Caitlin White, music editor for Brooklyn Magazine, recently authored an article entitled “Grimes and the Art of Internalized Misogyny”. In it, she attempts to unpack her irrational hate for Grimes through the lens of the misogynistic patriarchy that pits women against each other. There were a lot of good points within the article, particularly in White’s (honest) reconciliation and newfound respect for Grimes’ music. The essay is a good jumping off point to address a larger problem in music journalism, namely its tabloid-y and hyper critical nature fueled by post-internet visibility.
To start, I wasn’t crazy about Grimes’ newest album for different reasons, mostly related to my personal taste rather than Grimes’ lack of capability as an artist. I’m a huge fan of her earlier work, and deeply admire her talent and accomplishments. It’s amazing and inspiring that she is a self-made artist, especially in a sector of music so bereft of female voices. Fellow writer Trey reviewed Art Angels for No Smoking — one of the goals of this blog is that we are fans above all, seeking to create a community and to share good music without hierarchical judgment or ‘panning’.
Let’s return to the article.
In Grimes and the Art of Internalized Misogyny, White opens the article with describing how she came to hate Grimes. I completely empathize with White when she discusses internalized misogyny – it’s all too real and heartbreaking that women are socialized to view each other as competition, sexual or otherwise. Yet to me, it seems too convenient to blame internalized misogyny for hating Grimes. The fundamental problem with this judgment is that her objections are with Grimes’ perceived personality, a subjectivity mediated by screens, rather than Grimes as a musician. White says as much: that her “dislike of Grimes didn’t really have much to do with her music.” Roland Barthes has a wonderful essay on literary criticism called Death of the Author, in which he discusses the tendency to conflate the biography of an artist (political views, historical context, circumstances of birth) with the art as a holistic whole.
Grimes as an artist has always been self contained — she plays, records, and produces all the instruments herself. She is entirely self-taught, and it’s rewarding as a listener to trace the lineage of her craft from 2010’s Geidi Primes to Art Angels. Grimes, who could collaborate with almost anyone in the music industry if she wished, chooses not to. This is in part a feminist statement: a woman collaborating with a man leads to a perceived loss of authorship and credit for their work. Art Angels was produced almost entirely without men, one of the few electronic albums to be able to boast such a distinction – and perhaps the most visible.
Tweeting something like “I don’t dislike Grimes, but I think she often uses being weird in place of being interesting” seems unnecessarily judgmental and petty, particularly because it’s not directed at something Grimes said or did. It’s just an unprompted, smug jab at the person White perceives Grimes to be. What even is “weirdness”, and why should we condemn it? White also points out the double standard for male v. female artists, while simultaneously subscribing to it — she categorizes Ariel Pink as “unequivocally genius”, yet Grimes is “weird” and “oddball”. Why is eccentricity and creativity perceived as genius in men, yet strange and unacceptable in women? At what point does ‘internalized misogyny’ become regular old misogyny? I have no answers.
The primary point of contention that White has against Grimes is that her boyfriend, James Brooks (formerly of Elite Gymnastics) has an Andrea Dworkin-inspired moniker of Dead Girlfriends. She cites an article by her friend, Claire Lobenfeld, in which Lobenfeld criticizes the project. All these criticisms are fair and good, if not necessary — yet are these perspectives meant to be a dialogue, or an absolution? Even in the article White linked, there are multiple women who came out in vocal support of Brooks. Clearly many women do not feel the same way as Lobenfeld, but White still condemns Grimes for “not listening” to women.
White characterizes Grimes speaking out against the predatory music journalism as a “tantrum”, which I find to be equally as condescending and indulgent as her tweet. How would you feel if people were condemning your boyfriend and paternalistically claiming you don’t understand feminism enough to “see”?
I’m not suggesting that art is above analysis or that musicians should be absolved of criticism, but I think it’s vitally important to examine what is considered “newsworthy” in contemporary music journalism. It seems often to be music journalists grabbing news headlines from offhand twitter comments and tumblr posts, amalgamating in a weird cult of celebrity and convenience: appreciating music (and learning to articulate why) can be a dedicated, intellectually laborious task. Clickbait news headlines and celebrity worship are more palatable to digest.
It’s time to acknowledge the culture that we live in, a culture where it’s expected to first judge an artist by their perceived authenticity/likability rather than their art as a whole — or, as Barthes aptly phrases it: “positivism, resume and the result of capitalist ideology, which has accorded the greatest importance to the author’s “person”. What isn’t acknowledged in Grimes and the Art of Internalized Misogyny is that Grimes has a masterful, artistic, powerful control over her own image. It’s too easy to conflate her digital presence with the actual personhood of Grimes. It’s all the more easy to confuse Grimes (the pop star) with Claire Boucher (the human being): so many aspects of Grimes are performative.
The ultimate conclusion of White’s article is that listening to and appreciating Art Angels allowed her to examine her own irrational hatred of Grimes. I commend this conclusion, and the vulnerability it takes to admit you’ve been wrong on the Internet. But to alleviate the symptom, we must address the disease. Barthes writes that: contemporary culture is tyrannically centered on the author, his person, his history, his tastes, his passions”. This dialogue would have never occurred without the Internet’s hyper-visibility, an environment that lends itself perfectly to hair trigger judgment. We must ask ourselves: is constant judgment a symptom of being in the public eye, so prominently and nakedly as Grimes is, or a symptom of irresponsible journalism?
I like Grimes better when I don’t presume to know Claire Boucher.