This Might Be Problematic

When I was a pre-teen my mom bought me a Def Leppard jacket. This might be surprising to people who aren’t familiar with my background, but when you grow up in rural Oklahoma and Texas, you don’t really have the same access to record shops and independent music that those in larger cities do. Instead, the omnipresent pull of classic rock, culturally validated by VH1 specials and the Supernatural soundtrack, would dominate my early years.

A writer for Grantland recently published a piece excusing his love of music that’s made by abusive men (notably the singer of Surfer Blood, R. Kelly, and Chris Brown), but that Def Leppard jacket (which I believe I still own, somewhere) that I proudly sported for a few years in the early 2000s reveals that I have consistently dealt with reconciling the fact that I love music that often doesn’t love me back.

YOU HIT ME LIKE A BOMB, BABY COME AND GET IT ON

YOU HIT ME LIKE A BOMB, BABY COME AND GET IT ON

Def Leppard was featured on one of those VH1 specials that I mentioned, and I remember the really callous way the group (who were, during the interview, middle aged) would speak about their female fans. They reveled in stories about groupie culture, blowing through women, and behaving like a bunch of spoiled jerks. It’s a tough pill to swallow, realizing that the people who created something you identify with are the same people you don’t identify with at all.

That Grantland writer can wax poetic about problematic music as a thought experiment, but if you don’t live your life on default (straight white male aka “easy mode”), chances are these are things that regularly occur to you. It occurred to me when I was drunkenly dancing to Surfer Blood at a festival in Dallas two months after the singer was arrested on domestic battery charges. It occurred to me as a college freshman, when my then-boyfriend burned me a copy of The Moon and Antarctica and I found myself wondering What if Issac Brock really is a rapist? It occurred to me when I reblogged a gifset of Miguel singing “How Many Drinks?” on my Tumblr.

Feminist relationships with problematic media have been widely explored, because let’s face it, we aren’t all bumping Ani DiFranco and dog-earring the reissue of Cunt. Even celebrated feminist groups like Le Tigre have their own sort of problems, from the blinding whiteness of post-riot grrrl to the scene’s exclusion of trans women. We recognize that there are no true safe spaces, and adjust our reactions accordingly. Those that don’t spend a lot of time on feminist blogs (Oh hey! You’re reading one now! Welcome, comrade.) might not understand that they are a source of near-constant media critiques and evaluations. This is what Not a Neophyte was created for. This is what I, and many others writers, do.

Ethical listening, just like the wider ideal of ethical consumerism, is a flawed solution for problems much more deeply culturally embedded. Refusing to buy from Wal-Mart doesn’t change the archaic capitalism practices that make Wal-Mart the only option for a lot of people. Purchasing conflict-free diamonds only illuminates the fact that the problem is so widespread that it’s even a selling point that nobody died for your jewelry. Similarly, bands can refuse to tour with Surfer Blood, but domestic violence remains largely ignored by lawmakers. It’s our responsibility to hold ourselves accountable, sure, but it’s also our responsibility to hold those with more power accountable.

We don’t need to, as the Grantland piece suggests, disassociate art from the people who create it in order to enjoy it. This largely misses the point. Def Leppard isn’t a band that just happens to be full of misogynists. They are a band that continues to be widely celebrated for it, in a music industry that is still predominately male. Chris Brown’s continued success isn’t a sick outlier, but sadly a reflection of just how many men there are who remain unscathed from any sort of punishment for their actions. Placing the onus of responsibility on the listener makes it easier for those with actual decision-making power to excuse themselves, citing “this is what the people want,” and creates an unfair dynamic for those most affected (women, people of color, queer people) to shoulder the brunt of the work in raising public consciousness about problems in media.

As far as ethical listening goes, the key is awareness. The more that music is talked about and dissected, the more likely we are to get to a place where record labels, music promoters, and the artists themselves are held accountable for their content.

MIXTAPE: Life or Death

Hey, it’s been a while since my last mixtape! I’m afraid my last few posts, while cathartic, have sort of taken a bit of a toll on me, so it’s nice to take a bit of a mental break and post some music that I love. Thanks for the theme idea, Rachelle! I expanded it a bit to add “death” because I kept finding songs that are the antithesis of being alive. Go figure.

