October's SwanaSounds X ICONS Feature: Iranian Pop Queen, Googoosh

Updated: Oct 9, 2020

Source: Vintage.esl

Fact: every Iranian knows who Googoosh is.

Growing up, every Iranian-American I met said the same things bout Googoosh: "My parents are obsessed with her and I don't get the hype," "Why does it sound like she screams every lyric?" And my personal favorite, "why's her stage name so funny?" In Farsi, the word “goosh” means ear and the idea of an artist choosing to incorporate that word into their stage name was hilarious frankly. But after reading just one article about her life, let's just say, Googoosh is not only deserving of hype, she's underrated. If I'd experienced half of what she has, I'd probably scream every one of my songs too. And I'll have you know, Googoosh is not a Farsi name.


Today, I'll take a look at what made Googoosh the Iranian pop icon she is today.

As I mentioned in September’s feature, over the last couple years I’ve developed a strong passion for music. Plus, a passion for understanding my Iranian heritage. Writing this piece on Googoosh allowed me to dive into both. Learning about her life granted me a slight glimpse into the experience of an aspirational female artist living through Iran’s ‘79 Revolution. She built a bridge for my mom and I to meet in the middle and bond about music, the form of self-expression I admire most. She brought me closer to my Iranian culture. And who knows, maybe she’ll do the same for you. On that note...


Googoosh, this one’s for you.


1950

Faegheh Atashin was born in a suburban neighborhood in Tehran, Iran. Her father was an Iranian Azeri and her mother was an immigrant from Soviet Azerbaijan. "She was named Faegheh after a clerk at the civil registry refused the name given to her by her father, Googoosh, an Armenian boy’s name." (Kayhan Life). After her parents were divorced when she turned two, Faegheh went on to live with her father, acting as his assistant comedian and acrobat in shows.


It wasn’t long before she overtook his spotlight. At the age of three, she was heard singing and signed on as a working entertainer at the same club her father worked at. Before she was 10 she had her first radio appearance, film appearance, and television special.


While she was growing, Googoosh's father remarried – leading her to marry at the age of 17 to escape her abusive stepmother and painful home life. Notwithstanding, by the time she was 20, she’d appeared in over 20 films and had become a pop culture icon among Iranian youth.


1970s

Photo Credits: Brookings Institute


Under the rule of Shah Reza Pahlavi, Iran was met with Western influences. This transcended to music; R&B and pop beats, started merging with sounds traditional of Iranian music. Googoosh ran with it. Hell, she crafted her brand combining Eastern and Western elements. Her classical songs include Western instruments like drums, guitar, and bass, in conjunction with traditional Iranian melodies. "As the 70s went on, Iran inched closer to revolution, Googoosh’s music became identified with the opposition. 'She was a favorite in ruling circles, but in the years before the revolution her songs were interpreted as being sympathetic to the opposition against the Shah'" (VMP).


Googoosh dominated popular Iranian music

She became a household name, and the glamorous face of Iranian pop. Her trendsetting hairstyles and fashion choices would soon be closely followed by a generation of Iranian women, who wore miniskirts when she did, and got a short “Googooshi” haircut as she did in 1975.


“She was the biggest celebrity of 1970s Iran”

-Abbas Milani


The news coming out Iran in 1979 shocked the world. Between the Islamic revolution and Shah Reza Pahlavi's exile, the considerably modern, trending towards progressive country was dead and overtaken by the IRGC.


The regime devastated the Iranian women's rights movement. Almost immediately after taking power, the IRGC reversed every single law relating to women’s rights. The regime imposed mandatory dress laws requiring all women above the age of 9 to wear a hijab. New laws were developed ridding women of divorce rights, child custody, inheritance, citizenship, and even retribution. Gender segregation became legally mandated in all public places. And the most disgusting part of all: women can be punished by death for challenging these laws. Any progress made by Iranian women's rights activist was gone, abolished and forgotten about.


Googoosh, like many other young and aspiring artists, left Iran before the Revolution took full effect. She was touring in Europe and in the United States. Yet, as tensions increased Googoosh faced two choices: staying in the States to pursue her career, while essentially homeless, broke, and completely isolated from her friends and family; or returning to Iran and facing the repercussions of being a female pop artist entering a now highly Islamic country.

She chose the latter.

"Every lover wants to be with her lover and my country was where I grew up;

I am familiar with its culture more than anywhere else; I can bargain with the corner

grocer, we know each other's language.. I felt I was dying little-by-little here (the US) because I didn’t have anyone, anything, anywhere to go." (Pitchfork)


1980s

Fully aware she risked facing the death penalty, Googoosh returned to Iran. Only to be interrogated upon her return, arrested, and jailed for a month. And in order to remain in Iran, she signed papers vowing she'd no longer engage in artistic activities. Period. Iranian stars like Hayedeh and Fereydoun Farrokhzad were forced into doing the same. Yet, even when the government started permitting women to perform in front of female-audiences, Googoosh remained forbidden. "I spent my days watching films, listening to the radio, cooking, reading books, it was an ordinary life. But music was missing. I couldn’t go near it. I was not able to do anything because of the regime change, and being unable to sing at all—especially as a woman—it deeply affected me" (Pitchfork).


Imagine being an international pop sensation at the peak of your career, and then being muzzled.

It wasn’t until Iran elected a slightly less conservative President in 2000, Hashemi Rafsanjani, that Googoosh was granted legal permission to leave Iran. After 21 years Googoosh was finally able to do what she was destined to do. She left for Toronto, Canada and immediately started planning her long awaited return to the stage.


