Grimes Takes You to Hell

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One recurring trope in science-fiction is the man-made apocalypse, a gloomy, deserted world that’s inhabited by those unlucky enough to witness the side effects of human error. Sometimes it’s from careless behavior like wastefulness, or the threat of a new technology that spreads fear and eliminates empathy, or even the rise of an anarchal state awash in violence. When discussing her new video for “Go,” Grimes hints at the cause for her nightmare-fuel video with: “In the inferno, people’s actions in life echo eternally,” later adding “We shot a bunch at the Salton Sea, which is basically an apocalyptic wasteland filled with dead fish because of human carelessness, a hallway of bullet holes à la Korn ‘Freak on a Leash.'”

Grimes casts herself as the beleaguered Dante, traveling through a unique layer of hell with Blood Diamonds as a particularly flossy Virgil (chain and all). Unlike the bullet in Korn’s “Freak on a Leash” that pierces through everyday objects to cause disruption and chaos, the bullet holes in Grimes’ video is a nod to violence that’s already occurred. In fact, at this point one functions more as a peep hole that peers into the blacklit, filtered dance that Grimes (Dante?), performs.

The 90s style rave-as-futurism outfits and imagery are reminiscent of Katherine Bigelow’s 1995 film Strange Days, where pre-Millenium Los Angeles is on the verge of chaos in the wake of corrupt cops and new technology that threatens to desensitize citizens to violent imagery. It’s interesting that this particular stylization continues to function as a sign of descent into hellish territory, and at this point I’m not 100% sure why, but I feel like nu-metal might be partially to blame.

Angela Bassett in Strange Days

Angela Bassett in Strange Days

It’s worth noting, especially considering Grimes’ bindi-wearing and somewhat sketchy past of cultural appropriation that “Go” also has pause-worthy racial aspects. Though the dancers in the video could be any race, seeing as how the lighting distorts and some of them are wearing masks, in shots of Grimes dancing and wearing a dress in a way that reads future-exotic by way of vague Asian influence, Grimes creates a future (albeit bleak one), inspired by people of color that doesn’t feel like it needs to specifically reference them. Writing about Grimes’ video for “Genesis” (which had similar problems), Julianne Escobedo Shepard called the practice “attaching vague ethnic allusions to coolness without context.”

Screenshot 2014-08-28 at 11.11.36 AM

Here’s to a future with less of that.

Let’s Talk for a Minute about Your Stupid Concert Poster

According to the Dallas Observer, last night Perfect Pussy took issue with the concert poster used to promote their show. (While the article says that the bands stopped their set short at 20 minutes, it actually seems like the average amount of time that Perfect Pussy plays a set.)

The offending poster:

PerfectPussyFlyer

The Dallas Observer quotes singer Meredith Graves:

“As women, we’re taken less seriously at the work we do because we work hard. When you see tits on a flyer you feel lonely, weird and isolated.”

This is a particularly succinct and damning quote. It’s damning that multiple promotion companies and the venue approved that flyer as representative of a band with a female member and a sarcastic, lady biology-driven name. What’s more disheartening to me, though, is how often I’ve seen variations of that poster: a posed, nude or nearly nude woman used as decoration. It’s so common that I probably wouldn’t have thought much of it if I had seen it in person, minus giving it a hearty eye-roll. Music scenes are notoriously alienating to women band members and fans, and this type of imagery continues that stratification.

For more examples I will take you to the Dallas Observer’s now-defunct series, This Week’s Best Concert Posters:

“Complete with a naked woman straddling a moose head, surrounded by tiger lillies and bird feces; what more could you ask for?” – May 7, 2013
concertposter1

March 26, 2013
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March 12, 2013
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February 13, 2013 “Favorite Throwback”
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So you get the idea, right?

MIXTAPE: Cult Films Part 2

I just got a bill to renew my domain name, otherwise I would have no idea that this blog is officially ONE YEAR OLD! I’m pretty proud of how well it’s progressed, and also pretty stoked on the guest bloggers that I’ve had on here so far. By the way, if you think you have something cool to contribute to the site, I have a new submissions page. BOOM.

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I have recently spent a significant amount of time looking at David Bowie/Mick Jagger gifs from the “Dancing in the Street” video for reasons that are both inscrutable and also obvious.

