Friday, October 30, 2009

Time to Criticize Another Sady Doyle Post!

Who the hell is shamed of liking Aimee Mann?!?!?


Sady Doyle’s new post was on the return of Lilith Fair. Now, while she does bring up good points, mainly about the history and cultural significance of the concert in its time and how its message was co-opted by the time, she denigrates the acts that played, referring to music from performers like Sheryl Crow, Natalie Merchant and Sarah McLachlan as “that shit”, not only implying that they play crappy music but that they aren’t worthy of being headliners for such a landmark event. Doyle’s post smacks of snobbery, and she criticizes the concert for not playing the type of riot-grrl music that was popular in the earlier part of the decade, like Sleater-Kinney and PJ Harvey. Every scene is a product of its era; Lilith Fair brought out the folk-rock girl-wave that was happening at the moment, making it really visible as a movement and it really was empowering for many young women at the time. Sady’s right; according to Wikipedia, Ani DiFranco did not play any of the shows the three years the concert ran, but we do not know if any of the bands she mentioned wanted to or were able to play. I doubt that McLachlan and co. intentionally left out these performers.

Now, I agree that the music of the original Lilith Fair was very hippie-dippie and adult contemporary, and presumably, 2010’s newest version will have a different feel and flavor to it, if only because the scene has changed. Sady criticizes Jewel, Gwen Stefani and Liz Phair for changing—mainly going more pop, though Jewel has hit the country route (mediocre at best)—but, in some ways, that’s to be expected. Any artist with a long career will hopefully change, often moving in different directions, and it’s unfair to expect artists like those three to retain their exact sound and perspective with an additional ten years of life on their résumé. What she might be angry about is that these artists, including Alanis Morissette, have mellowed out in the intervening years, gotten married, had children, migrated to acting, and their music—their loud, angry music—wasn’t at the forefront of their lives and careers anymore, and that is a disappointment . And true, there isn’t an artist remotely like Alanis Morissette in popular music anymore, and that is lamentable. Maybe Lilith Fair 2010 will bring out an undiscovered talent, one who is fiery and has stuff to say. Just because we’re in Lady Gaga territory now doesn’t mean she will rule forever.

Music, like most things, is cyclical. Ani Difranco could play Lilith Fair in 2010 and have a resurgence; maybe you will hear her on the radio. It’s not impossible, and stranger things have happened.

Sady also laments that Meredith Brooks' "Bitch", a massive hit in 1997 (a song she does not bother to look up its exact title), was “in context, not rebellious, but predictable”. In 1997, though, that song was anything but predictable. It was rebellious. At the day camp I attended at the time, we were forbidden from playing that song because of its title—but we tried to anyway, many times. I was always amazed at this looking back, as the misogynist, sexual and explicit music that became popular in subsequent years (think Eminem) was every bit as offensive as this single was not and was far more insidious then that one song could be. For a 12 year-old, it was very much a big deal. Sady’s perspective, as usual, does not consider anyone else’s viewpoint or experience, and condemns those who differ from her taste.

PS. By the way, it's Alanis Morissette. One r.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Lilith Fair is Back!

After 10 years, Lilith Fair--the all-women music festival--is returning, although exact dates and performers are not scheduled yet. Presumably, Sarah McLachlan, who created the tour in 1997, will perform, as she is also slated to release an album next year.

The original lineup, featuring McLachlan, Jewel, and Sheryl Crow, represented the boom in folk and girl rock that epitomized the '90s. It's likely that many of these acts will return for at least some dates, and now of course it's time to speculate on the newcomers who will join them.

Nelly McKay? Michelle Branch? Sara Bareilles? Colbie Calliat? Regina Spektor?

Billboard provided Avril Lavigne, since she's releasing an album next year, too.

(I left out the superstars.)

My fave Aimee Mann played a few shows back in the day, maybe she'll return. And now that I'm old enough, I'm going!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Another Star Quits Twitter

Whoa. Whoa!

Lily Allen quits Twitter. Not because she finally realized that her technologically-aided disinhibitionistic tendencies were harmful, but because she was faced with an ultimatum from her boyfriend:

"He told Lily: 'It's me or Twitter.' And she chose him."
Well, now. At that point you really don't have much of a choice, because if you choose Twitter, you're essentially saying that people don't matter to you unless they are a faceless mass only capable of short bursts of emotion.

