 2019 release naturally develops on the messages of Donnelly’s inaugural 2017 release of ‘Boys Will Be Boys’, and its attack on victim-blaming, conveniently timed at the crux of the #MeToo movement. Repetitive drumbeats accompanied by acoustic guitar provide underlie Donnelly’s harmonious attacks on social norms.
Opening with the indie-folk track, ‘Old Man’, Donnelly immediately sets the tone for her sustained undercutting of the patriarchy. She is unafraid to be potentially taboo, out-rightly criticising abuses of self-righteous machismo and bravado, through lines such as ‘Boy, if you touch her again / I'll tell your wife and your kids about that time’. Donnelly has an acerbic wit and no fear of speaking the truth, leading to the poignancy of inherently comical and memorable lines: ‘Your personality traits don't count / If you put your dick in someone's face’. The accompanying music video for Donnelly’s ‘Old Man’ only serves to reiterate her message and persona, featuring the 27-year old artist herself reading a self-defence manual. The video’s subtitles float between lyrics and references to the guide itself, with instructions such as ‘Grab his ears between your thumb and forefinger’, featuring italicised at the bottom of the frame. The tongue-in-cheek, and somewhat ironic, nature of the whole production serves not to undermine Donnelly’s message but only reinforce the need for action.
Female empowerment comes with sardonic wit once again in Donnelly’s ‘U Owe Me’. The singer-songwriter opens with the line, ‘I don’t think I’ll ever be coming back’ – speaking directly to a previous manager of hers from a pub. Again, Donnelly is unequivocal and unafraid of the crass. The line: ‘You're jerking off to the CCTV’, is both, at once, jocular and unnerving.
In the atypical – both in name and meaning – love song, ‘Mosquito’, Donnelly continues, in a similar vein, to be refreshingly uncensored as she purposefully delivers the line: ‘I used my vibrator wishing it was you’.
Season’s Greetings’ not only continues the independent message of this album concerning personal liberation, but deals with irritating family members. There is something endlessly relatable about a song centering around the annoying traits of those people you are meant to love. At this eventful Christmas meal, Donnelly asks one relative ‘Why can’t you be more like your mother was’, before simply telling them to ‘fuck off’. The inclusion of jingle bells toward the track’s end adds a certain festive spirit to a song which otherwise seems to lack the Christmas spirit.
The track ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ takes a breath from the cheery overtones that envelope much of this album. Donnelly delicately describes a rape encounter between one of her personal friends and an abusive male figure. Nonetheless, the song does not focus on an account of that event itself, but bombards the existence of victim blaming with the lines: ‘They said, Boys will be boys / Deaf to the word, No’. The issue of consent lies at the heart of this track as Donnelly outwardly, and rightly, attacks rape apologists who – she sings – outlandishly argue that ‘women rape themselves’. The track is undeniably moving due to its content and the ethereality of the underlying acoustic guitar. Donnelly positions herself as a force for good in the world of music.
Donnelly adds an unapologetically comical spin to her discussion of pertinent social issues. Does music have to be entirely serious when featuring mentions of tragedies such as rape?
Is Donnelly’s more cheery undertones a breath of fresh air following a spate of melancholic pop from the likes of Lorde, Lana Del Rey and Billie Eilish?
Rape Crisis England and Wales in an umbrella network for multiple independent bodies across the country that offer help to those who have been subject to rape and other sexual offences.
Help can be found at their website: https://rapecrisis.org.uk/get-help/
Or you can call the national helpline: 0800 802 9999