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.

Your Webcam Loves You

My weak spot for webcam music videos can be directly traced to the “frequently sings in the mirror” category (No hairbrush needed! I would have a headset). There’s something really intimate and voyeuristic about it, because you’re watching something available to you, but at the same time it’s not for you. The webcam functions like a two-way mirror in videos like this, because the performance is controlled but also able to be viewed by others.

TEETH’s “Care Bear” is a really great example of this. The low budget video really works because it chronicles different stages of webcam performance. The first shots of the video are of people getting ready to film themselves- they’re putting on lipstick and fixing their hair, which is a familiar routine to anyone who has every taken so much as a self-portrait of themselves. From there, the video moves into exhibitionism. The different people in the video, who have already been revealed as carefully stylized, dance and lip sync to the song. The stylization and the process of that is also pretty important when you look at the gender-bending in the video. Gender as performance is easily noted here, as (people who appear to be) men adorn themselves with lipstick and wigs before they begin to lip sync.

[I also really hope that one dude has on a mud mask and is not doing some sort of gross blackface.]

MIXTAPE: Music from Cult Films

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YOUR GIRL HAS A COLLEGE DEGREE. I thought about making a mixtape about college success but ugh I’m so done with that. I’m an adult now, which is why I made a tape that was partially spawned by the level of identification I feel with Dawn Weiner from Welcome to the Dollhouse (that’s a joke! Kinda).

I love (or loved at one point) all of these movies.

Music from Cult Films by Neophyteblog on Mixcloud

Tracklist:
1) Chick Habit – April March (from But I’m a Cheerleader)
2) Welcome to the Dollhouse – Daniel Rey (from Welcome to the Dollhouse)
3) Female Trouble – Divine (from Female Trouble)
4) I’ve Told Every Little Star – Linda Scott (from Mulholland Dr.)
5) Nowhere to Run – Arnold McCuller (from The Warriors)
6) Run Pussy Cat – The Bostweeds (from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!)
7) Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow – The Shirelles (from True Romance)
8) If You Fall – Azure Ray (from Shortbus)
9) Love Will Tear Us Apart – Joy Division (from Donnie Darko)
10) 20th Century Boy – Placebo (from Velvet Goldmine)

The Real Master Hunter

It’s pretty rare that I catch myself preemptively forming opinions (I mean… I do it all of the time but I don’t catch myself doing it), but Laura Marling’s “Master Hunter” video had me pre-writing a blog post about it in my head before I was even halfway through.

Sex and violence! A girl in a sundress that reminded me so much of River from Firefly (long hair in face, dress, studiously walking on bare feet)! This girl in the sundress is doing some sort of dance with a guy who doesn’t own a shirt (I hope neither of them are expecting to get service at a casual dining restaurant), and it quickly gets uncomfortable. He clearly overpowers her — jerking her around over his shoulders while she struggles– but there is a bit of ambiguity as to whether this is simply him abusing her, or really rough foreplay. That ambiguity is a little hard to comment on, because “violence is sexy” is a horrifying message that feeds into abusive mindsets, but consensual roughness is another thing entirely.

Thankfully (and also, not), it gets cleared up by the creepy ending. After the girl finishes her dance we see the lifeless body of the shirtless man (so in a way, he did get served), and out of the shadows a bunch of creepy sundressed girls step around him. So the girl who was struggling, and who I interpreted as a plausible victim in the beginning, is the master hunter that the song refers to. The River comparison that I made was apt, because this video plays into the trope of the small, unassuming girl who surprises everyone with her physical prowess (Joss Whedon loves this trope). I don’t really care for it, because that trope generally makes the assumption that it is unbelievable to the audience that a small girl could accomplish physical feats (resulting in a lot of “aren’t you surprised?!” smugness), and also because it reinforces the idea that dominance through strength is the only way a woman can prove herself.

MIXTAPE: Space and Magic

There’s absolutely no way you would know this unless you are one particular person, but I actually made this mixtape (or a slight variation of it) in February for somebody specific. It’s space and magic themed because damnit I always want a theme and I miiiight still have the same galaxy bedspread that I had when I was ten years old. I actually wanted to be an astronaut when I was younger (for the longest time!), but I eventually traded that in for other fantasies until I ended up where I am now (an almost-college grad with a deep well of confusion and anxiety).

The modifications were mostly just removing songs that I had already posted on other mixtapes (It’s hard for me to resist putting Jessie Ware and Tamaryn on every mixtape, it seems), so the rest of my flight of fancy remains intact.

Space and Magic by Neophyteblog on Mixcloud

Tracklist:
1) Hanging on a Star – Nick Drake
2) Spooky – Dusty Springfield
3) Cosmic Dancer – T. Rex
4) Wandering Star – Polica
5) Get Free feat. Amber Coffman – Major Lazer
6) Push – SPC Eco
7) Earthforms – Matthew Dear
8) BasedWorld- Ryan Hemsworth
9) Curse the Night – The Raveonettes
10) Apocalypse Dreams – Tame Impala

Where Do You Go At Night?

Austra’s song “Home” is infinitely relatable to anyone who has ever had a partner stray.

