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The Internet Is Exploding: 10 Must-Read Articles This Week 5/24

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Messy Sex, Both Bold and Tender, in Garth Greenwe [...]

The internet was almost too much for me this week. Highlights: Tori Amos, Fiona Apple’s 10.0, Lana Del Rey, the history of backlash, our globalized pantries, how a slave changed American food, André Leon Talley, and when we can no longer hold sorrow. 

1. The Quietus: Low Culture 6: Tori Amos And The Pretty Good Career

I started actively listening to Tori Amos a few years ago. I mentioned this to a friend, and sometime in the span of that conversation the Grammys and other award shows came up. We were talking about skewed metrics of achievement when my friend casually noted that Tori Amos hasn’t won any Grammy awards. I was absolutely SHOCKED when I learned that fact. Even disregarding taste, there is no denying “the frequent excellence of her music: of her writing, of the oblique imagery in her lyrics, of her exquisite way with a melody, of the way she manipulated her classical training to foster arrangements that somehow defied categorisation.” So why doesn’t she get her due? Why has Amos, unlike her contemporaries PJ Harvey and Björk, received “the same kind of critical attention, appraisal?” 

Here Matthew Barton breaks down “the complex range of factors that include the sexism of the rock press, the perils of an ‘image’ preceding your art, the way the piano is not revered as a rock instrument in the same way as the guitar, and a change in direction that contrasted sharply with that of her peers.”

 

2. The Ringer: Pitch Perfect: The History and Influence of the Pitchfork 10.0

Pitchfork is one of the first places I go when I’m looking for music criticism. While their reviews are not always my favorite, I constantly learn new things about music from them. Fiona Apple’s most recent album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, got a perfect 10.0 on Pitchfork’s scale, an amazing feat as the last 10.0 score for a new album was Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in 2010, “praised as ‘a blast of surreal pop excess that few artists are capable of creating, or even willing to attempt.’” While Pitchfork has given out 10.0 scores retrospectively, “a real-time 10.0 still qualifies as a seismic event for the rock-critic universe as a whole,” writes Rob Harvilla. At times certain metrics can be reductive, but Pitchfork’s “rating scale, flagrantly subjective and objectively silly as it might be, still matters.” Harvilla interviewed writers of 10.0 reviews “in part to track how their own deeply personal feelings helped fuel the site’s ever-volatile public canon” and to uncover the history behind the perfect 10.0, and how it has become so important. 

 

3. Instagram: Lana Del Rey

On Thursday, singer Lana Del Rey posed a “question for the culture” in which she named a bunch of other women musicians, addressed the music industry’s double standard, and feminism. In the first paragraph, Del Rey writes, “Now that Doja Cat, Ariana, Camila, Cardi B, Kehlani and Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé have had number ones with songs about being sexy, wearing no clothes, fucking, cheating, etc — can I please go back to singing about being embodied, feeling beautiful by being in love even if the relationship is not perfect, or dancing for money — or whatever I want — without being crucified or saying that I’m glamorizing abuse??????” She goes on to claim that she “really paved the way for other women to stop ‘putting on a happy face’ and just be able to say whatever the hell they wanted to in their music.” She also called many reviews of her earlier work “bullshit” and insisted that she is “just a glamorous person singing about the realities of what we are all now seeing are very prevalent emotionally abusive relationships all over the world.” Then she teased that more of these thoughts may appear in her forthcoming books of poetry and upcoming album.

This commentary has split the internet, largely because the artists she named in the first paragraph are all women of color except Ariana Grande. Many Del Rey stans are praising her for expressing herself, but others read the statement as ahistorical and whining about her success by tearing down the accomplishments of women of color—especially coming off of the recent chart successes of Doja Cat’s remix of “Say So” featuring Nicki Minaj and Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” remix featuring Beyonce, and positive reviews for Kehlani’s new album. On either side, I haven’t seen anyone dismissing Del Rey’s claims of experiencing sexism in the music industry because she most certainly has. The divide is about how she is expressing her frustrations and the arguments she is using. 

I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about this, which are largely summed up in the article below. 

 

4. BuzzFeed: This Is Why People Are Mad At Lana Del Rey

“Arrogant and ahistorical” is how Michael Blackmon characterized Lana Del Rey’s Instagram post. “The idea that she ushered in a wave of women artists singing about sex and failed relationships is just absurd when there were many before her who have sung about the very same subject. And she fails to recognize that the majority of the women she named, many of whom are black or women of color, have endured a lot of the same struggles as Del Rey — and often to a greater extent because of their race. There’s an entire history of women singers and songwriters making music… who are completely erased by her statement.” I wholeheartedly agree with this. Blackmon gives examples of the backlash that artists Del Rey named have faced for their music, and cites the plethora of women who have written and sung about “being sexy, wearing no clothes, fucking, cheating, etc” decades before Del Rey did. 

