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Paris Paloma's Labour: The story behind the viral soundtrack to 'female rage'

Singer songwriter Paris Paloma has whipped up a fury of vengeful women online who are done with the inequality at the heart of heterosexual relationships

paris paloma

Singer songwriter Paris Paloma's folky, witch-pop track 'Labour' is an anthem for female rage. Image: Paris Paloma

Women are getting angrier. There’s even a new gap for them to contend with, the “gender rage gap”, according to an annual poll by Gallup, and it’s widening.

They’ve got a lot to be angry about. Decades of repression in Iran has bubbled into mass protests which in turn have been met with further state violence against women, and here in Britain, the London Met police force has been branded institutionally racist and sexist, while a police force in Kent recently listed rape and sexual assault as a “non-emergency crime”. 

And this is before we’ve even got into the murky politics of love and relationships. 

So when new singer-songwriter Paris Paloma dropped a teaser of her new single, Labour, on TikTok, her explosive, furious lyrics struck a chord with millions of young women at the end of their tether. 

A short clip of the music video in which Paloma is gorging on bloodied-looking fruits (beetroot and pomegranates, she says, but easily mistaken for a heart), reached one million likes. Tens of thousands of women have used the track to share their own experiences of misogyny, and the need for an avenue to direct the fury that’s been smouldering inside them. 

Against a folky throbbing beat and harmonising with pagan-sounding chanting, Paloma lists the different roles relationships with men force women into: “You make me do too much labour. All day everyday, therapist, mother, maid, nymph then a virgin, nurse then a servant, just an appendage, live to attend him, so that he never lifts a finger.”

Paloma sat down exclusively with The Big Issue to explain what inspired her viral hit.

“Women are just doing more and more, and men are not doing any more than they’ve ever done,” she says.

“There’s still expectation for women to have this very traditional archaic role as a caregiver and a servant and a wife and a mother and a homemaker,” she continues, “but women have had enough of existing to serve other people”.

A relatively unknown artist until recently, Paloma has only started releasing songs towards the end of 2020, and had little idea the reach Labour would have. 

Since writing lyrics in her bedroom as an avenue for her own feelings, Labour has grown into a beast of its own as women from all backgrounds and experiences use it to create videos that describe how the patriarchy has impacted them. 

“I’m not at the centre of this song anymore,” Paloma says, gratefully. 

TikTok user Olivia Kirby uses the soundtrack as she uses the aps filters to warp her body to show different “beauty standards throughout the decades”. 

In her video, @itsssaamina describes misogyny in Desi culture, which she says involves being “a slave for her in-laws” and “accepting the abuse is better than being a divorcee”. 

Another user, @Cee_90, translated the lyrics into British sign language, with the caption “When words resonate too much”. 

Paloma wants it known that while all women carry the weight of unpaid physical and emotional labour, this “goes so much deeper for women of colour, trans women and disabled women.”

“Female rage” is a term that’s widely been attached to Paloma’s track, as well as the increasingly popular genre of music described by some as “witch-pop” or “neofolk” that evokes the notion of empowered women ready for vengeance. Think of the film Midsommar when Dani (Florence Pugh) watches her shitty boyfriend get burnt alive at a flower-filled pagan festival in Sweden.

But Paloma is hesitant to embrace it. “It can be amazingly empowering, and I think so many women are relating to it as just this concept of just having had enough, and the refusal to be convenient anymore,” she says. 

While the phrase is often applauded among white women, “there’s the horrible trope of the angry black woman,” she explains, which can be “very white feminist”.

And while there’s something so beautiful and so sad about women’s anger, “it doesn’t need to be romanticised”, she adds. 

There are glimmers of change, however. A Spanish woman, Ivana Moral, was recently granted a $215,000 payout from her ex-husband to cover 25 years of unpaid housework. Her lawyer said the ruling was a victory for all women who have laboured in the “shadows” of their husbands.

“I’ve never been the put-upon wife but I’ve watched it happen,” says Paloma, who wrote Labour aged just 22. “But I’ve seen what it does, and it’s what I think about and have thought about since I was becoming more conscious of my surroundings as a young teenage girl.”

Paloma speaks softly and cautiously to describe the inspiration behind her track. Fresh out of university, with a degree in fine art and history of art from one of London’s top universities under her belt, it’s apparent that the sacrifice she fears could be put on her later in life, as a wife or mother, weigh on her heavily. 

To make change, “it starts with holding men and boys accountable for this behaviour, and making it less normalised and making them sort of aware that their actions or lack thereof have consequences,” she says. 

“You don’t get to be in a relationship and treat another person like less than a human being and then be blindsided when that person wants to end that relationship.”

And “men should be picking up the slack”, because women have done enough labour. They’ve had enough. 

Labour by Paris Paloma is out now.

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