This post was originally inspired by a conversation a good friend of mine, the lovely Rosalie (tumblr/twitter), was having on twitter regarding Noel Gallagher’s shitty, sexist music opinions. To nobody’s surprise, Rosalie immediately got replied to with comments about Noel’s exclusion of women being totally right. For the whole conversation, see here. And then, naturally because bad things come in groups (applications open for Dickhead With Musical Opinions #3, let’s round this out), this horrible A.V Club thing with Kurt Braunohler about Taylor Swift exists.
I’ve been meaning to start talking about music on here, if only as an outlet for all my weird boyband feelings (coming soon to a post near you) or about how much I love male/female duets. Naturally, I put these things off for months and months until something happens to crystallise the situation for me.
As far as Twitter discussions about Gallaghers go, this was pretty civil and both sides were engaged which is a rarity. It just happens that this conversation is one I’ve been having since I was 14, and it’s about as boring and infantile as it was then. “Oh I don’t really listen to female singers. Why? Oh I just don’t like their music.” If I had a pound for every time I heard this, I could probably have bought a domain name by now. Sure, you can agree with Noel’s Top 10 picks (although I raise some serious eyebrows at The La’s, The Who and let’s be honest, Sex Pistols) musical taste is totally subjective, variety is the spice of life etc. But building a list off the criteria that “no female artists allowed” is sexist1. It’s totally your right to think that maybe no-one can rival The Who or Tom Waits or The Beatles because that music is your jam, it’s personal and it’s yours. Sure! By all means! It’s not like I’d agree with you because Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns exists, or Fiona Apple’s entire discography, or you know what? I don’t have time to discuss the vast and broad history of women in music because there is so much! That’s sort of the point. But when you say “Take a look at the music that most girls make… and you’ll find the answer” what that tells me is that you either have no contact with music as an art form, or you’ve got some sexist opinions you need to examine. There is no “music that most girls make”. Music made by women, made by girls, is as diverse and exciting as that made by men. It’s about as simple as that. It’s not that there are only two women that you can like and that’s it, that’s your quota (in case you didn’t read, A+ for Kate Bush and Alison Moyet, you made it through!). For every girl who sits at a piano singing about getting her heart broken, there’s a sad-eyed boy with an indie fringe and an acoustic guitar he can’t really play singing for the last person he fell in love with. For every rock band front-man, there’s a Patti Smith or a Beth Ditto or a Debbie Harry or a Karen O or a Courtney Love. I could continue but I have a research report to edit. The point is: breadth.
With this point well and truly made, instead of thinking “Hm, that’s quite the list of women in music, I might not add them to my personal Top Ten but yep, ladies are diverse and creative too”, we get derailed. The goalposts of the conversation change. Music is either “good or boring” (which again, your opinion but god it must get dull). All those different genres, all those genres shared by the men in Noel Gallagher’s Top Ten Bands, must be boring. But only if a woman’s involved.
When challenged about the exciting things women have brought to music – Bjork inventing instruments, pretty exciting huh? Nope! That’s not important because actually we’re talking about how men’s songs are “catchy”. (Bjork is not as catchy as George Harrison, ergo Harrison is the superior artist.) But when Rosalie pointed out that Madonna is catchier than Tom Waits, suddenly it’s about his songs just being “better”. No qualifier. Just better. No reasons. Just better. Are you keeping up? The conversation comes to a close about how actually he’s talking about Noel’s list and he must like women if he listens to Kate Bush and whatever, this isn’t about you anymore Twitter Dude. This is about female musical artists being easy to dismiss because “you just don’t rate them.”
Which leads me to Kurt Braunohler and Taylor Swift. I vented on Twitter about this earlier because steam was actually coming out of my ears. To recap: this interview is part of a series about songs that you hate the most. Braunohler chose Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to dislike that song. Hell, it’s the track I probably skip over most on the album. It is very repetitive, it’s super poppy and it’s a proper earworm that got played to death on the radio. I can completely understand how that, or the weird amazing talking part, doesn’t work for you! But this interview becomes essentially about how much this guy hates Taylor Swift for having the gall to exist as a confident young female pop artist.
Listen: Taylor Swift is not for everyone. But more importantly, Taylor Swift does not purport to be for everyone, no more than Biffy Clyro or Adele or Drake or The Kills or pop music or jazz does. It just so happens that a lot of people do like her, and a lot of those people? are teenage girls. That fearsome horde the world loves to deride. Is it any wonder that teenage girls love Taylor Swift? Like Molly Lambert and Emily Yoshida said in their piece for Grantland, Swift “reassure[s] a bunch of girls that love is real and intense feelings are OK”. She paints with broad brushstrokes, she makes her emotions and stories visible and plain. You don’t need to faff about for secret meanings with a Taylor Swift album. She hands you her heart and her head on a silver platter.