Life or Death by Neophyteblog on Mixcloud

Tracklist:
1) Started From the Bottom (D33J Remix) – Drake
2) Alpha – Zerolex
3) Bugg’n – TNGHT
4) Reach for the Dead – Boards of Canada
5) Birthday – Junior Boys
6) Bury Us Alive – Starfucker
7) Last Dance – Rhye
8) On Death & Endearments – Parenthetical Girls
9) Past Lives – DIIV
10) Objectum Sexuality – Big Boi

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The Unique Loneliness of Feminine Depression

[Trigger Warning for talk of suicide and mental illness]

You might remember that a month ago, Vice published a fashion spread of models reenacting the suicides of famous female writers. In it, Sylvia Plath stares pensively at her oven, Virgina Woolf serenely wades into a river, and Sanmao delicately adjusts the stocking that’s wrapped around her neck. As horrifying as it is to process what is being shown — the beautification of feminine suicide — after looking at the perceptions of these deaths for so long, it sadly doesn’t feel like so much of a jump. However messy, uncomfortable, and volatile their lives were, that simple image of Plath viewing her oven is the take-away. Quiet and beautiful, even in death.

sylviaplath

Part of the reason why, when I broke down about three years ago, I didn’t take comfort in Yellow Wallpaper-esque stories or Sylvia Plath’s poem Daddy (which was a favorite of mine as a teenager), is that I couldn’t relate. The truth, painstakingly documented in personal works, would not have the same effect on public consciousness as the idealized woman that Vice tried to portray in their ill-advised photoshoot. Publicly, we are only comfortable with one kind of feminine depression. The kind that is somber, gorgeous, and above all else, silent.

So if you are a woman who suffers from mental illness, the amount of spaces in which you feel comfortable expressing that are quite small. I remember my extreme discomfort at the public shaming of Britney Spears when she shaved her head, as that sort of overblown, compulsive behavior was something that I identified with. While Spears was clearly demonstrating that she was not OK, the punchline, as it always is for feminine behavior that pushes the envelope of respectability, was that she had “gone crazy.” The great irony is that the stress from keeping quiet as expected can lead to this sort of massive breakdown.

The danger of being labeled “crazy” as a woman is far more extreme than it is for men. Typically, “crazy” is used to diminish real expressions of anger and grief, the emotions that collectively society doesn’t understand how to deal with in women. When normally expressed emotions are written off as crazy behavior (largely why you should always run from anyone who says “my crazy ex girlfriend”), where does that leave women who actually do suffer from mental illness?

Part of my frustration about this is caused by the reaction to Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos, who has recently become a sort of figurehead for mental illness in the music industry. It’s admirable that Angelakos continues to work to de-stigmatize mental illness in public consciousness, but the reality is that the consequences of him outing himself are far less severe than they would be had he been a woman. The Pitchfork cover story that initially revealed that he is bi-polar is fraught with romanticizing, right from the subhead of “Inside the brilliant and troubled mind of Passion Pit leader Michael Angelakos.” From the story, Angelakos’ mental illness is sort of a creative boon, giving him inspiration and insight for his music. I don’t know if Angelakos would agree with this characterization, but the story does little to humanize him, instead making him the most recent version of “mad genius” that the music industry loves to celebrate.

angelakos

The most troubling part of the story is when Angelakos talks about his girlfriend, whom he is now married to.

“If she had left me, there is no question that I would have killed myself. I don’t remember anything I did– which is terrifying, because now I have to live with this guilt.”

I was a little startled with how abusive this statement seems, how he lays the responsibility of his life and well-being on his girlfriend. Even more than that, his remorse is not caused by the actions that he doesn’t remember, but the guilt that he feels as a result. Men are allowed to act up, be irrational, and do cruel things (especially if they are artists or musicians), but the most accepted role for women is what Angelakos’ partner seems to occupy, which is the caretaker.

I think this is why Poly Styrene and Lauryn Hill have never been characterized as mad geniuses. For Styrene, her mental illness was little more than a footnote in her obituary, either because it wasn’t a big talking point for her, or because we still aren’t comfortable with mental illness in women. Lauryn Hill (who has not been diagnosed as far as I can tell, but is largely derided for being “crazy”), who, as a black woman, would not be able to fit into the Sylvia Plath depression narrative anyways (sad, pretty white women), is mostly a subject of ridicule for her tax problems and court ordered counseling. Meanwhile, Michael Angelakos receives an award for erasing the stigma of mental illness.

The key to ending the more prevalent stigma of female mental illness is to be free to talk about it. And for this one, Angelakos is not allowed to be our spokesperson.

This is Not a Sexual Revolution

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When I was fourteen, a much older man sat next to me while I was waiting for my friend in front of a bookstore. She was buying one of those teen magazines that talked a little too much about LOVING YOURSELF on the same page with weight loss tips, and I hated standing in lines because I was a little awkward, so I sat on the bench outside. The man who seated himself next to me reached over, grabbed my hair, and started telling me how pretty it was. This classic story of harassment would be one that would be repeated over and over again throughout my life, with me feeling varying levels of fear and discomfort, but that will always be the time I point to when I realized that even though I was young and wasn’t ready, I was already being sexualized.

