Tag Archive: Jessica Hopper


Photo Credit: Cultura/Steve Prezant

By Amy Zimmerman

Originally Posted 26 August 2015 at http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/08/26/women-s-music-industry-horror-stories-abuse-sexism-and-erasure.html

Women’s Music Industry Horror Stories: Abuse, Sexism, and Erasure

Women took to Twitter to share their tales of music biz struggles. Their heartbreaking stories paint a disturbing portrait of an industry rife with misogyny.

On Monday, Pitchfork Senior Editor Jessica Hopper asked the Twitterverse: “Gals/other marginalized folks: what was your 1st brush (in music industry, journalism, scene) w/ idea that you didn’t ‘count’?” What followed were hundreds of responses, mostly detailing the tragic timeline of any chick who dares to like music, thus infringing on the safe spaces of country bros and alt-rock dudes. Hopper’s retweets tell a pretty predictable story: girl develops interest in a music scene, girl is endlessly scrutinized and told that her fandom is illegitimate/invalid, girl is mistaken for a groupie or a girlfriend, girl is harassed/groped/assaulted at shows.

Various tropes are repeated over and over again, like a riff you’ve heard too many times before: an aspiring bassist being told by a music teacher that bass is for boys, or a teenager being asked by her dubious male classmates to recite a band’s entire discography in order to prove her fan cred. The narrative gets even more disturbing and specific when you start charting the testimonials of women who pursued careers as musicians, sound engineers, executives, and journalists. The recurring message is that, for women, the music industry is a Banksy-designed Choose Your Own Adventure book, with each career path containing its own lady-specific land mines.

Rampant misogyny is the music industry’s worst kept secret. Recently, legendary rapper—and the richest musician on the planet—Dr. Dre finally apologized for a lifetime of physical and emotional abuse against women. The apology stemmed from outrage over Straight Outta Compton, the N.W.A biopic, which topped the box office without addressing Dre’s problematic past. In her essay “Here’s What’s Missing From Straight Outta Compton: Me and the Other Women Dr. Dre Beat Up,” rapper and television personality Dee Barnes described the night in 1991 when Dre “straddled me and beat me mercilessly on the floor of the women’s restroom.” Dre later told Rolling Stone, “It ain’t no big thing—I just threw her through a door.” He pleaded no contest to Barnes’s assault charges and settled with her out of court for an undisclosed sum.

Dre’s history of violence against women was similarly uncontested. Everyone knew that Dr. Dre beat up women—they just didn’t really care. Michel’le, an R&B singer and Dr. Dre’s former girlfriend, explained, “I’ve been talking about my abuse for many, many years, but it has not gotten any ears until now,” before detailing how her relationship with one of hip-hop’s greats left her with “black eyes, a cracked rib and scars.” Singer Tairrie B is Dre’s third known music industry victim—the rapper punched her twice in the face at a Grammys after party in 1990. Straight Outta Compton director (and Barnes’s ex-cameraman) F. Gary Gray explained away the exclusion of these incidents by insisting that “we had to make sure we served the narrative… it wasn’t about side stories.”

The injustices that women face in the music industry range from micro (“no, I’m not dating someone in the band, and no, I don’t want to date you”) to debilitating (assault and/or constant fear of violence).

After decades of having his assault history dismissed as extraneous, Dr. Dre’s short New York Times apology feels like an insultingly small price to pay for his barely blemished legacy. Dre is currently enjoying the success of his new album Compton; the sale of his unfortunately named music company, Beats by Dr. Dre, made him the self-proclaimed “first billionaire in hip-hop.” Meanwhile, Dee Barnes was “blacklisted” from the industry by hip-hop insiders who didn’t want to jeopardize their relationships with the all-powerful D-R-E.

Straight Outta Compton doesn’t just erase Dre’s female victims—it also denies the influence of his female contemporaries. Female artists like J.J. Fad, Jewell, The Lady of Rage, Michel’le, and Tairrie B are notably absent from the biopic. Apparently, any woman who isn’t a half-naked groupie or a video girl is chopping block fodder in F. Gary Gray’s interpretation of the hip-hop world. While the history of women in hip-hop runs parallel to the story that Straight Outta Compton tells, it’s effectively silenced. When N.W.A’s swagger is so amplified, and Dr. Dre’s apology so well-executed as to appear almost sincere, it’s easy to ignore the female artists and victims who have spent decades screaming to be heard. Imagine an industry where the presence of women is not only discouraged, but also flat-out denied—that’s the vision that earned F. Gary Gray a $24.2 million opening day.

In her essay, Barnes writes that, “Accurately articulating the frustrations of young black men being constantly harassed by the cops is at Straight Outta Compton’s activistic core. There is a direct connection between the oppression of black men and the violence perpetrated by black men against black women. It is a cycle of victimization and reenactment of violence that is rooted in racism and perpetuated by patriarchy.” That being said, labeling hip-hop culture (i.e. black men) as the main source of music industry misogyny is a gross misreading of the cycle that Barnes is describing. No, black men are not inherently more violent—no, movie theaters, you do not have to request increased security in preparation for black fans at Straight Outta Compton showings.