Most of the artists that Blackmon lists are Black. But there are also white women artists, like Fiona Apple and Courtney Love, who also preceded Del Rey and “made waves using their sad, angry and frustrated indignations to drive their projects, proving that (yep) white women can be scorned in life and love, sing about it, be criticized for it, and still persevere,” wrote J’na Jefferson in The Root. Ashley Reese wrote for Jezebel that much of Del Rey’s post “reads like a belated missive toward music critic Ann Powers, who infused mild critique in an otherwise positive review of Lana Del Rey’s Grammy-nominated album Norman Fucking Rockwell! in 2019.” (I HIGHLY recommend reading both of these articles in full.)

In the controversy of Lana Del Rey, I’m on the side that her remarks were ahistorical and, intentionally or not, about race. It also doesn’t help that in response to people’s reactions the artist left a series of comments in which she ostensibly doubled down on her post, writing, “Bro. This is sad to make it about a WOC issue when I’m talking about my favorite singers. I could’ve literally said anyone but I picked my favorite fucking people. And this is the problem with society today, not everything is about whatever you want it to be. It’s exactly the point of my post – there are certain women that culture doesn’t want to have a voice it may not have to do with race I don’t know what it has to do with. I don’t care anymore but don’t ever ever ever ever bro- call me racist because that is bullshit.” In another comment she wrote: “And my last and final note on everything – when I said people who look like me – I meant the people who don’t look strong or necessarily smart, or like they’re in control etc. it’s about advocating for a more delicate personality, not for white woman – thanks for the Karen comments tho. V helpful.” 

Del Rey then decided that was not enough, and made another post Friday night where she tripled down on her initial statement, writing “despite the feedback I’ve heard from several people that I mentioned in a complimentary way, whether it be Ariana or Doja Cat—I remain firm in my clarity and stance in that what I was writing about was the importance of self advocacy for the more delicate and often dismissed, softer female personality, and that there does have to be room for that type in what will inevitably become a new wave/3rd wave of feminism that is rapidly approaching.” She then says this isn’t a “race war” and that “in fact the issue was with *female critics and *female alternative artists who are dissociated from their own fragility and sexuality and berate more sexually liberated artists like myself and the women I mentioned,” and that “in truth making it about race says so much more about you than it does about me.”

The language Del Rey used in the original posts and in her responses to it, use racially coded language as she describes herself as “more delicate,” “fragile,” and “soft”—traits that historically have been reserved for white women and denied for women of color, especially Black women. Further, she seems to completely dismiss what the artists she named think and feel about her post. Although those conversations were presumably private, starting the sentence with “despite” indicates they disagreed with Del Rey. She also illustrates her own misunderstanding of feminism, because third wave feminism began in the 1990s, fourth-wave feminism is considered to have taken place in the 2010s, so I guess she is talking about the fifth wave? 

This story is still ongoing, and I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it next week, but Del Rey needed to just take the loss and apologize. I don’t think she can do that now. 

 

5. Twitter: Karen

With all of the controversy around Lana Del Rey and white women generally being their belligerent selves, “Karen” is breaking into the mainstream. Karen is a type of woman who, as defined by Urban Dictionary, “is unhappy when little things don’t go their way. They are a, ‘Can I speak to your manager?’ kind of gal. The bitchy soccer mom of her friend group that nobody likes.” And, while I acknowledge that Urban Dictionary isn’t a linguistic and semantic authority, what this definition fails to address is Karen, just as Becky and Susan, is almost always white, and is a daughter of Miss Anne, “one of the most violent, vile figures in American history.” Karens and Miss Annes have “killed and gotten people killed for centuries” and “been the inspiration and motivation for some of the most heinous atrocities across the globe.” 

While some think Karen is just a meme, or even the “equivalent of the N-word for white women,” it has a much larger history than many people are acknowledging. 

 

6. The Atlantic: How White Backlash Controls American Progress

I read this article on Thursday evening, after I spent all day in the trenches of the Lana Del Rey debate on Twitter and with friends. Everyone was talking about the backlash she was getting for making the post, and I was trying to develop my own language for why I disagreed with Del Rey’s post. Then I read this. 

Backlash, particularly used in a political context, was popularized in 1963 in response to John F. Kennedy’s proposed civil rights legislation. In the beginning, backlash always meant white backlash and “quickly came to stand for a topsy-turvy rebellion in which white people with relative societal power perceived themselves as victimized by what they described as overly aggressive African Americans demanding equal rights.” While the word wasn’t popularized until the Civil Rights Movement, Lawrence Glickman traces the history of its sentiment and how it has crippled progress in this country back to the Civil War, continuing the line through the public outcry preceding the Civil Rights Act which passed in 1964 to current American conservatism and Trump’s continuous attacks on the Obama administration. 

What I found interesting about this article after spending the day in the swamp of Del Rey was how specifically Glickman defined backlash. Most media websites said that the people who were addressing Del Rey’s racial and historical ignorance were backlashing. In reality, Lana Del Rey was the person backlashing. I knew this before reading Glickman’s article, but he gave me more language and historical background for my feelings. 

