The importance of ‘They Need Us’ by Feels and Stella Donnelly
I can tell you from lived experience that being a woman can be exhausting, and being a woman in the music industry – particularly the Australian music industry – is even more so. I’m a straight, white, cis female as well, so I can’t possibly even know how exhausting it can get, and I acknowledge the inherent privilege in this. What I do know is, regardless of status, position, whether you’re an artist on stage or someone working behind the scenes, or in my case a writer and editor, every woman, transperson or non-binary person in this industry would share in this exhaustion and experience to some degree. For artists, the ongoing battle of having to prove yourself against relentless and at times impossible standards both from fans and behind the scenes can be so brutal that its a wonder there are women making music at all. But there is, there always has been and always will be, because we’re tough. The less aligned we are to the “holy grail” of social stature being straight/white/cis/male, the tougher we become, and it’s exactly this toughness, this total defiance of the bullshit put in our faces every single day that FEELS (Elise Reitze and Rosie Taylor) and STELLA DONNELLY are highlighting in their latest single.
Titled ‘They Need Us’, it’s a 3 minute long middle finger to the abuse apologists, the doubters, and the condescending voices that women in music experience every day. With Donnelly singing lyrics like, “Do you ladies need some help? Did you make that beat yourself?” over Feels‘ intricate and meticulous production, not only is this song an impressive feat just on a purely technical level from two exceptional acts that deserve your attention, but also a defiant and unified stomp saying, “No more.” In an industry that consistently elevates men above everyone else, including abusers, racists, misogynists and more because the “boys club” is so strong, ‘They Need Us’ is the softly sung anthem that will have itself embedded into your mind whether you like it or not, all the while making its message sink in: you might put entire groups of society below yourselves, but at the end of the day, you need us.
It’s not an aggressive cry with no reason behind it (as some men might claim as they do whenever someone speaks up), and it’s certainly not a “poor us” statement. In fact, the song uses actual quotes said many, many times to not only Donnelly and Feels, but many, many women in the industry, and by doing this, it serves almost as a stating of the facts while reassuring each other and themselves that despite the shit that others say to them, they’ll still find their place in this world because they’re needed. They’ve had enough with the undermining, the excuses and the lies, but they still remain assured that they do belong, that they’re not in the wrong and that they do have a place. It’s this that’s the most refreshing part of this song. While many struggle with thoughts that they didn’t belong, that they weren’t worthy or good enough, ‘They Need Us’ reminds us that we have a place in this world (both the music industry and beyond) just as much as the men who sought to undermine us do, whether intentional or subconsciously, and it’s about time they listened.
Noticeably, this is the first time a Feels song has featured vocals, with Reitze noting the addition of lyrics on the WOMPP (Women Of Music Production Perth) website. Alongside a personal article from Reitze on the song, Feels also collected quotes from other fierce artists like ALICE IVY, EILISH GILLIGAN, MUKI, BODY TYPE, E^ST and more, which I strongly recommend reading. On the decision to have Donnelly on vocals, she wrote, “Stella is the perfect voice to address the mechanical bull(shit) that is directed at women in this industry every day,” and it’s true. Having already released her own defiant and feminist music, singing her truth, Donnelly became one of 2017 most exciting breakthrough artists with ‘Mechanical Bull’ and ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ both putting her deservedly in the spotlight as one to watch, though this did come with newly made enemies as well, as Reitze writes. Feels have also seen their fair share of accolades including a WAM award and spots on the line ups for Listen Out, Laneway and Falls plus more. Fittingly, ‘They Need Us’ also comes as the first single to be released on WOMPP which Feels co-founded back in 2017. As WOMPP, Feels run an Ableton user community group and booking agency and are determined to encourage skills development and confidence in female, trans and non-binary music makers, a vital service to empower more emerging and would-be artists, giving them the skills to maximise their potential.
Released in the very same week that the internet imploded with arguments over a late artist who I won’t name here but that had a significant series of horrific allegations of gendered and homophobic violence, and just days after the deaths of two women in Australia, Qi Yu and Eurydice Dixon (taking the death toll of murdered women in 2018 in Australia to 30), this song hits home extra hard. At the end of the day, no matter how loudly society tells women, transfolk and non-binary people that they shouldn’t and aren’t allowed to take up space, Feels and Stella Donnelly offer up a sonic antidote, a call-to-arms for women everywhere to remember that THEY need US and that we will find our places in this world together. Its tongue-in-cheek, unapologetic approach to the shit they’ve heard too many times has been enough to bring myself and I’m sure many other women around the country and beyond to tears upon listening. Voicing what we all feel in such a perfect way, Feels and Stella Donnelly offer up one of this year’s best songs. They’re changing the message to how important we are and by doing so they’re bringing the focus onto how brilliant women are and how needed we are, and the fact that our voices are getting more and more impossible to ignore. As someone who has worked in the music industry for five years and began finding myself becoming bitter and completely fed up, this was the breath of fresh air, the warm hug and the pat on the back I needed to keep going, and I’m sure many others feel the same. Thank you, Elise, Rosie and Stella.
‘They Need Us’ is out now on WOMPP (Women Of Music Production Perth) which Feels co-founded in 2017.
Image by: Zal Kanga-Parabia
Words by Emma Jones