Obviously, hip-hop is a handy scapegoat for #AllLivesMatter advocates and their similarly addled forebears. Making America great again all too often seems to involve chastising rappers for violent videos, while ignoring the deeply dysfunctional music cultures flourishing just left of the dial. What Hopper’s Twitter disruption does so well is highlight how misogyny plagues the music industry at large. As any college-aged girl will tell you, a penchant for alternative scenes and liberal politics can often mask some abhorrently outdated ideas about gender. A Bikini Kill T-shirt does not a male feminist make. The initial betrayal comes when a female outsider leaves mainstream scenes on a quest for a more niche set of sounds and sites—only to find that even in the big wide alternative world, women are still ostracized as other and less than.

25 May 2015
The World Needs Female Rock Critics
by Anwen Crawford

Reposted from http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-world-needs-female-rock-critics

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Don’t tell anyone, but I don’t own any albums by the Rolling Stones. They’re just so archetypal, so very rock and roll—and that, I find, can be a difficult thing to admire. Rock music has rarely offered women the same tangible promise of social rebellion and sexual freedom that it has given men—though plenty of women, myself included, have tried all the same to find those liberties in it. “Boy guitarists notwithstanding,” the journalist Lillian Roxon wrote to a friend, in 1966, “I don’t think I can stand the sight of another bloody electric guitar.” I know just how she felt.

In 1969, Roxon—Italian-born, Australian-raised, an experienced journalist and a star of Warhol’s back room at Max’s Kansas City—would publish “Lillian Roxon’s Rock Encyclopedia,” the first of its kind, a marvel of research and critical acumen. Within six months of publication, the book had entered its third hardcover print run, and Roxon was profiled in the Times. The book has now been out of print for decades. (Roxon died in 1973, at the age of forty-one.) Ellen Willis, a contemporary of Roxon’s, was The New Yorker’s first popular-music critic, beginning in 1968, but a collection of her music writing, “Out of the Vinyl Deeps,” was not published until 2011, five years after her death. This month, the American writer Jessica Hopper, a senior editor at the music Web site Pitchfork, publishes a book called “The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic.” The title is more provocation than statement of fact, but it is not entirely untrue. Books by living female rock critics (or jazz, hip-hop, and dance-music critics, for that matter) are scant. In an introductory note to her book, Hopper names Roxon, Willis, the English journalist Caroline Coon, and the anthology “Rock She Wrote,” edited by Evelyn McDonnell and Ann Powers, as precedents for her own work. “The title is not meant to erase our history but rather to help mark the path,” Hopper writes.

That path is not an easy one to discern. The most famous rock-music critics—Robert Christgau, Greil Marcus, Lester Bangs, Nick Kent—are all male. Bangs, who died in 1982, at the age of thirty-three, remains the most iconic of them all. Why? Because his hard-living, drug-taking, sunglasses-after-dark-wearing gonzo schtick made him as much of a masculine anti-hero as his rock-star subjects were. The pose doesn’t work as well for female critics, from whom displays of bad attitude are seldom tolerated, let alone celebrated. Rock’s rebel women, including its writers, are rarely assumed to be geniuses; often, they are assumed to be whores. In a 2002 biography of Lillian Roxon, “Mother of Rock,” by Robert Milliken, Roxon’s young protégé, Kathy Miller, recalls being challenged by a male editor who assigned her to write about The Who and then asked for a blow job in return, saying, “What’s the big deal? You’re a groupie.” She replied, “I’m a woman who writes about rock and roll.” His answer: “Same difference.” Groupies have proved an enduring stereotype of women’s participation in rock: worshipful, gorgeous, and despised.

Earlier this year, Hopper interviewed Björk for Pitchfork. In the interview, which is not included in the book, Björk reflected at length upon the ways in which women’s labor and expertise—inside and outside of the music industry—go unnoticed. “It’s invisible, what women do,” she said. “It’s not rewarded as much.” She observed that her male collaborators are typically credited for the sound of her records; because on stage she mainly sings, there is a widespread assumption that she neither produces nor plays an instrument. “I want to support young girls who are in their twenties now and tell them: You’re not just imagining things,” she said.

When I was about fourteen, I stood outside science class holding a folder that was decorated with an array of faces which I had carefully cut out from the pages of music magazines. Pointing to a photo of Björk on my folder, a passing boy sneered at me, “I bet you don’t even know who she is.” (This would have been around 1995, when the music press was having one of its periodic crushes on Women in Rock.) I did know who Björk was, because my mother, who was young and groovy, had raised me on the Sugarcubes, the Icelandic band that Björk was a member of before she launched her solo career. I don’t remember raising this point with my accuser, but if I had I doubt he would have believed me. The record store, the guitar shop, and now social media: when it comes to popular music, these places become stages for the display of male prowess. Female expertise, when it appears, is repeatedly dismissed as fraudulent. Every woman who has ever ventured an opinion on popular music could give you some variation (or a hundred) on my school corridor run-in, and becoming a recognized “expert” (a musician, a critic) will not save you from accusations of fakery.