I think of this when I hear or read about the sexual coming of age of young pop stars, women who grew to fame in their teens and eventually get countless stories written about how they are “shedding their Disney image” by revealing a different sexuality at 20 than they did when they were 16. When Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez hit the magic number of 18 (The number that the men of the Internet have decided that it is acceptable to objectify) a local alt-weekly ran the story Now That They’re Both 18, Let’s Finally Discuss It: Who’s Hotter, Demi Lovato or Selena Gomez?

The fascination with the maturation of young pop stars is the most honest way I’ve seen media outlets deal with the sexuality of young women. For minors, the leering is creepy and a faux pas, but is still largely present, but the explosion of Look Who’s All Grown Up media smirking (Which happens with other celebrities too. Christina Applegate and Alyssa Milano immediately come to mind.) suggests that the result is inevitable.

The most recent case is Miley Cyrus, whose video for “We Can’t Stop” gave a lot of writers pause. Gone is the sixteen year-old sweetheart, and in her place is a raunchy, culturally appropriating, overtly sexual human being. Miley, who seems to have recently discovered that black people exist (please read On Miley Cyrus, Ratchet Culture, and Accessorizing With Black People for context), takes a page out of GQ’s definition of sexy by finding new ways to roll around on top of a bed. NPR’s When Pop Stars Flirt With Bad Taste proclaims that “self-objectification is part of today’s ritual of romance,” but the importance of appearing sexually available if you’re a young women with records to sell is not something new.

What’s irksome about Miley’s video is that it’s not a sexual coming-of-age, but a creeped-out male-gazey fantasy that tries to substitute itself for one. The path for young, white singers from accessibly cute (but still sexualized) to the narrow mold of sexy (with a depressing lack of agency) has been clearly drawn, so it shouldn’t be surprising when they follow it. Choices don’t exist in a vacuum.

Women of color don’t have this same option, which makes Miley’s appropriation in her video that much worse. Good Girl Gone Bad is typically the story of white women, who have the benefit of being viewed as starting off with innocence, which, in turn, can morph into creeped-out infantilization.

Part of why I like Die Antwoord’s video for “Cookie Thumper” (which, to be clear, I mostly don’t like), is that it takes the objectification of a young white girl and makes it uncomfortable. Yolandi Visser dressed as an orphaned school-girl is subjected to creep-shots of her underwear, but later when she becomes overtly sexualized in the most gross, destructive way, the video seems to taunt “Isn’t this what you really wanted to see?”

[NSFW]

If the video was going for subversion, which I sort of hope it was, it fails for a number of reasons. In the end it still reinforces the idea that it seemed to be hitting back against– that young girls and innocence are sexy– through the numerous underwear shots and school-girl spanking. If you leave with anything, it’s mostly confusion over the muddled message, the unclear line of what is actual agency and what is being set-up to meet expectations.

For Miley Cyrus and countless other ingenues-turned-dynamos, that confusion is also present, and largely reflected in the lives other non-famous women. It’s easy to grow up and discover your sexuality, but it is much harder to prevent that from being commodified.

Blurred Lines of Consent

Robin-Thicke-Blurred-Lines-Ft-TI-Pharrell

I’ve been reading what I can about Robin Thicke’s hit “Blurred Lines”, and part of why I feel the need to put my two cents in is because I actually really like the song. It’s fun and catchy and I always turn up the volume to yell “YOU DA HOTTEST BITCH IN THIS PLACE.” But my enjoyment of it doesn’t really negate the fact that it’s sketchy, to put it nicely.

The video isn’t really worth my time discussing because it seems like it’s mostly calculated view-bait. Videos that are banned from YouTube are typically part of the marketing strategy, a sort of salacious invitation that most (including myself) can’t resist. But when you actually watch it, it’s mostly topless models cavorting. Not too interesting, except at some parts their hair isn’t covering their breasts. (“Like a stupid fashion magazine, right?” -Bob’s Burgers)

The fact that the song is called “Blurred Lines” itself is just so ooomph. “I know you want it” itself isn’t too bad, because the song kind of implies that he’s talking to a girl who’s too shy or too much of a “good girl” to express her sexual desires. But if the lines are blurred, how do you know she wants it?