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HAPPY ONE YEAR NOT A NEOPHYTE. In celebration I made you a mixtape! Songs from Cult FIlms Part 2, because the first edition was a lot of fun to make.

Music from Cult Films: Part 2 by Neophyteblog on Mixcloud

Tracklist:
1) Jaan Pehechaan Ho – Mohammed Rafi (from Ghostworld)
2) Bohemian Like You – The Dandy Warhols (from Igby Goes Down)
3) Funnel of Love – Wanda Jackson (from But I’m a Cheerleader)
4) Runaway – Del Shannon (from American Graffiti)
5) Sugar Baby Love – The Rubettes (from Breakfast on Pluto)
6) Que sera, sera – Sly & The Family Stone (from Heathers)
7) Blue Velvet – Bobby Vinton (from Blue Velvet)
8) We’ll Inherit the Earth – The Replacements (from Saved!)
9) Heard Somebody Say – Devendra Banhart (from Life During Wartime)
10) As You Turn to Go – The 6ths (from Pieces of April)

Dead Women Tell No Tales

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A few weeks ago I saw Hurray for The Riff Raff in New York City, and one part of the show particularly struck a chord with me. Frontwoman Alynda Lee Segarra announced that the song she was about to play off of her new album was a response to “murder ballads,” a disturbing trope in country music where men croon about killing (or, mostly killing women). I ran the gamut of emotions while hearing this, because I hadn’t realized at that point just how often I was expected to identify with the male murderer, instead of the female casualty. (The song she performed, by the way, is called “The Body Electric”.)

Perhaps one of the most prolific and popular purveyors of the murder ballad is Nick Cave, whose work in The Birthday Party, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (who actually released an album called Murder Ballads), and Grinderman all have recurring themes of coveting, hating, torturing, and killing women. I don’t mean to suggest that Cave harbors such fantasies, but the premise and appeal of the stories he frequently tells are based in the mistrust and fetishization of the so-called fairer sex. In Cave’s world, women are either beautiful to the point that it drives the narrator mad (and therefore must die), or spiteful whores (who are disposable to begin with).

In the straightforwardly titled “I’m Gonna Kill That Woman,” Cave bemoans “Yeah I did everything I could/ everything I could. Lord Knows I did everything I could” but despite his best intentions, he has to kill his straying partner. The virgin/whore dichotomy is recurring, but interestingly, for Cave, both types of women frequently meet the same result. In “Where the Wild Roses Die,” Cave’s character kills Kylie Minogue with a rock, singing “And I kissed her goodbye/ said ‘all beauty must die.'”

Of course, Nick Cave isn’t really a killer, and his narrator is just a character exploration. When he was asked by Vulture about his depictions of women a few years ago, he was pretty candid about his intentions.

” I get criticized for a lot of what I write about, but as far as I’m concerned I’m actually standing up and having a look at what goes on in the minds of men, and I have the authority to talk about it because I’m a man. Women don’t have the authority because they don’t know what goes on in a man’s head, so largely what they say is kind of irrelevant. My songs and stories and books are character-driven, they talk about the way people are and the way men are and women are. “

Gross.

The pervasiveness of dead women in songs is certainly troubling, and Nick Cave has plenty of company in that particular club. The ubiquity of classic murder ballads like “Knoxville Girl,” which lovingly describes knocking a woman down with a stick until she dies (and has been covered many, many times) suggests that the trope hasn’t slagged in popularity. Eminem’s “Kim” and “97 Bonnie and Clyde” are particularly disturbing because, unlike most murder ballads, his victim (his wife at the time) has a face. Other than that, there’s Cash’s “Cocaine Blues,” The Rolling Stones “Midnight Rambler,” “Country Death Song” by the Violent Femmes, Hüsker Dü’s “Diane,” and so many more.

Why, exactly, is killing women such a common subject manner? My best guess is that it’s because it’s an easy way to characterize the narrator of the story (the man, the killer, the beast) as troubled, evil, or psychotic. In these songs the methods of their murder and disposal of the bodies are more fantastically described than the woman, with the exception of her being beautiful. These men describe the troubled (and disturbingly, sympathetic) monsters that they are by the destruction of beauty that is personified in a woman. Look at this pretty thing I killed, look at how unredeemable I am.