The lines “My body can’t rest unless you’re sleeping by my side/ You know that it hurts me when you stay away all night/ What is it that keeps you there?” are a pretty bare-boned plea for the lover to come home, because she can’t sleep or have peace of mind without them. The subtext of the song is that she’s worried about what her lover is doing, although it’s unclear what the particular worry is. Instinctively I would say that the concern is about infidelity, but the line “You know it hurts me when you can’t see straight at night” could indicate that the lover is out on a drug or alcohol binge. Either way, it’s a sad reminder that it’s often women who are left home to worry while their partner exerts the freedom not to be concerned about that particular heartache.

When women hook up with a male partner (The gender is ambiguous in the Austra song/video, so I’m going to project here) there’s a pressure to not be “that girl” that is perpetually nagging or making life a living hell for some dude with the dream to live out his life in excess. I think that’s sort of why these situations kind of strike a nerve, because the desire not to be the shrill, sitcom harpy is at conflict with the natural human desire to be treated with respect.

It brings to mind Melanie Fiona’s “4 a.m.”

Here, Fiona doesn’t mince words: “It’s 4 a.m. and my lover won’t answer/ He’s probably somewhere with a dancer/ Sippin’ champagne while I’m in his bed.” In this case the infidelity is clear, as she knows she’s being disrespected while her lover attends to another woman. Fiona’s anger and embarrassment (“It’s 4 a.m. and I think I might lose it/ This motherfucker thinkin’ I’m stupid”) are followed by her lamentations that the relationship ultimately will not work out because of his disregard for her (“I don’t deserve this life/ I’d make the perfect wife”).

Like Mad Men’s Betty Draper cooling telling Don “I waited for you” after he returns early in the morning, or countless other women (Probably a good chunk of the reason why so many women scream in excitement when Bernie burns her unfaithful husband’s clothes in Waiting to Exhale) who’ve had the same experience, there’s not a whole lot of dignity being left behind, or begging for respect from a partner. It’s both interesting and sad that that’s so easy to identify with.

Q.U.E.E.N. and the Ruling Class

Further cementing my opinion that Janelle Monae is an important lady, the video for “Q.U.E.E.N.” was released this week.

Monáe and her crew (including Erykah Badu as “Badoula Oblongata”) have been frozen and preserved as dangerous rebels who disguised freedom movements “in songs, motion pictures, and works of art,” but come to life when two girls start to play “Q.U.E.E.N.” on a record player. We find out later that the rebellion is class-oriented (“They be like “ooh let them eat cake”/ but we eat wings and throw them bones on the ground”), and the crime in the rebellion is artistic expression. Monáe starts by wearing an authoritative fringe suit (rebel gear), but periodically switches to a striped dress that (nearly) matches her backup dancers. Every time she wears the same dress as her backup dancers, their hair (which was previously different on each woman) turns to the same short trim cut. It’s a commentary on individuality (which should be hammered in by the line “am I a freak?”), because while they are all conforming for brief, sporadic periods, Monáe’s dress is still slightly different, with longer sleeves and different stripe placement. I didn’t catch that until I viewed the video for the second or third time, so it’s a subtle but important reminder that even when we appear to conform, it’s kind of an impossibility.

Monáe’s dialogue at the end (“They keep us underground working hard for the greedy, But when it’s time pay they turn around and call us needy”) is part of her well-documented acknowledgment of class struggles, and the video is a celebration of art-as-social-rebellion (think of the man on the typewriter: “We will create and destroy art movements in ten years”). Monae also asks “will you be electric sheep/ electric ladies, will you sleep?”, which is a reference to Philip Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Monáe has previously fashioned herself as the android Cindi Mayweather as a statement on alienation, so the electric sheep who dreams of the android is the person who strives for individuality.

The struggle for individuality and the lower class are pretty closely intertwined, as the symbols of the lower class (Monáe’s uniform tuxedo, for example) are largely based on the stripping of singularity and the focus on servitude. Monáe wears her suit (at the end of the video) to pay tribute to the serving class that she came from, but subverts the meaning of the suit by being a rebellious individual. For her, the suit is a fraction of the past that she keeps with her, and a symbol of solidarity to those who remain in the same position. The “Q.U.E.E.N.” video is largely a tribute to those class struggles, and an affirmation that it’s something that’s important to her.

MIXTAPE: Calm Down

While I really liked the mixtape that I made last week, it was sort of a penis party, right? This week has a lot more ladies, because I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I did otherwise (Real talk though: all of the songs are ones that I frequently repeat). I initially started this playlist a few days before I presented my capstone to calm my nerves, so hopefully it will be useful to someone else who is struggling with anxiety at the moment.

I’m about to graduate and I just relinquished my job as a college radio Music Director, so the nostalgia levels are turned to eleven right now, thus I feel obligated to tell you that I played The Black Ryder’s “Let it Go” on my very first radio show back in 2010. While I’m on this sentimental kick, please read the shout-out that I gave to my capstone group last week. We presented last night and I’ve been on the verge of tears since. Everyone was so great (capstone-wise) and supportive (friendship-wise).

Whatever it is that you’re dealing with, hopefully it will be over soon! Calm down a bit, yeah?

Calm Down by Neophyteblog on Mixcloud

Tracklist:
1) The Trip – Still Corners
2) Breathe – Delilah
3) Perennials – Widowspeak
4) Heavenly Bodies – Tamaryn
5) Billie Holiday – Warpaint
6) The Color of Industry – Radiation City
7) Call Me in the Day – La Luz
8) Bells Ring – Mazzy Star
9) Let it Go – The Black Ryder
10) Jolene – White Blush