(videos is NSFW)

I remember a few think pieces about consent in R&B and I think that that’s an important thing to talk about, as long as it doesn’t blame R&B for the rape culture that makes the problems in this song go relatively unnoticed. Problems in the genre are actually problems in music and the culture at large, which is why when Two Door Cinema Club uses one of the most misogynistic album covers that I’ve seen in a long time, it’s not an indictment on all babyfaced Irish dweebs. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think we shouldn’t be talking about “Blurred Lines”, Miguel’s hugely creepy “How Many Drinks?”, or the Weeknd’s lyrics that verge on date rape. But that’s a small part of a bigger picture, and R&B is actually packed with women right now who are singing not only about consensual sex, but female enjoyment and revelation in it.

Right now you can’t turn on a hip-hop station without hearing Kelly Rowland’s “Kisses Down Low” or Ciara’s “Body Party”. “Kisses Down Low” is one of the few songs in recent memory that is instructive about cunnilingus (meaning the lady is describing how she wants it MUCH LIKE A MAN WOULD DO), and “Body Party” is so enthusiastically consensual (“You can’t keep your hands off me” followed by “I can’t keep my hands of you”) that Ciara cast her current partner, Future, in the video.

A few years back Latoya Peterson was interviewed by Spin about the supposed maturation of hip-hop with the moral decline of R&B, and she had some pretty interesting things to say about how music isn’t catered to women.

“Generally speaking, pop culture is not interested in the desires of women. Every industry has this problem. There’s no Bechdel Test for records, but generally what women are doing isn’t considered noteworthy unless it’s tailored for male consumption. Trey Songz may get to be eye candy and Kanye gets to have a few reflective moments, but that doesn’t mean society suddenly has started caring more about what women want.”

He might “know you want it” but Robin Thicke’s type of leering, gauche fantasy of a woman who is too shy to voice her desire (or even worse, doesn’t desire it at all), is very far from this world where women write and control their own narratives.

MIXTAPE: Hardly the First Time

I don’t really have any good updates for you, as I’m the slowest mover ever and I’m trying to get my life together. I’m not really able to look people in the eye when they ask me how my progress is going, because, um… it’s not. My furniture was moved a week ago, so I’ve been sleeping on the floor since then. It’s been alright! Only a few carpet burns.

On a side note if you want any posters of bands I don’t care about anymore (and you live in the DFW area), you should hit me up. I have amassed a small collection of them, and my days in college radio are making it really hard for me to toss them.

Lots of features on this tape, right?

Hardly the First Time by Neophyteblog on Mixcloud

Tracklist:
1) Never Be Another feat. Devlin – Delilah
2) Without Me feat. Kelly Rowland and Missy Elliot – Fantasia
3) Take Care of Me Baby feat. Pusha T – Cassie
4) Fuck U All the Time feat. Natasha Mosely – Jeremih
5) Forget – Lianna La Havas
6) Do My Thing feat. Janelle Monae – Estelle
7) Terrible Angels – Charlotte Gainsbourg
8) Grammy – Purity Ring
9) Counting (Remix) feat. Mykki Blanco – Autre Ne Veut
10) Hard to Love Somebody feat. Nas – Arlissa

Female Friendship and Pool Parties

This is such a great video:

I really love that Lightning Dust’s “Diamonds” is essentially a love song (“Whisper to me that you’ve had enough / Apologize that you’re not in love”), but the video tells a story of a different kind of relationship. One by one, three women get into the swimming pool with a lack of self-consciousness (I have a fear of pools and bathing suits so I’m probably projecting), and then begin to execute a synchronized swimming routine. For me that was pretty unexpected, as female friendship isn’t exactly something that’s as celebrated as, say, male friendship or heterosexual relationships. It’s also really awesome that the women in the video have different body types than I’m used to seeing in music videos, and that seems like a conscious decision on the part of the director, Helen Reed.

Women can be friends! And they’re not even sharing makeup tips! (Though let’s be real, that’s fun as hell.) I think part of what’s so remarkable is that this isn’t exactly a popular narrative, partially because feminine competition is highly encouraged, and also if women aren’t really seen as fully-developed people, they aren’t capable of maintaining meaningful relationships outside of those that they have with men. So it’s really cool to see a video like this that’s so nonchalant about it.

I had similar hopes for “Friend Crush” a while back, but the video is really ambiguous about who the song is for. It could be for another woman platonically, but the video seems pretty sexualized so in my head it’s a sexual relationship between two female friends. It could also be about a dude but I’m gonna pretend that it’s not.