Besides the fetishization of feminine death, murder ballads are troubling because, once again, women are a means to an end. The story isn’t that a woman died (she’s disposable), but that a man was driven to kill.

MIXTAPE: Haterade

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This mixtape idea came from my roommate Caroline‘s brain. I’m surprised it took me this long, because I’ve been a registered Hater since 2009. There’s a Christmas song that says something about “good will toward all men,” but this is Misandry Town, so that’s not gonna happen.

Haterade by Neophyteblog on Mixcloud

Tracklist:

1) Honey Bee – Hey Girls
2) The Babies – Mean
3) Pangea – I Don’t Want to Know You
4) Lyres – You’ll Never Do It Baby
5) Steve King – Satan is Her Name
6) Sparkles – No Friend of Mine
7) The Chymes – Quite a Reputation
8) The Pen-Etts – That’s No Way to Spend My Time
9) The Magnetic Fields – You Must Be Out of Your Mind
10) Belle and Sebastian – I Don’t Love Anyone

It’s Hard Out Here For Lily Allen

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In 2008 Katy Perry described herself as a “thinner version of Lily Allen,” a peculiar jab that turned out to be an amalgamation of what caused Allen’s rage at the music industry. In her earlier years with the release of Alright, Still, Allen’s weight and “unconventionality” were talking points (and in some cases, selling points) to an extent that when she lost weight around the time of her follow-up album, It’s Not Me, It’s You, she sarcastically swiped back on her hit “The Fear” with “Everything’s cool as long as I’m getting thinner.”

Allen has always been acutely aware of the shelf-life of women in the music industry, a beauty and youth based package that, inevitably, would leave her behind. In “22,” Allen relates this to non-singers, a catchy pop tune bemoaning the plight of an aging woman. (“It’s sad but it’s true how society says her life is already over.”) It almost seemed like Lily Allen had taken this to heart and was going to retire from music for good, until the announcement earlier this year that she was working on her third album.

And lo, it’s “Hard Out Here” for a bitch.

In Lily Allen’s New Video Probably Went Over Your Head, Kathy Iandoli summarizes the difficulties of Allen’s life following her departure from music:

The years that followed for Lily Allen were pretty brutal. She miscarried more than once, met with tweets from “fans” who said things like “I’m glad your baby died” and other pleasantries. When she finally gave birth (twice), she was called fat a number of times and accused of “falling off.” She changed her name to her married name, Lily Rose Cooper, and was called a kept woman. So she brought it back to the née status and was accused of going through another divorce. It truly is hard out here for a bitch.

The “Hard Out Here” video, a satirical pop culture send-up of music industry misogyny, begins with her manager bemoaning her post-baby weight gain, until a newly-liposucked Allen makes a comeback of sorts in a cartoonishly over-the-top music video. Besides the obvious swipes at Robyn Thicke with lines like “who will tear your butt in two” and the glorious balloon display of “LILY ALLEN HAS A BAGGY PUSSY,” the majority of the video satirizes the self-objectification of young singers, notably Miley Cyrus.

I’ve said this about Miley before, but her sexually liberated front is really a carefully calculated appeal to the most basic straight male fantasies, and I couldn’t help but think of that when Allen’s manager tries to teach her how to twerk in the “Hard Out Here” video. The twerking, along with the white woman (Allen) objectifying her women of color dancers in order to assert her dominant sexuality, seems pretty familiar to anyone who has seen or read anything about Miley Cyrus in the past year. This is an interesting point on Allen’s part, but the execution is very flawed.

Allen’s got a bit of her own internalized misogyny that she’s dealing with, notably in the lines “I don’t need to shake my ass for you because I’ve got a brain,” which I’m sure the many brilliant ass-shakers of the world take issue with. The idea that overt sexuality and liberation are mutually exclusive is just flat-out wrong, and I would counter that with Rihanna’s “Pour It Up” video.

Allen’s use of women of color backup dancers as a Miley slam mostly ends up feeling awkwardly racist. The close-up shots of butts twerking and bottles popping aren’t something that Miley invented (duh), and in fact, it’s her appropriation of those signifiers that got people talking about Miley to begin with. There’s a lot to critique about how young women singers are marketed, and at points Allen is spot on (The part where she makes a dancer pose for Polaroids, a la Terry Richardson, is fucking brilliant), but at some point she ends up perpetuating sexist views of what, exactly, makes a woman empowered.