 

7. Eater: Stewed Awakening

When the pandemic started, a few friends made a group chat dedicated to food. Everyone in the group enjoyed cooking and eating before the pandemic, and it was something we shared with each other before the times of isolation. The chat is filled with all kinds of vegetable-heavy dishes (pickled, roasted, and fresh), breads, and almost no dairy or meat. It is everything one might think of as socially conscious vegetarian eating. One member of the group worked at an Ottolenghi restaurant in London, another in farming, one was a bartender. All of the food in the chat always looks and sounds amazing but something about the chat makes me hesitant. 

Since Alison Roman’s recent interview in The New Consumer, in which shecomes off as extremely white and entitled after discussing how she wants to further monetize her social media presence, but then criticizing Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo for doing the same,” as I wrote last week, more thinkpieces have come out about Roman’s particular brand of cooking, and what it means for the globalized pantry. 

Roman, who has written two best-selling cookbooks and worked for Bon Appetit before joining the New York Times, has a style of cooking that features “some ‘mainstream’ American ingredient made new with yuzu kosho or turmeric or chile oil,” staple ingredients in non-white cultures. Much of her success relies on this. In this article, Navneet Alang uses Roman and BA as examples for a larger conversation about diversity and representation within the food industry. The issue is not using ingredients from different cultures, but as BA’s Priya Krishna is quoted saying in the article, “I do hope that when people cook with them, they take the time to educate themselves about the origin of these ingredients, rather than treating them as ingredients in a vacuum, divorced of their context.” Alang questions Roman and other white chefs’ popularization of food and ingredients from different cultures, wondering if chefs of color could do the same, and points out how a chef’s whiteness can make a food more palatable to an audience that is presumed by food media to be white. Systematic change in food “comes up against a difficult paradox: We need to pay attention to where things come from, to focus on their difference, but in order to overcome both fetishization and exploitation, the foreign needs to become domestic.” 

While not everyone in my group chat is white or American, there is something white about how the chat discusses food. There is something that closes off certain foods while making space for others. Some foods are validated while others aren’t, and we never discuss class and accessibility. I still engage with the chat, but I’ve stopped sending pictures—there is a kind of performativity, a second guessing of what I’m eating that I don’t enjoy. Cultural slippages take place, on both sides. I wonder if other people in the chat have similar concerns before sending a photo. 

 

8. The Paris Review: America’s First Connoisseur

After everything that has been going on with Roman over the past few weeks it was interesting to read this article on James Hemings, Thomas Jefferson’s slave and cook. Hemings lived in France with Jefferson in the 1780s and learned from the leading chefs at the time. Jefferson was known as a connoisseur and tastemaker, particularly noted for his dinners, “yet there’s no evidence that the man ever brewed a pot of tea, much less mixed a vinaigrette, whipped peaks of a meringue, trussed a chicken, or any of the other things that Hemings perfected at the Hôtel de Langeac.” Although not always credited, Hemings’ influence on American cuisine can still be found today.

While this article is filled with fascinating facts, the tone that it takes at moments when describing the past (such as Hemings’ parentage) dissociates from some of the trauma that enslaved people endured. 

 

9. Level: André Leon Talley Made Fashion History — But That’s Not Enough

I don’t follow fashion and I don’t know much about André Leon Talley apart from general lore. With the publication of his new memoir, The Chiffon Trenches, I’ve been reading more about him. One of the main critiques of him is “that his personal ambition eclipsed any inclination to bring others along. For all his power and prominence, he did not lift as he climbed, leaving other Black folks in fashion and media to fend for themselves.” Talley however, says he “always was an advocate for Blackness, a quiet advocate… I did it through the subtleties of nuance. I didn’t carry a bullhorn or a flag and say, ‘Well, I’m Black. Can we get some more Black people in here?’” While it might be true that Talley didn’t pull people with him in the ways that one might expect, “few things are more transgressive than a Black man raised in the Jim Crow American South who grew to become a titan of industry — yet, I keep hearing from people that perhaps Talley didn’t do enough. And maybe they’re right. But the cracks he made in the ceilings of our industries nonetheless made room for generations to come.”

I don’t know enough about him to have a full opinion on this criticism, but the fact that I don’t follow fashion but know about him speaks to his cultural impact. 

 

10. New York Times: We Can’t Comprehend This Much Sorrow

Everyone is dealing with the coronavirus pandemic in their own way. For writers and journalists, many of whom rely on writing their thoughts and feelings about the state of the world for an income, the pandemic creates a specific paradox: write about it because it is your job, what you are drawn to, but also, “why bother? The same incidents, the same references and the same outrages would inevitably be picked over by other writers.” For Teju Cole, and myself, the hesitation isn’t only “why bother” but “that anything I wrote could soon be — in fact was almost certain to be — contradicted by new developments… that certain points of emphasis in my writing would later prove to have been misjudged, and that this would somehow reveal that my heart had been in the wrong place all along.” Cole wrote this “week’s worth of observations” anyway, “hoping to capture, with no attempt at being comprehensive, a time when my feelings were as raw as my understanding of what was happening.” He wrote it because “history’s first draft is almost always wrong — but we still have to try and write it.”

 

All images taken from referenced articles. Have a suggestion for next week? Email afoehmke@bmoreart.com with the subject line “The Internet is Exploding.”

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