Are There Any Positive Rock ’N Roll Models Out There?

Paramore at the Tabernacle

I must preface this piece by letting you know I’m not some preachy, over-protective parent whining about how there are no good role models left in the music industry.  I’m not going to complain about Miley Cyrus and her choice in nipple pasties.  I’m not going to talk about Madonna and Britney’s infamous on stage make-out sesh.  Don’t even think about bringing up “Blurred Lines” or “Anaconda.”  This isn’t about the corruption of youth (plus I don’t think the aforementioned examples are even necessarily bad).  Hey, it’s bound to happen one way or another— we’ve all been “corrupted” at some point in our lives, and that’s just a part of growing up and learning how to process this new information.  Being exposed to shocking, dirty, and negative things is a part of life.  What kind of sheltered, idyllic-minded people would we be without these experiences?  After reading countless articles recounting parents’ struggles to find positive celebrity idols for their children, I found myself wondering, Who needs them?  And what do we even mean by ‘role model’?  Undoubtedly, our society places far too much importance on what the Kardashians wore on their yacht, or what dumb thing Kanye said.  And all the while, we feed into this nonsense by talking about it.  We’re perpetuating the silliness to a sickening point.  I think it’s incredibly important for everyone to have role models; I simply don’t think we’re looking in the right place.  I think we should be looking toward people we truly know inside and out.  We should look to people whose values make sense to us— people who are full of love, confidence, and goodness.  We don’t really know any famous figure.  We don’t know how they treat others in private.  We don’t know what bad things they might get away with doing.  We only know what kind of image they publicly project.  With so many complaints about negative, hyper-sexual, drug-addicted role models, I want to try and take a look on the bright side.  Not all hope is lost for our twerking-obsessed society.  There is a smattering of decent, if not excellent, role models to be found in the music industry.  And while I think we should be looking for role models in other areas of our lives, if you’re going to look to musicians for guidance, try looking at these powerful women:


Hayley Williams

Pop punk band Paramore’s leading lady is nothing short of impressive.  Launching her career at 14-years-old, Williams has always maintained her goal of fronting a band, despite countless offers for a solo career.  Despite receiving backlash from music critics upon the departure of her original bandmates Josh and Zac Farro, Williams pushed on with a killer work ethic, leading the rest of Paramore to success with their wildly popular self-titled album and tour.  She stood her ground, stayed true to herself, and continued to entertain and support her loyal fans.  On and off stage, she exudes power, confidence, and practices a lifestyle devoid of alcohol and drugs.  With an ever-changing hair color, and punk-influenced style, she breaks the traditional mould of what it even means to be a role model.  Williams offers some sage words: “People who are ‘different’ are usually the ones that end up making a difference in the world.”  She embraces her differences, and encourages her fans to do the same.


Lauren Mayberry

Another powerful leading lady, Lauren Mayberry of the band CHVRCHES is a force to be reckoned with.  While her immaculate vocals may be delicate, she is far from it.  Known for speaking up about issues she feels passionately about, Mayberry identifies herself as a feminist, ascribing to its basic definition of “equality between the sexes.”  She is no man-hater by any means, but often speaks out against males who perpetuate the notion that rape culture is OK.  With an undergraduate degree in law and a masters in journalism, Mayberry penned a piece for The Guardian tackling this tough, but important, topic:


“What I do not accept … is that it is all right for people to make comments ranging from ‘a     bit sexist but generally harmless’ to openly sexually aggressive. That it is something that

‘just happens’. Is the casual sexual objectification of women so commonplace that we

should all just suck it up, roll over and accept defeat? I hope not. Objectification,

whatever its form, is not something anyone should have to ‘just deal with’.”


Because CHVRCHES got their start mainly through the popularity of blogs and social networking, the band values the role the internet has played in their success, yet they are constantly bombarded with disgusting, sexist, and wildly inappropriate messages (all of which Mayberry reads).  She doesn’t let these messages stop her from speaking her mind and inspiring others to combat this type of awful behavior.  And when she isn’t performing, recording, or penning pieces for publication, she’s running TYCI, a feminist collective online magazine and blog based out of Glasgow.  She often participates in fundraising activities for children’s hospitals and has spoken out out for human rights, saying, “We are all benefitted by living in a diverse society and I value the human rights of everyone equally.”  In short: what can’t Mayberry do?  She’s a prime example of what it means to put talent and education to good use.



We all know how talented Adele is— she has won so many awards, I could spend the rest of this article simply listing them all.  She’s a record breaking tour-de-force, but there is so much more to her than just her vocal prowess and awards.  Adele speaks openly about her past, flaws and all, and has been vocal about the drinking problems she faced early on in her career.  With her former issues under control, the proud wife and mother has made sure to find time to live and be with her family.  There is something to be said for her ability to step away from the limelight for a few years, and while a new record is in the works, she is taking her time (on her own terms) to put together a soulful, memorable album.  In the past, she has openly supported some wonderful causes: LGBT rights, combating the global water crisis, Save The Music Foundation, MusiCares, and Keep a Child Alive.  She has also raised thousands of dollars for SANDS, a UK charity dedicated to supporting anyone who loses a baby and promoting research to decrease the number of stillbirths and neonatal deaths.  During one tour, Adele made it a requirement in her rider that anyone who scores a guest or complimentary ticket to her show must make a $20 donation to SANDS.  Adele demonstrates that we can make it through our darkest hours, our deepest heartbreaks, and help others no matter how we might be hurting in our own ways.  She teaches that being damaged and healing is a natural process, and we all must learn to embrace it.  She does all of this while loving and respecting her body despite critiques about her weight, saying that she is happy and healthy the way she is.  All the while, Adele doesn’t rely on shocking displays of sexual attention-seeking, but she instead exemplifies class and talent through her reserved style.


