The world was not ready for Betty Davis.
Before Prince, Madonna, and Beyoncé were boldly owning race, gender, and sexuality in their music, there was Betty Davis: raw, explicit, and brazenly emancipated from everything expected of women in 1974.
At 16, Davis moved to New York, became a model and scenester, and fell into a crowd of friends and lovers that included Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Miles Davis (whom she later married — for a year). After her debut album underperformed, she took full creative control and produced her follow-up entirely on her own. The result was They Say I’m Different: a bold, unfiltered album that exposes the power of a woman confident with her gender, race, and sense of self.
In this episode, we discuss the impact of this album on society: how it fit into the time it was released, and how it has influenced artists today, both musically and politically.
We recorded this episode on Sunday, just hours before this year’s Grammys. We waited anxiously for Beyoncé’s masterpiece Lemonade to be deservedly rewarded. The album is a clear continuation of Betty’s legacy: aggressively independent, proudly black, profoundly female, and willing to take names of those who object; the words Betty growls on 1974’s “Don’t Call Her No Tramp” are echoed in Beyoncé’s howl on 2016’s “Don’t Hurt Yourself.”
It’s the kind of music that can scare people. Betty’s provocativeness led to her mainstream demise, but she laid the groundwork for women like Beyoncé who came after her. When we recorded this episode, we were excited for this to be a way to say “Look how far we’ve come.” Instead, the results of this year’s Grammy ceremony showed us that, 42 years later, this kind of music still scares people, and we still have a long way to go.