Race, Gender, and Fan Harassment

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In a widely-republished and quoted article by Lauren Mayberry of CHVRCHES titled I Will Not Accept Online Misogyny, we’re given a wearying glimpse into the type of sexually explicit messages directed at Mayberry, the only female member of CHVRCHES. Despite the “YOU TELL ‘EM, GIRL!!” collective reaction of the Internet, Mayberry’s piece is less an excoriating screed against fan misogyny, and more of a tepid plea for it to cease. “I identify as a feminist but subscribe to the pretty basic definition of a feminist as ‘someone who seeks equality between the sexes'” Mayberry hedges, “I am now, and have always been, in bands with smart, supportive guys, and have many amazing men in my life as family and friends. For that I am incredibly grateful.”

She goes on to ask “Would you condone this behaviour if it was directed at your mother/sister/daughter/wife/girlfriend?”, the go-to response to men who lack the capacity to sympathize with women with whom they have no relation. Mayberry’s piece is important, but almost every point is underscored with “This isn’t too much to ask!” and “No, I don’t hate men!” It says a lot that Mayberry felt it necessary to qualify that.

For the most part, Mayberry’s plight with fan harassment is being taken seriously. It’s so familiar for women (especially if you are the only woman in a band) to receive gendered and creepy solicitations that, while they are no longer surprising, it’s not a stretch to believe that it’s a problem. The contrast to this is an article that was published on the same day as Mayberry’s Guardian piece, posted at Gawker titled Danny Brown Admits That His Onstage Blowjob Wasn’t Sexual Assault.

For those that don’t remember, earlier this year rapper Danny Brown’s show in Minneapolis made headlines when a fan pulled down his pants and began to perform oral sex. Danny’s tourmate, Kitty, wrote in Vice that Brown was sexually assaulted, adding “It’s obvious that the reason nobody cares is because a girl did it to a boy.” Brown himself remained relatively quiet about the matter, until Pitchfork quoted him as saying “I look back at it and see that it takes two to tango. As much as it was [the young woman at the concert’s] fault, it was my fault, too.”

In conjunction with a quote from Complex where Danny says “It shouldn’t be a big deal. I just felt embarrassed because I wasn’t all the way hard yet,” the Gawker piece gleefully jumps to the (implied obvious) conclusion that Danny Brown wasn’t sexually assaulted. But why is it so hard to believe that a man could be sexually assaulted, or even that he would have trouble admitting it if he was?

“Everyone wants the option of blaming it on Danny, because people can’t accept the fact that a white girl raped a black dude in front of a bunch of people” writes Kitty, getting to the crux of the racial and gender dynamics of the incident and how that shaped the public’s reaction. Masculinity, and the perceived invulnerability of black men are the reasons why Kitty’s piece was met with widespread skepticism, and the gleeful I-Told-You-So taunts from Gawker illuminate the fact that if we are so unwilling to consider the possibility that Brown was assaulted, there’s no reason to think that it would even be an option for him to come clean about it.

Brown’s situation is just as much about fan entitlement as Mayberry’s. Both Brown and Mayberry were put in sexual situations that they did not ask to be a part of, but only Mayberry can be the victim. Female victimhood is expected because of publicly-scorned-yet-widely-practiced behaviors, and therefore inevitable. A man, especially a black man, being the victim of sexual assault challenges gender existentialist views of strength and power. As Gawker illustrates, people don’t want to let go of those views.

MIXTAPE: Fall Into It

It’s officially fall (is it official? Fall, are you ready for this sort of commitment??) and my feet are starting to get cold. It’s weird because I feel like this could work metaphorically but I mean it in the most literal sense.