Ellie Goulding

Indie pop darling Ellie Goulding is more than just a self-taught soprano superstar.  The marathon running songstress values fitness, often logging more than six miles a day, inspiring all of us to get active!  She values a positive body image, saying, “I think I feel more confident with how I look and my body in general. I’ve always exercised and eaten fairly well, and I’ve given up eating meat and fish. I feel like I’ve matured – I can wear what I want now and be confident.”  Goulding has taken her passion for athletics to the next level by participating in charity marathons for organizations such as Students Run LA, whose cause it is to make sports more accessible to underprivileged children in the Los Angeles Unified School District.  Also a proponent of women’s rights, particularly in education, health, and justice, Goulding has supported causes such as Free the Children and Band Aid 30, which raised money for the Ebola breakout in West Africa.  Recently, Goulding has opened up about her own struggle with alcoholism about two years ago: “That was a time when I couldn’t deal with anything. I was drinking, and I was not really myself. It’s only when you come out of that phase you realize you were in trouble. Now that I’m not in trouble, it makes it more obvious just how close I was to losing it all. Luckily I never got to that point.” While she openly admits to having a bit of a dark side (and who doesn’t?), she maintains an overwhelmingly cheery disposition and good-girl image.  Goulding has strengthened her voice on and off the stage, often using it to pay respect to other successful music-making women:


“I feel a lot safer to call guys out now. I don’t like misogyny in music at all. I’d never felt         comfortable to say that before, because I would just get absolutely annihilated by male         artists. When a guy writes a song about a girl, they’re kind of praised and high-fived for         it, but when it’s the other way round, it’s almost like this diss, like the girl’s being a bitch. I     absolutely hate that. So [it’s great] that it just so happens that female artists are making         brilliant songs. “


Taylor Swift

As if having an iron-clad work ethic, strong circle of gal pals, and ear for pop music wasn’t enough Taylor Swift is a pretty stellar role model.  I tried not to buy into it, I really did.  It took me years to hop on the Swift bandwagon, but I have my reasons. Firstly, she absolutely adores her fans, and is known for spoiling them and surprising them with heartfelt gifts.  She has crashed their bridal showers, invited them to bake cookies at her apartment on Valentine’s Day, interacts with them personally on social media, and sends them handmade letters, photos, and gifts.  When she isn’t writing and producing her own music, she’s usually out supporting a good cause.  Swift supports arts education and has donated millions of dollars to the cause, most notably building a $4M education center at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville.  She has also donated $60,000 to the music departments of six colleges, $100,000 to the Nashville Symphony, and $75,000 to Nashville’s Hendersonville High School. She also supports children’s literacy, and has donated $250,000 to various schools to buy books, fund education programs, and pay teachers’ salaries.  Often working closely with the folks at Scholastic, she donates books regularly, and co-chaired the Read Across America campaign to promote youth literacy.  Through the Reach Out and Read program, she donated 2,000 books to the Reading Hospital Child Health Center’s early literacy program.  Not to mention, all the proceeds from her song “Welcome to New York” went to New York City public schools.  Swift also contributes to natural disaster relief programs such as the Red Cross, Hope for Haiti, and Architecture for Humanity’s Restore the Shore in response to Hurricane Sandy.  She also advocates for LGBT rights, anti-bullying, cancer research, children’s hospitals, safe driving, youth service, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, MusiCares, and Feeding America.  If that doesn’t make you feel lazy enough, Swift churns out high quality music videos on a regular basis, and doesn’t exploit herself or others in the process, maintaining an air of authenticity and charm.  Fiercely protective of her work, she has taken on music piracy and moguls such as Spotify and Apple Music, saying, “Music is art, and art is important and rare.  Important, rare things are valuable.  Valuable things should be paid for.  It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is.  I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art.”


Lady Gaga

While this may seem like a shocking choice given her flair for the provocative and eccentric, it can’t be denied that Lady Gaga has one of the most down-to-earth hearts in the music industry.  Other than being ridiculously gifted, she uses her art to express her passions and beliefs, and encourages others to do so.  While she may dress differently, that’s exactly why she does it: to embrace uniqueness, weirdness, and the abnormal— to show that it’s OK to a little (or a lot) different.  In 2012, she created the Born This Way Foundation in an effort to reflect this message.  The non-profit organization works on youth empowerment, particularly issues such as anti-bullying, mentoring, honing career skills, self-confidence, and promoting well-being.  In addition, Gaga is an LGBT rights activist, taking time to attend and speak at equality rallies and pride marches.  While she may provide you with your go-to cardio tracks at the gym, Gaga has also contributed to countless natural disaster relief organizations, and HIV and AIDS research foundations.  So before you denounce her for wearing meat dresses and bizarre costumes, think about why she does these things.

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