Friendship, Feminism and Fun(damental Rights)

India Parker talks to Jess Bollands, the President of the Oxford Belles, about the enormous success of their latest music video

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On International Women’s Day, the Oxford Belles released a music video to Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Want To Have Fun, which gained over 40,000 YouTube views and a shout-out from Cyndi herself. The video is entitled Girls Just Want To Have Fun(damental Rights) and features inspirational feminist messages from female academics, interspersed with clips of the Belles singing:

I asked their president, Jess Bollands, about feminism, music, and being a Belle.

What’s the best thing about being a Belle? Is it just like being in Pitch Perfect?
It is just like being in Pitch Perfect! The best thing is definitely the release it gives us from our work—after a long day in the library there is nothing better than spending an evening singing and dancing around, forgetting about any impending essay crises for a couple of hours!

Are you a close-knit group?
We are genuinely best friends. I think this is what makes the Belles so special; in the video I think you can see in the group shots that we are genuinely so comfortable in each other’s company. We are all each other’s biggest fans, and love spending time with each other inside and outside of rehearsal time.

Where did the idea for the music video come from?
We worked with a director, Marco Alessi, who has just completed a Masters in Film at King’s College London having previously studied English here, at Lincoln College. He knew we wanted to make a powerful statement with the video, and came up with the brilliant idea of getting academics involved.

How long did the video take to make? 
The groups as a whole only spent one day filming together, which was pretty intense! I then spent another day with our director and camera crew driving around Oxford and visiting the academics to film their scenes.

Who arranged the song?  
Amelia Gabriel arranged the song last term and we performed it at a couple of gigs, receiving great responses. Sophie Tang then penned her own rap specifically for the video, though of course it will now be a permanent feature in the arrangement.

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Were there any particular highlights from filming the video?
Standing on the steps of the Rad Cam at 9am on a Sunday morning and belting out Cyndi Lauper to an audience of astonished tourists was pretty surreal! The whole experience was amazing. I personally also really enjoyed getting to meet all of the academics. After emailing back and forth for a number of weeks it was wonderful to talk to them in person about themselves and their messages.

The a capella scene at Oxford has long been dominated by all-male groups, does it mean a lot to you to have received so much acclaim for a song about empowering women?
It means so much, especially as the Belles were originally founded to combat the male-dominated Oxford a cappella scene, back in 1995! So it feels like we really have done what the original Belles set out to do: we’ve put our own stamp on the a cappella world, and celebrated other women whilst doing so, which is pretty amazing.


How does it feel to have had a shout-out from Cyndi Lauper for your cover of one of her songs?

It’s incredible to know that she has seen it—it had been the ultimate goal but we had almost given up on it happening! I hadn’t realised before very recently, but the original song was actually written by a man, Robert Hazard, and Cyndi decided to release it as an empowering statement for women. Our motivation was obviously the same, so we’re thrilled that she approves.

Out of all of the inspirational messages from the female academics in the video, which do you think is the most important, and why?
This is so difficult! All of the messages are so important. On the day of the shoot, the message that really made me quite emotional was Patricia Daley’s ‘They said she was too black to succeed’. The way she talked about her experiences so openly and cheerfully was incredible, she was so strong. Intersectional feminism is so important, so I am extremely glad that she agreed to be involved—we have had a lot of responses from young women of colour saying how much that message meant to them, which has been really moving. Another favourite of mine is probably Alice Prochaska’s ‘You can change the world’, because women can indeed change the world but often feel, or are made to feel, like they can’t. It’s also the last message in the video so I really hope that it leaves audiences believing it!

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What do you think are the benefits of involvement in performing arts, and a capella specifically, for girls?
Being involved in performing arts has given me so much confidence, and a way for me to express myself that I otherwise wouldn’t have. I think that a cappella particularly is very empowering, especially if you are a girl and in an all-female group, because the world doesn’t have very high expectations of you, but you can come out and show them that actually you can achieve whatever you want to do. You can ‘break glass ceilings’!

What’s next on the horizon for the Belles?
Hmm, where does one go after achieving world domination? We’re really looking forward to another term of singing together, and are hoping to release an EP in the coming months, which will feature Girls Just Want To Have Fun(damental Rights). We have lots of other exciting plans, and we’re so grateful that the success of the video will help us on our way.