Fall Into It by Neophyteblog on Mixcloud

 

Tracklist:

1) Hot Sugar – Leverage feat. Kool AD, LAKUTIS, and Nasty Nigel
2) Earl Sweatshirt – Hive feat. Vince Staples and Casey Veggies
3) Jean Grae – Trouble Man
4) Psalm One – Macaroni & Cheese
5) Janelle Monae – Electric Lady (Remix) feat. Cee-Lo and Big Boi
6) Spank Rock – Car Song feat. Santigold
7) Rye Rye – Sunshine feat. M.I.A.
8) The Cool Kids – Gas Station feat. Bun B
9) THEESatisfaction – Bitch
10) J. Cole – Power Trip feat. Miguel

 

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“I’m Just a White Girl in this World” – On Hip-hop’s White Girls and Internet Novelty

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In the “Ay Shawty 3.0” video, a soft lense captures Kitty’s flower halo as she walks through a field, sundress and all. For the “rap game Taylor Swift” this imagery is not uncommon. The coy femininity — eyes darting away from the camera while she leisurely spits rhymes — are part of what made her breakthrough, “Okay Cupid,” such a massive Internet sensation. “Okay Cupid” was a disconcerting juxtaposition of teenage girl iconography and veiled suggestions, Kitty rapping about receiving three a.m. thirst calls from men, while she and her friends lounge in a room decorated with Hello Kitty and various heart shapes. The success of “Okay Cupid” (and perhaps, Kitty in general) is attributed to novelty, with a young, innocent-looking white girl rapping about cocaine with a carefully-placed bow in her hair. Kitty was 19 when “Okay Cupid” was released, but her refusal to talk about her age led people to speculate that she was younger.

In Kitty’s video with Riff Raff, “Orion’s Belt,” Kitty moves with a forced awkwardness, walking in a stilted manner and standing as if she isn’t quite sure what she’s supposed to be doing. Between the attempt at gracelessness and the girlish doodling of hearts, the comparison to Taylor Swift seems more than fair. Both women play at outsider status while simultaneously being openly welcomed and celebrated for reaching the prescribed pinnacle of femininity as young, white women.

The summer before “Okay Cupid” made the rounds, there was Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci,” an annoyingly-infectious track that quickly went viral. With doorknocker earrings and a bow bigger than her head, Kreayshawn parties and drinks after persuading a shopper (played by Lil Debbie), to avoid designer clothes because “basic bitches wear that shit.” While the similarities between Kreayshawn and Kitty seem only surface level (white girls with YouTube views and a penchant for winged eyeliner) both of their successes can be attributed to, at least initially, the novelty. A few years ago Touré wrote in the New York Times that white women rapping is seen akin to “a cat walking on its hind legs.”

Kreayshawn’s success introduced the world to the White Girl Mob, a now-defunct group that consisted of Kreayshawn, Lil Debbie, and V Nasty. All three ladies were young, thin, and light-skinned, their poor rapping skills overshadowed by their looks and shocking attitude. V Nasty in particular made a name for herself for casually dropping racial epithets, answering to criticism with an emphatic “You don’t know where I’m from!,” as if the ability to use pejoratives without retribution would give her some sort of street cred (Popularly referred to as the hood pass).

What’s interesting is how, while the White Girl Mob’s skin color is a huge part of their success (Why else would you call yourself a ‘White Girl Mob,’ if you’re attempting to avoid novelty?), they quickly divorce themselves from critique by emphasizing their outsider status. Lil Debbie’s video for “Ratchets” is one of the most racist videos ever released, with black women backup dancers serving as Debbie’s “ratchets” while she raps “I got ratchets in my living room ’til 6 in the morning/ And when I finish up this weed, man I’m sending them home.”

In one interview, Lil Debbie shrugs her shoulders when confronted with her racism and degradation of black women with a simple “I’m just a white girl in this world,” brushing off her responsibility with the assumption that since she’s a white girl, she can’t be expected to know what she’s doing or be held accountable. Later, while reaming in Miley Cyrus for stealing ideas from her “Ratchets” video (if this didn’t illuminate how far the “white girl playing at ratchet” trope has gone, then nothing else will), Lil Debbie brags “I don’t twerk, I have a twerker. I have a bitch that comes and twerks for me.”

Lil Debbie’s “Ratchets” video is the prime example of what is troublesome about white women’s place in hip-hop. Debbie’s faux-outsider status allows her to avoid responsibility by being a white girl, but then she turns around and, in the video, dominates black women, calling them *her* ratchets, a racial domination that asserts her superiority. They are her ratchets, and they twerk for her. The desirability of white women in hip-hop, excellently covered by Cord Jefferson in Kanye West and his Thirty White Bitches, puts white women on a dehumanizing pedestal as a prize to be achieved. When these white women rappers come around, perhaps in order to avoid asserting themselves as the prize, they assert themselves as the victors. The racism this leads to, as it’s always white women dominating black women, is joined with internalized-misogyny. Status is achieved by having someone to dominate, and with white women, the only power that they can’t really touch is white men, who are, as of now, the predominant consumers of hip-hop.