The problem for women is that our role in popular music was codified long ago. And it was codified, in part, by the early music press. In the effort to prove the burgeoning rock scene of the sixties a worthy subject of critical inquiry, rock needed to be established as both serious and authentic. One result of these arguments—the Rolling Stones vs. Muddy Waters, Motown vs. Stax, Bob Dylan vs. the world—was that women came out on the losing side, as frivolous and phony. Whether a teen-age fan or a member of a girl group, women lacked genuine grit—even female critics thought so. “The Supremes epitomize the machine-like precision of the Motown sound,” wrote Lillian Roxon in her rock encyclopedia. “Everything is worked out for them and they don’t buck the system.” Judgments like that are still routinely applied to female artists today. In Hopper’s book, under the chapter heading “Real/Fake,” appears a 2012 essay on Lana Del Ray, an artist whose look harks back to those big-haired, mascaraed sixties singers, and whose career has unfolded beneath a cloud of suspicion as to her credentials, musical and otherwise. “As an audience, we make a big stink about wanting the truth, but we’re only really interested in the old myths,” Hopper writes. The myth of women’s deceitfulness is one of the oldest.

For early female music critics like Roxon and Willis, the flashpoint was Janis Joplin. Joplin, like the Rolling Stones, borrowed heavily from the blues; her ragged style seemed to mark her as the real thing. But her lonely position as, in Willis’s words, “the only sixties culture hero to make visible and public women’s experience of the quest for individual liberation,” also left her open to attack. Joplin’s sexual daring, and the contempt she faced for it, revealed the limits and the hypocrisies of the counterculture. “Writers rape her with words as if there weren’t any other way to deal with her,” Roxon wrote. The frustration that many of Joplin’s female fans felt at her treatment, and their sadness at her premature death, was something these women carried over, shortly afterwards, into the first stirrings of women’s liberation. Both Roxon and Willis became involved in the feminist movement; Germaine Greer’s “The Female Eunuch,” published in 1970, was dedicated to Roxon, whom Greer described in the dedication as “Lillian the abundant, the golden, the eloquent, the well and badly loved; Lillian the beautiful who thinks she is ugly.”

Academia, a step or two removed from the machismo of the newspaper room, has proved a more accommodating realm for women writing about popular music. In that sphere, essays and books by writers such as Tricia Rose, Daphne Brooks, Aisha Durham, Alice Echols, Gayle Wald, and Angela McRobbie contribute to a rich and ongoing feminist analysis. Writing by these women appears only intermittently in the mainstream press, but forty years of critical feminist theory on popular music has slowly filtered into the outlook of younger critics; as Hopper noted in a recent interview with the Hairpin, online publishing has given rise to “this ferocious crop of really opinionated young writers writing about race, gender, queerness, the body—people coming in with a pretty immaculately formed critical framework.” Hopper, who started publishing her criticism as a teen-ager in the midst of the early-nineties punk-feminist upsurge known as riot grrrl, mentioned in the same interview that when she began writing she did not have “anything more than a high school education.” Her autodidact tendencies and her energetic, conversational writing style form part of another long music-press tradition, the looser and more playful side of that sixties push for seriousness—though Hopper’s stylistic immediacy does not preclude her from covering difficult subjects, like the endemic sexism of punk rock, or the “banal and pernicious” contrivance of Miley Cyrus.

The often neglected path blazed by female music critics intersects with other related writing traditions. Memoir has long been used by female performers to reflect upon the pressures and contradictions of their roles. Kim Gordon’s “Girl in a Band,” Tracey Thorn’s “Bedsit Disco Queen,” and Viv Albertine’s “Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.” have lately joined earlier classics like Mary Wilson’s “Dreamgirl: My Life As A Supreme” and Tina Turner’s “I, Tina” to provide female perspectives on popular music. There is also a small but noteworthy strand of contemporary fiction by women that takes popular music as a primary subject, from Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “A Visit from the Goon Squad” (2010), with its sleazy music-biz manager, to Eleanor Henderson’s impassioned treatment of eighties New York hardcore, “Ten Thousand Saints” (2011), and Dana Spiotta’s mysterious “Stone Arabia” (2012), in which the brother of the narrator chronicles his strictly imaginary success as a rock star.

Perhaps fiction and memoir, more than criticism, provide space for female writers to dissect all that is maddening and wonderful about popular music: the spectacle, the chicanery, the beautiful lies it tells us. But there is plenty of need for female music critics yet. “Take it easy, babe,” Mick Jagger sang in “Under My Thumb,” still as glistering a slice of unrepentant misogyny as ever it was, unredeemed by time or by the million screaming girls who wriggled beneath Jagger’s commands. In a 1971 essay, Ellen Willis argued that Jagger’s “crude exhibitions of virility” were less sexist than the “condescending” pose of a bohemian like Cat Stevens; insofar as rock, she wrote, “pitted teenage girls’ inchoate energies against all their conscious and unconscious frustrations, it spoke implicitly for female liberation.” I don’t entirely agree with Willis’s defense of the Stones, but I do recognize the difficult trade-off she describes, between the freedom that rock can feel like, for a woman, and the subjugation that it might celebrate. It’s between these boundaries that the female critic works, hoping to clear a path.


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