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
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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?

When Women Kill

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A couple of weeks ago, Chelsea wrote about the proliferation of murder ballads, and their tendency to fetishize, in the narrator’s perspective, the destruction of “something beautiful” – a woman. She was prompted to explore how male musicians like Nick Cave view their female subjects after listening to this response song by Hurray for the Riff Raff:

I want to present a different take on murder ballads, and showcase different types of songs performed by female artists. Two broad categories emerge: in the first, the woman is the killer. In two of the most famous country songs of this type, she kills in response to unrelenting domestic violence with no help in sight from society – but she also kills for revenge. In the second category, the woman sings the story of her own death. Misogyny is pervasive in these stories; they reflect our culture’s lack of value in women and sing stories back to us that very loosely mirror what so many women have faced. If dead women could sing, would Deanna Cook’s song sound like one of these?

Before diving into heavier stuff, there’s a more comedic response to traditional murder ballads that you might remember from its video’s heavy rotation on Country Music Television and other outlets. The Dixie Chicks, now infamous for their criticism of George W. Bush and the subsequent fall from country music grace, survived this controversy before Natalie Merchant’s words in London sparked outrage.

“Goodbye Earl” flips the narrative. Songwriter Dennis Linde weaves a tale of two women that support each other from girlhood to burying Wanda’s abusive husband – who they poisoned black eyed peas. Wanda is portrayed as a victim who seeks a legal solution, but when the law fails to protect her, she and Mary Ann cook up a scheme (literally) to get rid of him and live happily ever after. The women are never caught, unlike the narrator of the quintessential murder ballad, “Delia’s Gone,” who laments his tale to his jailer.

The music video highlights the comedy; a sleazy lawyer and Keystone cops round out the cast of absurd characters, and a dance break at the end features zombified Dennis Franz. Of course, conservative country radio had a problem with it. While the song peaked at #13 on the Billboard Hot Country chart, many stationed refused to play it (or at least had it in a very light rotation), and plenty turned to their listeners and asked if they wanted to hear it. Contrast this with “Independence Day,” penned by Gretchen Peters and sung by Martina McBride earlier in the decade: while domestic violence is the catalyst for for both, with neither woman getting help from society, there’s no comedy in Peters’ story.

Some postured that the song sent the wrong message – murder is okay, and taking the law into your own hands is justified. KRTY, a country station in San Jose, California, aired a phone number to a domestic violence hotline each time the song was played.

But “Delia’s Gone,” interpreted by many but most famously performed by Johnny Cash, didn’t face the backlash of Goodbye Earl, and I don’t think it’s because Delia’s killer ended up in prison, while Mary Ann and Wanda walked away scot-free to sell strawberry jam. Cash’s persona was the polar-opposite of the Chicks. He was the Man in Black, a hard-drinking, prison-playing, home-wrecking outsider. The Chicks were pop stars and counted many young girls in their fan base. The refusal to play “Goodbye Earl,” and the questioning of its appropriateness at all, makes one statement: women can’t sing about killing their triflin’ lovers, but men can.

Never mind that “Earl” is entirely fiction and born of black comedy. Never mind that Delia was a real person who was killed at only 14 years old. The thought of female singers altering the story to perpetuate violence themselves is enough to make country station programmers clutch their pearls and worry children will get the wrong idea – that women can fight back.

In other songs, they have. They’ve also perpetrated the violence without any pretense of self-defense. Many fans of “Goodbye Earl” and “Independence Day” may not know of “Murder in the First Degree,” performed by Victoria Spivey in 1927. Like Delia’s killer, she croons from the jailhouse. She tells the judge she killed her cheating man, but she deserves to go free – he is the one who wronged her.

Of course, Victoria Spivey would never be as well-known as her male counterparts, nor would her music be fresh on the minds of country music listeners when another song featuring a killer woman topped the charts twice. Vicki Lawrence first recorded “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” and Reba McEntire covered it twenty years later. Tanya Tucker also sang a version, but its lyrics differ from the original. Like Mary Ann and Wanda, the narrator is never caught – her brother is punished for her crime. This murderess counts two victims under her belt, and proudly claims the law will never find the body of her sister-in-law.

Most of these songs were written by men, indicating that even when the overt motivation of the character has nothing to do oppression, the patriarchy is still dictating the plot. In the second type of murder ballad, a man wrote one of the most well-known figurative versions. “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” was written by Sonny Bono for Cher, whose version has been eclipsed in the past decades by Nancy Sinatra’s haunting take.

While the singer isn’t shot or strangled or buried in the woods, the imagery deliberately evokes death. At least Mary Ann and Wanda are active participants – here, Cher or Nancy can only react to her baby’s decisions. Florence + The Machine recently recorded a song of this type, and it is much more literal. Unfortunately, it does not subvert any cliches in the way that “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” or “The Body Electric” does. The video even features the faceless killer stepping on Calla lilies – the funeral flower.

I’m appreciative of Hurray for the Riff Raff’s response to murder ballads in “The Body Electric.” This song directly confronts the fetishization Chelsea discussed, without painting her victim as incapable, or a scorned or battered woman seeking revenge. Songwriter Alynda Segarra manages to humanize both the victim and the killer she’s working to do exactly what she sings: settling the score.

I think Segarra’s song also reflects potentially positive shifts in our society. While rates of violence against women are still disturbingly high, and state and federal legislators unrelentingly go after women’s rights, some laws are making it easier for victims to escape, get help, and start their lives over. A California law went into effect this year to allow domestic violence victims to break leases quickly and more easily, and the state recently became the seventh to provide protection for abuse victims from employment discrimination. Seven out of fifty isn’t such a great number, each gain is helpful. Of course, I would be more satisfied if all states had these laws, or if they were implemented nationally more quickly, but I’ll continue to cheer each progressive step.

[You can find Katherine P. Hudson on Twitter.]

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.

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.

“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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.]