Now, if a third prone-to-oversharing female pop artist quits Twitter, maybe we can actually say Twitter has hit its turning point...

In the most judicious use of Twitter I've seen, Rihanna created an account purely to create buzz around her new single, "Russian Roulette". The brief posts cultivate the air of anticipation that should surround a high-profile release, one that fits well with her image and subject matter.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Laying More Blame on Taylor Swift

Is Swift teaching my daughter to define herself by her relationships to bad boys and the frustrating quest for Prince Charming? Should fairy-tale romance be on such heavy rotation in my preteen daughter’s playlist?
These are the questions Hans Eisenbans asks when contemplating his 11-year-old daughter's love for Taylor Swift. Despite purposely raising a very sheltered girl, she's fallen for one of the biggest pop stars of the moment, and he's wringing his hands.

What's missing from the essay is that he doesn't mention any other pop stars that his daughter could have liked, and implicitly, the comparison between them. Taylor Swift, like all pop stars, has her pros and cons, and all artists have messages spewing forth--but is Taylor Swift really that bad? Whatever happened to Madonna, to Courtney Love, to Britney Spears? Even Lady Gaga?

Sure, Taylor Swift is all about sappy, teenager love...but she's not an aggressive sexpot, she's not weird or wild or subversive. She's pretty clean-cut, but that's not what worries him. It's the fact that she's being exposed to the world of boys and heartbreak.

Grow up. Most songs on the radio are about boys and heartbreak, and she's actually learning healthy ways of dealing with these issues through Taylor Swift, rather than the dismissive toying tone that Katy Perry has.

By the end of the piece, however, he understands, based purely on Taylor's own merits in concert. She's the teenager she sings about, spazzy, a bit awkward, but self-assured, taking names when she can. That's why his daughter loves her, and why she's a good role model.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Taylor Swift Is Obviously Ruining America

I never did post up my entry on Taylor Swift, but I may not need to, as I need to smack down Sady Doyle’s She Pop post on the singer, for her wildly inaccurate and frankly insane criticisms of two of her songs, “You Belong With Me” and “Fifteen”.

The inflammatory post, titled “Taylor Swift Wants To Ban Access To Your Lady Bits,” tries to explain, if you can call it that, how the singer is a pernicious influence on young girls today, that she reeks of moralizing and superiority because she dresses in white, sings pop songs about love, and is so submissive, innocent, and virginal. Now, this would make some sense if she was talking about “Love Story”, and how everything gets tied up in a bow—an ending that also appears in “You Belong With Me”—but that’s not her argument.

Sady criticizes Taylor Swift for promoting abstinence and being anti-sex, as well as sexist. Her analysis, however, takes everything out of context, makes incredible assumptions, and positions everything that Taylor Swift does in terms of sex.

(I’d also like to point out that when criticizing a song of an artist, you actually should, you know, MENTION THE TITLE OF THE SONG. So that your readers don’t have to look up the song in question, and you should be aware that just because you post the video doesn’t mean that the video will work or that your readers will have any idea what you’re talking about. Also helps, Sady, if you do a bit of research into your subject before you start ranting like an out of touch madwoman.)

Sady goes off on “You Belong With Me” and her new single “Fifteen”, which was well-received when she sang it on the Grammys with Miley Cyrus. “You Belong With Me” tells the story of a girl who likes a boy with a girlfriend who doesn’t treat him right, and she contrasts the two of them. In the video, Taylor pulls a Mariah Carey and plays both the “bad” girl (the girlfriend) and the “good” girl (the protagonist). Sady twists this into girl-on-girl hate, because the girlfriend doesn’t find his jokes funny and she does. No, she doesn’t call her a bitch or a cunt—but why should she? That would be too obvious, something that Sady finds fault with in the oversimplified, trite video.