Baby Don’t Cry (Don’t You Want an Ally?)

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[Trigger Warning for rape]

The controversy a month ago about “On Fraternity,” a new song James Brooks (formerly Elite Gymnastics) released under the moniker Dead Girlfriends, took Brooks by surprise, probably both because he was painfully naive about how his song would be interpreted (especially in conjunction with the name “Dead Girlfriends,” which comes from a quote by the feminist Andrea Dworkin), and also that he wasn’t expecting criticism from the feminist community that he wants to be a part of. Before Brooks unleashed a series of annoyed posts on Tumblr correcting the narrative, “On Fraternity” was regarded as a song about women fearing sexual assault, specifically because of the line “In their opinion you were always kind of asking for it, all along.”

The posts by The Remix Baby and Spin calling Brooks out could be seen as a sort of long-coming backlash against how male musicians handle sexual assault in their lyrics. With the prevalence of thinly-veiled rape fantasies in modern music and movies (this is something that really seems to get worse with time, instead of better), the idea that we should be grateful for any sort of recognition takes precedence. This mindset is patronizing at best, and legitimately harmful at its worst. The problem with tackling rape is that, even though it happens to both men and women, it’s laughable to say that the average man has the same experience with gendered and sexualized violence as the average woman.

A mostly glossed-over track on DELS’s 2011 album Gob, “Droogs,” is a graphic tale of the rape of a young girl. “She can’t fly because her confidence cape is gone” DELS laments, as he goes on to describe how her life has been spoiled.

On the surface level it’s a sad song about a common tragedy, but the element of voyeurism is palpable. There’s something to be said about entertainment value, about how rape and sexual assault are an easy trope to get listeners to feel a grief (or worse, titillation) that diminishes the experience for those that have encountered it. From the gruesome rape-revenge film I Spit on Your Grave to Aerosmith’s cornball “Janie’s Got a Gun,” the gut-wrenching auto-response of morbid fascination makes light of what nearly one in every four women will encounter. While “Droogs” might seem to speak with more gravity, DELS detachment speaks volumes: this is a sad story. This is real, but not real for me.

Fugazi’s “Suggestion” is often held up as a model example about how men should write about sexual assault, taking the perspective of both the woman (“Why can’t I walk down a street free of suggestion?”) and, more powerfully in this case, the male onlooker (“We blame her for being there, but we’re all here. We’re all guilty”).

Much like 2Pac’s “Baby Don’t Cry” (“Sheddin’ quiet tears in the back seat, so when she asked me,”What would you do if it was you?” Couldn’t answer such a horrible pain to live through”), “Suggestion” acknowledges a lack of understanding men have with the realities of sexual assault. Both songs give prominence to the feelings of women, and the culpability that men have in using their lack of experience with gendered attacks to explain away their continued silence.

Even better, though, are the songs by the women themselves. Tori Amos’ “Me and a Gun” is an a cappella heartbreak, a modified (she was attacked with a knife, not a gun) account of her trauma before she became famous (And later, a spokesperson for RAINN). Contrast the solipsistic ‘this-poor-girls-life-is-over’ of “Droogs” with Amos’s line “I haven’t seen Barbados,” and the narrative changes, even though the songs are purportedly about the same thing.

Similarly, Angel Haze’s “Cleaning out My Closet” is just as graphic and horrifying as any rape revenge film, but there is no voyeuristic pleasure to be had here. “Disgusting right? Now let that feeling ring from your guts” says Haze as she gives a detailed account of her repeated childhood rape. It’s shocking because it’s the uncomfortable truth, not a sterilized-yet intoxicating third-person account that acts as a stimulant for easy emotional response.

Last month Pitchfork praised “On Fraternity” by (formerly) Dead Girlfriends as being “ideal in 2013– a white male artist with a direct feminist message that can speak freely with anyone, that will get under your skin if it’s not already there in less poetic terms.” The words that stick out are “speak freely,” because, in Pitchfork’s review they (intentionally? Not sure) acknowledge that Brooks’ words will be given more gravity because he is a white man.

Women have been speaking just as freely. It’s just unclear who is listening.