Dolly Parton Recently Won Her 8th Grammy. Here’s Why It’s Not Just Personal
First written and sung in 1973, Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ soon became one of the biggest hits of this diva’s career. Fast forward to 2017 - more than 40 years later - a cover version of this song by group Pentatonix, along with Parton, has now earned her a Grammy award.
I’m thrilled by this award for a song that has endured over decades; but what is even more heartening is the growing wave of older American artists continuing to stay relevant and win recognition.
Until even a decade ago, the obsession with youth meant that women in film or music rarely stayed in the spotlight after their fifties. ‘Gracefully’ ageing seemed to mean the same as fading away quietly! No longer.
Dolly Parton began her career in the 60s. Madonna began her career in the 70s, as did Meryl Streep. All of these amazing women are part of a small but powerful group who continue to be relevant. They are breaking the myth that women are valuable only as pretty faces and young bodies.
Here in India, where movies continue to be our biggest medium of entertainment, meaty roles for older women are harder to come by. In fact, strong character roles for older people, whether men or women, were rare until recently. It is only in the last decade that well-fleshed characters beyond a generic ‘dad’ have become common, largely with the rise of Amitabh Bachchan’s second career. More recently, Rishi Kapoor has seen success with varying roles whether as a corrupt don in ‘Agneepath’, or as a fun-loving grandfather in ‘Kapoor & Sons’.
The same can’t yet be said for older women. It is true that ‘mom’ roles are no longer just about feeding your beloved son gajar ka halwa, but we see very few characters written for an older woman like the dad in ‘Piku’. Older women still largely play supporting roles; and of course, no woman in her late forties could get away with playing a romantic lead like the Khans do.
Whether in the West or here in India, the reality is that women have had to fight very hard to be considered relevant in the entertainment industry. That’s why when Grammy awards continue to go to older women, it’s not just a personal win but a bigger signal.
As Madonna said recently, at the Billboard awards, “People say that I’m so controversial...But I think the most controversial thing that I’ve done is to stick around.”