"You Belong With Me” isn’t even Swift’s first single on unrequited love; that would be “Teardrops on My Guitar.” Taylor has a few others, but if you listen to any random collection of songs on any given day you’re bound to find a few on this topic, and if there’s a third party in the picture, damn straight you’re going to get some sort of comparison, usually with a reason attached why the singer is better than said third party. It’s called a love triangle. They exist. They aren’t pretty, and yes, nasty exchanges are part of the deal.

But why is Sady hating on Taylor’s narrative, when all she does is provide a descriptor? Carrie Underwood sings nastily about a tramp in “Before He Cheats”, and Haley Williams calls her rival a whore in “Misery Business”, but clearly Sady doesn’t take issue with these artists for their name calling, both of which are far more problematic than the situation presented in “You Belong With Me”. What about “Girlfriend” or “Sk8er Boi”?

Sady calls the comparison between the two girls “girl-on-girl sexism”. What Sady forgets is that this is what people do. That is what girls do, that is what teenage girls do, this is what girls do when another girl has they guy they like. It’s tame, and pretty damn fair. Sady clearly doesn’t realize that just because Taylor’s remarking that that girl is known for being a cheerleader and wearing high heels that she’s automatically calling her a slut, and that because she wears glasses in the video, she’s ugly while the other girl, Taylor Swift in a brown wig, is hating on girls that are prettier than she is, and that it is an example of the limiting beauty standard that women are expected to fall into. What the hell.

Sady’s biggest problem is that she is reading the music from a very adult perspective, completely forgetting that Taylor is singing from a teenage girl’s perspective TO teenage girls. That’s why she’s so off her rocker. Although “Fifteen” can be schmaltzy, it is a parable, telling bits and pieces of her story and her best friend Abigail’s story. There’s not even a suggestion of sex in the song, and while the video does have a scene where it could be hinted at, it’s a stretch, and Sady blows everything up. She takes the lyric “and Abigail gave everything she had to a boy/ who changed his mind” to mean that she lost his virginity to him, and that’s bad and that you will be successful and happy and wonderful if you don’t have sex. Does this make any sense? Seriously, what the hell is up with this woman? You can completely give everything to someone without it being about sex at all, and haha, no, sorry, your jokes about Jonas Brothers posters aren’t witty.

The whole point of “Fifteen”, which Taylor Swift has said over and over, and which is pretty clear from the lyrics, is that you grow up, and you realize what’s important and what’s not. When you’re in high school (and even sometimes after it), the things that are going on at that moment are the biggest things ever, and it’s hard to conceptualize the future, when these things won’t matter. That’s the point of the line “In your life you’ll do things that are greater than dating the boy on the football team.” That’s someone with some perspective—like an older sister, or a teacher—telling a girl who’s just had her heart broken and can’t see the forest for the trees that things change and this isn’t the end. It’s not that dating this boy—or any boy—is the sum of the girl’s accomplishments. And again, Taylor Swift has been very vocal about these things: marriage is “not my ultimate goal in life”. As she put it in Rolling Stone:

"I'm fascinated by love rather than the principle of 'Oh, does this guy like me?'" she says. "I love love. I love studying it and watching it. I love thinking about how we treat each other, and the crazy way that one person can feel one thing and another can feel totally different," she says. "It just doesn't take much for me to be inspired to write a song about a person, but I'm much more likely to write that song than do anything about it. You know, self-preservation."

Her interest in love is obvious from her songs, and at times it does border on the fantastical (“Love Story”). But in other songs, like “White Horse”, she knows it’s over and deals with the pain head-on. Taylor is famously unrepentant, and it is also well-known that she uses real names and real situations in her songs. That’s one of her many selling points, because she has the guts to say “You suck, and you hurt me badly”, and immortalize what that guy did into a platinum-selling song. Sady calls Taylor Swift calculating and artificial, and this makes her noxious. But Taylor Swift has always come across as earnest and sincere, not to mention hardworking. She’s always been in charge of her career (she turned down development deals when young because she didn’t want to be in limbo), and is very big on personal responsibility. These are traits to admire, but because her outward appearance—her image—is sweet, wholesome, and very teenage, she gets flack for being “innocent”. Sady is doing what she hates: reducing Taylor Swift to a caricatured Disney Princess, ridiculing her for who she is because she finds her too limiting and shallow, without even bothering to understand her.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Creator Speaks

Matthew Weiner on Mad Men:

[M]y impetus in doing this show was to A) indulge my interest in how history affects people's lives, and B) deal with a piece of history that has been metabolized in a very specific way, in my lifetime.

