The 2016 presidential debates arrived at their most heated moment when Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton “such a nasty woman” during her debate response to social security and taxes. T-shirts and hats emblazoned with the words “nasty woman” popped up as symbols of self-aware irony and solidarity on subways, at bus stations, and in brave office corridors. And songwriter Ara Lee James called fellow singer and poet Beth Wood with an idea.
“We were at a songwriting retreat right after the election and there were some big feelings regarding that,” Wood remembers. “Ara called me one day and said she had an earworm, and it was the start of the song ‘Nasty Woman,’ referring to that famous moment in the debates. We finished the song that week.”
Soon after releasing “Nasty Woman,” James and Wood joined forces to let their musical symbiosis unfold in the soul-roots duo Stand and Sway. The pair made a music video with filmmaker Josh Sales that now more than 26,000 views on YouTube—watch below. In light of the song’s message, Stand and Sway chose to donate all proceeds from song downloads to Planned Parenthood.
Reflecting on the momentum of the whole thing, James says, “Collaboration is what pulled the song ‘Nasty Woman’ up and out of my head, and I honestly feel that it often takes another person to allow songs to breathe and be born. Music is never really a solo sport.”
With the 2020 elections fast approaching, it’s a good reminder to see where music can leverage its privilege to promote causes that are not just worthy, but irrefutably necessary. We live in a carefully designed system in which profit is siphoned to the top tier of society and money still holds the majority of our political power.
I would argue that music is enough on its own, that it doesn’t need to justify itself by standing for anything more than what it expresses. However, it’s never been a more pressing time for the arts to respond to political disassociation and dissent on behalf of our better future.
More power to all the nasty women (and men) who continue to do so.
Olivia Awbrey is a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and writer from Portland.