Googoosh spent 20 years in silence, living in house arrest, disassociated from her music and fans. What she didn’t know was that during her silence, her legacy not only lived on, it flourished. Iranian diaspora resettling around the world took their tracks and cassettes with them. Younger generations of Iranians found her music through bootleg recordings. Basically, anywhere there was an Iranian population in the world, there was a mehmooni blasting a Googoosh hit.


12,000 came to watch Googoosh broke her silence at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.

Her last show in Dubai (now considered her homecoming) during the Persian New Year, in March 2001, had Iranians traveling all over the Persian Gulf to hear their queen - over 70% of the audience was Iranian. Throughout the entire Comeback Tour, Googoosh at the age of 50, traveled to 11 countries, 23 cities, sold out multiple venues, and did it all in 8 short months.

Since, Googoosh has produced over 10 albums in over 10 different languages, actively tours, and even created the Googoosh Music Academy - a show hosted and televised on a Persian entertainment channel, Manoto TV, in London for aspiring Iranian vocalists. Think American Idol adjacent. If that wasn’t enough, Googoosh has been sampled by Kanye West, and shared by Beyonce and Jay-Z.


Googoosh's career has been an undeniable success. But what's most impressive is how she defends human rights through music. Googoosh has always believed in change for her country, it's evident in her music and her actions. She doesn’t consider herself a political figure but has been recognized internationally for using music to touch on topics traditionally taboo in Iranian culture, like LGBTQ Persecution and public support for anti-hijab groups.


Behesht

After releasing Behesht, off of her 2012 album release Ejaz, Googoosh became the first prominent Iranian to speak up about homophobia LGBT Persecution in Iran. She declares her support for the gay and lesbian community in Iran, people who could face the death penalty if their sexual orientation was exposed.

With lyrics like these, Behesht put me in my feels. Heavy.

Farsi: English:

Tahe in rah roshan nist… At the end of this way is not bright

Manam mesle to midonam ! I understand like you do

Nago bayad borid az eshgh Don’t say we need to be cut from love

Nabayad bashe ! It's not supposed to be here

Amma hast ! But it is!


Talagh

Googoosh also publicly supports the Girls of Revolution (or enghelab in Farsi). Sparked by the brave Vida Movahed, an Iranian woman who stood on a utility box on Enghelab Street with her white hijab tied to a stick while she waved it in a crowd. The group protests Iran’s mandatory hijab laws. Vida was arrested, but sparked a chain of protests and what became known as the White Wednesday movement.


Here is bit from Pitchfork’s interview with Googoosh on what caused her to perform her popular track “Talagh” alongside a montage of Iranian political footage from the Revolution to the White Wednesday movement at one of her New York City shows, "This was really dedicated to the women of Iran. It starts with footage of the Shah, people going to the mosque, and how that is a part of our lives. It leads to a point where a woman takes off her headscarf, an image that is quite famous now. As the scarf comes off, the new generation stands up to represent themselves. Mainly, it’s my way of showing appreciation to the women at the front of today’s movements in Iran, the courage they’re showing. What they’re doing is very admirable."



Ay Mardom Mordam

This tracks one of my personal favorites. Googoosh's lyrics delve into the consequences of strict gender roles. She told Pitchfork, "I believe that women—Persian women, all women—have the capacity to have the kind of life that they want. We have so many difficulties in our country for women. From the day that I began performing, I broke the rules, because I performed a modern dance on stage, which at the time was unheard of. Qamar-ol-Moluk Vaziri was the first Iranian woman to remove her hijab on the stage, and I was the first one who moved and danced and made expressions on the stage. That’s why, in some ways, I want all women to break the rules in their own worlds. To be the way that they want to be. I did that, and I still see how women appreciate it. The majority of my fans are women—and I think it’s because at one point, I did what they wanted to do, and what their mothers couldn’t do. She believes women should pursue a future they want."

She wants women to believe they have the capacity to build their own lives. She’s broken so many rules throughout her career, she still made it, and made it big.



For lack of better wording, Googoosh is woke as hell.

While watching her recorded live performance at the Hollywood Bowl in August 2018 I felt like I was at Beyonce’s long awaited show at Coachella earlier that year.

The orchestration, guest stars, outfit changes, dance moves, truly every quality was so rehearsed, so well executed. Not far off from Queen B. I watched the entire live recording of that show and I had a damn good time. Googoosh has her old music videos playing simultaneously as she performs her classics, debuting her newer tracks as well. She’s elegant, but energetic. Her blonde hair is pinned up, and she’s wearing a long sleeve ball gown that shines like a disco ball. She threw a party, she danced for her guests, and she kept them highly entertained. Fans in the audience (& me) are really in all sorts of feels - singing along with their friends, crying, cheering Googoosh on and finishing her lyrics for her.


My mom was in that crowd. Seeing her favorite artist from her childhood, the woman who inspired my mom’s hair styles and fashion style in the 70’s, and arguably even now, she was seeing her live for the first time in over 40 years. I really can’t imagine what that felt like. Watching it in my apartment on my 13 inch monitor I thought I truly felt every emotion Googoosh put out - let alone if I was in that crowd. More tears, I can imagine.


Googoosh connects listeners in diaspora to a time before the regime took hold. To a time of opportunity and social change. She’s able to bond younger generations of Iranians to one another and remind us of our similarity, and humanity. I get chills watching videos of her return to the stage. I get chills watching reporters of different countries announce she’s returned to her calling. I feel so, so proud to be of the same cultural descent as Googoosh. And you should too, she’s 10/10.


CLICK HERE to check out Googoosh on October's SwanaSounds: ICONS Playlist

CLICK HERE to check out the additional playlist dedicated to our favorite Googoosh tracks


& don't forget to show Googoosh some love