You know, it's a golden age. It was the time that was talked about when I was growing up. I am Generation X. I grew up in the shadow of this thing. And the reality of it is, is that people's lives are always similar. You know what I mean? Yes, we have a black president, and history has changed, and it's an amazing thing that's happened in this country. But you know, babies are still born the same way. You know what I mean? People get divorced, people get married. Those things don't change.

So I was always interested, from the beginning, in showing the process of people going through tumultuous events, or going through history at all, and what is tumultuous and what isn't. And trying not to indulge the traditional, not just to revise it, but just to not tell the story that way. To tell the story more in the way it feels like it's happening.


Is it also a factor of the fact that these changes look dramatic in retrospect, but the day-to-day reality was much more gradual?

Absolutely. I do think that. Yeah. And I think that it's always like that: that there are things that are cataclysmic and really do have an influence on us. But there are events happening right now -- I use the example of GM going bankrupt (and that it) may be seen as the turning point in this economic crisis. But no one knows that now. Maybe next year it'll be declared that. And just because it's declared that doesn't mean it's true.


But history gets used to tell a certain story, and I'm always interested in the story of what it's like to live through these things. Sometimes we feel invested in politics, and sometimes people come along, young people come along, and they are invested and idealistic, and sometimes it's just people trying to be human beings. So that's really the story that I'm telling.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Something's Always Newsworthy

Google News homepage:
The Gosselin's twins are celebrating their birthday! OMG! Children of tabloid fodder and unwilling reality-show participants MAKE NEWS by just LIVING.

and of course...


Wait. Wait! It gets better.

Because her sorta boyfriend doesn't like it and convinced her.

Aside from the facts that 1) Miley, a popular twitterer (?), is now a trending topic (it's gotta be the gossip stalkers and the few teenagers who follow her) 2) This is going to become a big deal, deciding when/how celebrities can just up and quit a service 3) She can't come back under her old name or her old email address, unless Twitter changes the rules just for her and 4) She followed her boyfriend's counsel, and millions of girls are now sighing and shaking their head, there are excellent reasons why she doesn't need an account. Some branding/publicity people would tell their client that they should, but I think it's a step toward reclaiming her privacy, figuring out her boundaries. Yeah, she's had some bumps in the world recently--pretty common for anyone in her position--but it just again shows how the little decisions we all face reverberate when it reaches a celebrity, and how much now every little thing is news. Not sure how much "real" news was delivered via her Twitter account, other than some vaguely interesting and voyeuristic updates, but the TMZs of the world are now both energized by this new story and sad by the fact that there won't be any more pure straight-from-the-source gossip to deliver.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Even Slate Is Defending "Party in the USA"

Nice take that Miley Cyrus is the great peace broker, according to Jonah Weiner. He even uses her famed TV show as evidence: "On the show, the irreconcilable forces in question are the contradictory demands of the public and private spheres, which coexist within a single, industrious girl", and that this tension is present in her music. I argue that this is present is most, if not all, female singers' work, especially in today's climate where everything is centered around an individual's definition of privacy. "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman", anyone? Weiner links to a crappy site that snarks on her recent Elle cover for sporting a "uniboob" and a push-up bra...well, isn't that what teenagers do? Geez.

However, I will grant him this:

The title "Party in the USA" makes explicit what the lyrics' Nashville-to-L.A. pilgrimage and Jay-Z and Britney name-drops suggest—this isn't a mere single so much as a red state/blue state, hick/elite, rural/urban détente. Pop bliss eradicates regionalism.
Regionalism in music, with the exception of country and gospel, doesn't really exist anymore--at least not in the ways it used to. When DJs are syndicated to multiple cities and formats are rigid, mainstream radio largely plays the same songs over again, and it's only the small, college stations that play local bands. Television obviously supports homogenity, as MTV plays the same big songs; radio airplay and MTV feed off each other to a big extent. Jay-Z is available in West Virginia, after all, and Kenny Chesney is still loved in New York City.