Music Writers and Diminishing Women

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This review of the new CSS album Planta, from Consequence of Sound, would usually fly under my radar because I don’t typically check for sexist music writing as it is everywhere. (Side note: David Thorpe’s “The 10 Best Male Rappers of All Time” is a pretty accurate subversion of this sort of thing.) But besides the massive eyeroll-worthy description of Lovefoxxx as both being “ever sensual” and “infantile” (Dude… are you really into babies? Like… like sexy babies? That’s gross, man.), the review is part of a really uncomfortable trend in pointing out a man who is involved in an album, and then focusing on him.

TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek gets some pretty glowing praise for his production work (and for some of his work on other albums, coincidentally also acts with a heavy female presence, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Santigold), while CSS has to deal with some not-so-subtlety gendered criticism. Adriano Cintra leaving the band makes CSS “all female,” so naturally they brought in a male producer to fill that “considerable void.”

The article is kind of painful to read, but if you think that giving men precedence over the women who are also involved is a rare thing you are A) Wrong and B) Probably not much of a reader.

When M.I.A.’s Arular was released, so many writers waxed poetic about Diplo’s involvement that M.I.A. herself set the record straight with Pitchfork (who were also majorly responsible for giving him credit) by saying “Diplo didn’t write it” in reference to her new album, Kala.

“There is an issue especially with what male journalists write about me and say ‘this MUST have come from a guy.'” -M.I.A.

The only track Diplo was involved in on Arular was “Bucky Done Gun,” but the desire to paint a seasoned musician like M.I.A. as an ingenue (which is kind of funny, since M.I.A. technically “discovered” Diplo), overshadowed that fact.

Solange’s yet-to-be-released new album is a collaborative effort with Dev Hynes (Test Icicles, Blood Orange) and Pharrell Williams, two very important and talented men, so it’s not particularly surprising that the ‘male genius behind the female face’ narrative would return for her, even if it is inaccurate. This makes Solange seem sort of dispensable, doesn’t it? ‘Muse’ has long been used to described the inspiration behind the art (usually in the form of a female who lacks human characteristics), which is vastly different than co-creator. Which is, at the very least, what Solange is.

Besides throwing my hands up in the air and yelling “Can a girl get a little credit, tho??”, the best I can do is hope that more women get into the music writing game, and that more ladies speak up when they’re being tread on. I could do with more epic posts by Grimes about how shitty the music industry is to women, I could do with more Tumblrs like Gazing Males, and I could do with more projects like Gender Amplified.

There are things I could do without:

MIXTAPE: Peace Out

Sorry it’s been so long, I’ve been in a state with spotty Internet connection (Oklahoma), and now I’m attempting to move out of my apartment of two years. It’s been busy, but not that kind of gloating busy where you’re doing Cool Things and you feel like your time is valuable. For context I just found some weird shit in my couch cushions. Ask me about it later.

I kind of stuck to a genre with this mixtape, which is really, really weird. Must have been the couch cushion-induced malaise.

Peace Out by Neophyteblog on Mixcloud

Tracklist:
1) Broncho – Blown Fuse
2) Movieland – He Cares More if You Forget About Me
3) Slutever – No Offense
4) Tacocat – Spring Break-Up
5) Grass Widow – Unbelievable
6) Guantanamo Baywatch – Barbacoa
7) Fungi Girls – Pacifica Nostalgia
8) Pangea – Night of the Living Dummy
9) BAZOOKA – Ravening Trip
10) Screaming Females – Foul Mouth

John Grant’s Solitude

From what I know about him, John Grant generally keeps to himself. His albums (specifically his latest effort Pale Green Ghosts) are the kind of exposure that he’s more comfortable with. He addresses love, loss, and anger along with his HIV-positive diagnosis, which, since it was divulged at a Hercules and Love Affair show, has become one of his identifying attributes, whether he’s comfortable with it or not.

It’s probably one of the loneliest albums I’ve ever heard, and the video for “Pale Green Ghosts” is the perfect visual for that. Grant is by himself the entire time, but his presence is so captivating that he doesn’t really need another person in any of the shots. It’s kind of weird to describe someone as having a definitive presence, but Grant reminds me of Orson Welles in a lot of not-so-subtle ways (and it’s not just the beard).

The video for “Pale Green Ghosts” is hard to interpret, but the shots of Grant opening a trunk and walking with a shovel seem to imply that he is burying demons. It’s breathtakingly gorgeous, but in a way that fills you with dread instead of longing. Images of Grant’s face flash by time after time with the same sorrowful-but-determined expression that almost overshadows the scenery of the video, and Grant on his own is sad, but still communicates self-exile, which is a lifestyle that Grant appears to lead on his own.