But to keep harping on about how she’s “boring and vapid” and her lyrics are “vapid and fake”, you just sound like a vindictive wanker. Go listen to “Dear John” and tell me she’s vapid. Take a second to think about what you’re saying, which is essentially “I don’t like this song because it’s irritating but what I really hate is that this twenty something blonde girl is singing about her emotions which she can’t have had yet because she’s not 30.” No really, he argues that “21 year olds are basically mentally disabled” and “You don’t become a fully-formed human as a female, or even a male, until you’re at least 30. So you are just an idiot.” Goodbye Joplin, Hendrix and Morrison, goodbye Mozart, your achievements don’t count because you weren’t 30! Sucks to be you!
This is a piece by a comedian, so before I get comments about how he’s being funny or satirical or whatever: save it. I don’t care. Funny or not, I still think that opinions like this are shitty. Like I said: this isn’t actually about Taylor Swift. It sounds like it is, but really it’s about how as a post-thirties dude he really intensely dislikes hearing a young woman talking about her life, via the medium of pop music.
I am sick of being a woman who loves music who constantly gets shafted. I’m sick of women in music getting dismissed – because they’re young and conform to a standard of beauty, or because they don’t and it freaks you out, or because they’re talented and you can’t handle it. My teenage years were littered with boys in bands (or who desperately wanted to be in bands) and it sucked. I spent years hearing how I couldn’t possibly know who Joy Division are because I am a short girl with boobs and glasses, did I know how they got their band name? I didn’t know who the Ramones are, I was clearly just wearing a t-shirt I bought in Camden. I couldn’t possibly know about stereo equipment, but it’s fine you could teach you. Ugh, really I like Christina Aguilera/Britney Spears/Scissor Sisters? Wow I know who Nirvana are? You thought I was just into girl music.
Listen guys, I’ve been wiring my stereo myself since I was 13 when I saved up to buy speakers and copper cabling to wire up to my dad’s old amp. Yes, I go to concerts and I go alone. Yes, I do know what I’m talking about. The fact that I even have to trot these facts out as some sort of proof is bollocks. I like music, that’s the only fact you need. My being a woman does not somehow my ability to be critical of music or have musical opinions. But time and again, apparently it does. I don’t think The Beatles are the greatest band that ever existed, but that must be because I have no concept of true (male) artistry. I think that the indie music scene has a serious problem with glamorizing sexism ~for the lads, but that’s because I’m being over-sensitive (or worried that Alex Turner might not shag me). I love music to a ridiculous extent and I could talk your ear off for hours. I’ll give most things a chance. I am whipsmart and funny, I am knowledgeable and excitable, I am open-minded. But none of this matters because the second I disagree with your personal taste (or god forbid, criticise its problematic elements) I’m just a woman who doesn’t get it.
The worst part is that it doesn’t have to be like this. I know there are dude listeners who respect women’s opinions and contributions to music – I was raised by one. He taught me about Joni Mitchell and how to wire an ampp; he gave me his copy of Parallel Linesfor my 16th birthday; he told me that Annie Lennox is the nicest person he ever met but that Dexy’s Midnight Runners were a bunch of dickheads; he drove me all the way to Portsmouth for a Jewel concert back in 2000-something because This Way spoke to my prepubescent soul. He gave me a punk primer for my 13th birthday to welcome me to adulthood. He made me listen to Gill Scott-Heron so much during my adolescence that I have whole A-sides memorised. The most important thing was that he always made me feel like music was made for me, to be appreciated by me and if it made me feel like shit it probably wasn’t doing anything for him anyway. When I told him about the Noel Gallagher list, we actually spent an hour listing the various bands and artists that you’d have to scrap. And it’s so many. That’s the point.
If you think that music made for, by or consumed by women or girls is vapid and shallow without reservation then yeah, you too are being sexist (and a dickhead too). There’s no way around that. There’s no defense for that. I don’t give a shit about what you think about ‘art’ and ‘music’ if you think there’s no place for women sit at the table. Because then you’re not talking about art or creativity, you don’t even understand what it entails. What you’re talking about is only a fraction, a subset of the whole.
1 Plus that whole “no collectives” rule which was a bunch of veiled racist bullshit.