Ingrid Michaelson: ‘I’ve never called myself a feminist, I just was one since birth.’

February 8


You may know singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson for her cheery folk songs, but her latest release indicates a stylistic departure.  Featuring catchy gang vocals and an anthem-ready chorus, “Girls Chase Boys” is the first single off Michaelson’s upcoming album “Lights Out.” Her accompanying music video has already gained traction for not only its remake of Robert Palmer’s 1988 video for “Simply Irresistible” but also its gender-bending backup dancers. “Lights Out” is set for release on April 14 and a tour with Storyman and The Alternate Routes begins the following week. 

What can fans expect from the your new album, “Lights Out”?
I think people are going to enjoy this record. There’s enough on there that people will be satisfied. There’s some experimental stuff and hopefully people will follow me down that road. It’s definitely diverse. I’m just really excited to perform these songs live. It’ll be fun to see how people react.

How did the writing process for “Lights Out” differ from your other albums?
This whole record has been really different for me. Every other record I’ve written was by myself. I was in control and all my songs were written by me and one producer. This year, I wanted to do something different so I had 10 writers and five producers. We went to Nashville, L.A., New York.

You’ve elaborated on the writing process for “Girls Chase Boys” on Facebook. How did it morph from a breakup song into something else?

“Girls Chase Boys” was from two writers in Nashville. It was about how we all go through breakups. It was very, “Buck up buddy; it’s gonna be okay.” I remember walking around listening to the demo and it was really rough. I felt like it wasn’t finished and wasn’t inclusive of everybody because it was so “girls and boys and girls and boys.” That is my story; I am heterosexual. But I wanted to open it up. That’s where the tag line comes up of ‘girls chase girls chase boys chase boys.’ The vibe of this record is so collaborative, it’s a big community getting together and I wanted all the songs to embody that sonically.

How did the concept for the video come about?

I’ve learned that when I go to someone else and they tell me what to do, it’s not as fun. I can’t end up doing all my ideas but for this one, I pulled up the video, muted it and played “Girls Chase Boys.” It didn’t match up in terms of tempo but it made me smile with the hip thrusts. I thought it would be great if we kept the vibe of the song but made it inclusive of everyone. I took it to my friend Andrew, an actor and director, and he said we should do it. I wasn’t thinking of doing it shot for shot. But I did a lot of Robert Palmer’s moves mimicking his hand directions. Andrew said, “I want the men to be beautiful and masculine at the same time. I don’t want you to be able to tell if its a man or woman.” That way, we could emphasize we’re all human and we shouldn’t be judged and put in a box. The theme that we’re all in this together is a theme in my music. It’s unintentional but it’s still there.

Has the reaction surprised you?
I thought people would get a kick out of the remake, I didn’t think people were going to latch onto it as an equality thing. I’m glad they did. I’m being active online and looking at the comments. I know people say not to but it’s important in this video because it’s actually opening up discussion. There’s a lot of ugly, hateful comments. It’s not just like “you’re ugly.” I leave some up for discussion but the mean ones I delete. I don’t want to be a platform for bigotry. It’s absorbed my last two days because I’m so interested to see how this evolves. I’m surprised that there’s such a polarizing effect. There’s a lot going on with marriage equality and gay rights. I don’t want it to seem I’m jumping on a bandwagon and latching on to the newest thing for attention. That’s not what I intended at all. But I’m really excited that people are enjoying it and finding solace in it. I’m happy and proud of what we did.

There seems to be a lot of debate about feminism in the music industry these days. Care to offer any thoughts?

My mother is a sculptor and runs a museum in Staten Island. When I think of the word feminist, I think of her. It was my father who took the dandelions after my mother yanked the weeds out. My father was much more of a dainty human than my mother. So I never thought women were less than in any way until I got to high school. I remember that feeling when men and boys made fun of me. You’d say a joke and they’d say it louder. That’s why I wanted to be funny. I got competitive with boys who thought that they were overpowering and more funny. I just got louder and funnier. I became somewhat of a clown. I was like, “I’m funny and loud too so let’s bring it.” I’ve always had that combative attitude.


How has that translated to your career now?
A lot of times, after a show, some crew guy will say, “You’re really good, you’re really funny.” He’s shocked that I’m funny or that I’m good. I used to get mad when we were first touring. Tour guides would look down on me and ask all the stupid questions they’d never ask a guy. I try to laugh it off and maybe I make a snarky comment and make them feel stupid.

I believe in myself and I’’m very supportive of my female friends and artists. When I first started, there were definitely people who said I shouldn’t wear my glasses. But I hate contacts. I’m not getting Lasik and I’m pretty blind, so I’m wear my glasses. My mother wore her glasses never did her nails or made up her hair. I’ve never called myself a feminist, I just was one since birth.

How do you feel about fellow female musicians that say they aren’t feminists?
People choose whatever path they want to choose.’Feminist’ is a word that means so many things. If you love yourself and respect yourself and you’re proud of yourself and you’re a woman, you’re a feminist. There’s a sliding scale of feminism whether you’re extremely vocal about it or not. I think you can be quietly feminist and have your own core strength. To each her own.

A lot of the feminist conversation tends to happen online.
Somebody commented on what of my photos recently and said I looked so skinny. I’m not stick skinny; I just know how to angle myself! There are a lot of young girls who follow me online and come to my shows. It’s okay to be imperfect. That’s what I want to instill. It’s funny how women pick on each other. We can’t win! Let’s get together, ladies. We have enough against us. We shouldn’t be calling each other out on things that aren’t true.

Read more about Michaelson’s new video.

Ruth Tam is a writer based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @ruthetam.
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