Or, How I Learned To Stop Caring and Admit I Love Pop.
A guy I met recently was sort of surprised that he met me at a Hold Steady Show. “They’re such a guy band,” he said, and I sort of agreed. The show that I attended (with two very feminist girlfriends, I might add) was certainly packed with guys–and a certain type of guy, too, that wears a baseball cap and jeans somewhere between fitted and baggy, not Williamsburg-skinny.
Of course it’s sort of sexist to say that but it’s also TRUE. I also have always been into what the uber-rock-star (even if she has given up the mantle!) Silvana called Dude Music.
I was a punk. Well, first I was a goth, which is a little more femme a genre (the boys wear makeup! while they sing lyrics about girls dying! WAIT COME BACK). But I started listening to angry punk rock in high school. And not riot grrl, either. I didn’t really discover Sleater-Kinney and thus ladies who rocked harder than any guy until college. Nope, I was old school and loved the Dead Kennedys, plus I was from Boston and even though I moved South I kept up my Boston pride with those Boston street punk standards: Dropkick Murphys, etc.
I had an ironic Spice Girls sticker on my car in college. But my senior year in high school my best girlfriend and I bought a Spice Girls tape between us and used to drive around singing along. So I guess you could say that my pop love was always sort of there. But, you see, it was IRONIC! It was FUNNY that I had a Spice Girls sticker on my car! Because I was going to Serious Punk Rock Shows and wearing big boots (with short skirts) and getting stomped in the pit and getting angry when my male friends tried to “rescue” me.
The same with the ubiquitous 80s nights in college. Sure, we danced to Madonna. We loved Madonna. Because she was past her moment!
Now, I always listened to what GarlandGrey, also at Tiger Beatdown, called ladymusic. Tori Amos got me through high school alive and relatively with-it, and when I got to interview her a year or so ago, let me tell you that at age 29 I still gushed and told her that she got me through my misspent youth and was thrilled that she gave me a hug when I left and told me that she had a good feeling about me. TORI! But I digress. My college boyfriend, when he mocked Tori, found himself handcuffed to a chair and listening to the Spice Girls. No, really. I have pictures.
That ladymusic got mocked by dudes other than just that exboyfriend, it’s true. But I was willing to fight for it in ways that I was not for pop. I was an English major, so I could break down the cultural significance of Madonna for you. But argue for her music? Beyond “well, I like it at dance nights?”
Feministe-ers, I was a secret rockist.
If you have never been a Music Writer (a phrase I’ve used more often than Rock Critic even when I was taking it Very Seriously and reading lots of Lester Bangs and Ellen Willis) you may not be familiar with the term, or with this article that breaks it all down. But check it:
Rockism isn’t unrelated to older, more familiar prejudices – that’s part of why it’s so powerful, and so worth arguing about. The pop star, the disco diva, the lip-syncher, the “awesomely bad” hit maker: could it really be a coincidence that rockist complaints often pit straight white men against the rest of the world? Like the anti-disco backlash of 25 years ago, the current rockist consensus seems to reflect not just an idea of how music should be made but also an idea about who should be making it.
Let’s make that clear: Pop is feminine. Rock is for dudes. Right? That’s why when we talk about Sleater-Kinney (and oh, please, I could write you a book about Sleater-Kinney) we have to mention that they’re Girls! Who! Rock! and not just one of the best rock bands of my lifetime, period. That’s also why those boy-groups that always seem to have a resurgence every 10, 15 years are roundly mocked.
So! Fast-forward a few years. I learn to talk about feminism in academic terms as well as in personal terms, and I learn to talk about pleasure and desire as political concepts (the real personal-is-political, thanks) and I grew to hate, to deeply loathe the term “guilty pleasure.” Why the fuck should I feel guilty about pleasure, right? Kathleen Hanna said “I believe in the radical possibilities of pleasure, babe.” And she was right! But she was also never a guilty pleasure. Not in Bikini Kill, anyway. No, you had to take her seriously cause she barnstormed punk rock.
So I am learning gradually to stop talking about songs as guilty pleasures or to feel silly buying certain music that is not “serious.” But I honestly think I didn’t let myself fully realize that I could take pop music as seriously as any single by the National and moreso than I take the latest bearded incarnation of sad twee boys to hit the indie rock stacks (Fleet Foxes, I’m lookin’ at you) until last summer.
What happened last summer? Michael Jackson died.
Michael Jackson died and I was having coffee with someone I’d never met at the time but who has since become one of my closest friends and favorite co-conspirators, Matt Sheret. Matt and I talked about Michael Jackson as ubiquitous cultural icon in the States (he’s British; don’t hold it against him), and then when I went home I noticed that once again Jackson was everywhere. Every car that went by, every bar with open windows, every front-steps party in my Brooklyn ‘hood was playing Michael’s greatest. Remember that video from in front of the Apollo?
So. Did it take the death of the King of Pop–in other words, a man–for me to take pop music seriously? I hit iTunes for the best of Michael and emailed Matt and Kieron, the mutual friend who introduced us, and we had a multi-day-multi-person email conversation where we discussed lots of aspects of Jackson. To me, Jackson’s gender was always interesting. He was a safe pop star, one who squeaked “I’m a gentleman” when asked if he was a virgin, right up until those allegations. You know. He was desexualized, I’ll argue, in part because he was a POP singer.
I started a “pop” tag on my Tumblr and started thinking about what this meant. Started using “pop idol” like the baby Oscar Wilde in Velvet Goldmine when I talked about David Bowie, instead of rock star.
Fast forward to now, where I’ve been on a two-week Robyn binge, which basically started when I returned from England, visiting Matt and Kieron and several other friends. Where I’ve bought tickets to see Robyn in August in NY on the same night as Metric, who also have a lady singer but are Much! More! Serious! But I’m gonna go see Robyn. Because she makes me happy and makes me dance and girl can SING. And those are accomplishments as worthy as any indie rock record.
And what brought me here? Years of thought about pleasure and lots of dancing to Madonna. A few years as a Music Writer and lots of Ellen Willis and yes, Lester Bangs. A comic book called Phonogram and a friendship with the guy who writes it, who is one of the best advocates for pop–and women in pop–that I know. And those emails with him and with Matt. Yes, dear readers, I’m 30 years old and a committed feminist and it took a couple of straight guys who are not only willing to admit they love pop in all its feminized glory but to argue for it to get me to realize that they’re right.
See? I’m still guilty of the same shit. Oh, my internalized sexism. I’m doing my best to fight it, though. Here, have some Robyn. I have officially claimed this song on behalf of all ladybloggers ever called “funfeminists,” “fakefeminists,” or, of course, “fembots.”
Lyrics: I’ve got some news for you/Fembots (fembots) have feelings too/You split my heart in two/Now what ya gonna do
(Once you go attack you ain’t never goin back/I’m hi-tech baby)
Fresh out the box the latest model/Generator running on full throttle/can I get a fuel up? hit the bottle/(reboot)/I got a lotta automatic booty applications/Got a C.P.U maxed out sensation/Looking for a joy to man my station/(reboot)/rock-rock the nation/(rock it, baby)
I’ve got some news for you/Fembot have feelings too/You split my heart in two/Now what ya gonna do/(and scan me)
My system’s in mint condition/The power’s up on my transistors/Working fine, no bitches/Plug me in and/flip some switches/Pull up in docking position/Pop the hatch and hit ignition/Bbb-burn out, baby/Ready for demolition
(Once you go attack you ain’t never going back)
My superbrain is a binary/Circuitry and mainframe tens-filled here/I’m sipping propane topped with a cherry
(reboot)/In fact i’m a very scientifically advanced hot mama/Artificially discreet no drama/Digitally chic titanium mama/(reboot)/Ring the alarm
I’ve got some news for you (uh uh)/Fembots have feelings too (you know)/you split my heart in two/Now what you gonna do/(here we go)
My system’s in mint condition/The power’s up on my transistors/Working fine, no anekatips b!tches/Plug me in and flip some switches/Pull up in dragging position/Pop the hatch and hit ignition/bbb-burn out, baby/Ready for demolition
(Once you go attack you ain’t never going back)
Once you gone tech/You’re never ever going back/You gotta enter access code/Up on the back of my neck/Initiating slut mode/All space cadets on deck/There’s a calculator in my pocket/Got you all in check
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