A look back at the harrowing year of pop writing in print, digital or otherwise
Holiday time should make us feel thankful/joyful as we empty our wallets to retailers but it’s also a time to look back on the year.
For us music fans who also tap out on a keyboard about music or anyone with an interest in music journalism, it’s not easy in a digital/streaming age to look back at the recent wreckage and wonder how any publication or writer is going to survive into 2020 but some of the good ones do somehow. This isn’t going to be just a mournful and tearful retread but also a look at some promising ways out, hopeful signs and some excellent writing that still happens regardless.
To delve into the music journo world, we need to take a step back and see what’s also happened with the broader journo landscape in 2019. Layoffs were the law of the land this year, sad to say with Huffpost, Buzzfeed, Gannett among others getting hit, making this the worst time for journo job cuts since the recession, leading to questions about how digital media will survive. The challenges? AI doing ‘reporting,’ ad blockers, paywalls maybe not working, a decline in readership, Trump’s ongoing attacks on the media, supermarkets ditching newspaper racks and a handful of big dollar companies controlling most of the media landscape. Worst of all for the music world, a survey said that people want LESS entertainment news. No wonder a NYT headline openly asked “Does It Pay To Be A Writer?” A: usually not.
On the tech side, the jury’s out if Apple/Facebook/Google will help save or destroy journalism with their schemes to partner with trad media. Needless to say, publishers no longer see social media platforms as saviors- they’re now skeptical of them and with good reason. FB and Google now dominate the ad market with digital ads overtaking print ads in the pub world but that also means less money from the online ads compared to what print ads once offered. Podcasts meanwhile are seen as a possible revenue source, especially ones that are longer and provide deep dives into subjects. Smart speakers might even provide a revenue outlet with Amazon making in-roads but it’s still a question if news orgs can adapt to it. Otherwise, publishers desperate for dwindling returns otherwise are looking at non-profit status and Content Management Systems (CMS) as possible life preservers.
Diving more specifically into the world of music journalism, this turned out to be an important year for #MeToo in the music biz and not just concerning a certain best-selling R&B star. 2019 started with a powerful Lifetime series, Surviving R. Kelly, headed by dream hampton. Her sterling work helped to spark new charges against Kelly in multiple states, plus radio bans which led to Sony eventually cutting ties with Kelly and a request for victim’s stories by law enforcement and his eventual arrest. Soon, there were stories coming out about who aided/abetted Kelly- not just his own entourage but also certain writers (see listing below)
VIDEO: Jim DeRogatis reads from Soulless at The Green Space WNYC
But let us not forgot the person who first broke the news about Kelly back in the mid ’90’s. Jim DeRogatis had been covering Kelly’s horrible history with underage girls for a long time, culminating in a July book about the whole story, Soulless. As great a public service as hampton’s documentary is, why didn’t more people in the music biz take the allegations more seriously when DeRogatis had been reporting on them for two decades? Possible answer: TV > print journalism in the pop world, which would explain why the Leaving Neverland HBO documentary finally got pop culture to take charges of childhood abuse against Michael Jackson seriously. DeRogatis was finally getting his due for his work with stories running about his long-standing investigations and other publications running his ongoing reporting about Kelly. Even so, as DeRogatis asked in a New York Times piece, the question remains ‘where was everybody else?’ One answer, as heard in the TImes piece is that both DeRogatis and hampton had to endure threats because of their work.
With the Kelly and Jackson stories, Christian Science Monitor wondered if #MeToo was now a full-blown reckoning coming to the music industry as a whole (in the same CSM article, note the commendable tech added there with quick read/deep read options). Though these high profile examples are only two right now, the #MeToo story is far from over- as DeRogatis explained in an interview I did with him, other people have come forward with similar stories about inappropriate behavior from other stars, which he dutifully handed off to other reporters to pursue. And FYI, Surviving R. Kelly Part II: The Reckoning premieres on Lifetime on January 2, 2020. and will include everything that’s happened in the past year.
And #MeToo isn’t limited to musicians obviously either- Fader magazine in particular has been up to their necks in it. Along with their head of content Eric Sundermann getting canned for ‘misconduct,’ which stretched back to his days at Vice, their president/publisher Andy Cohn was also being looking into for ‘looking other way,’ eventually leading to him leaving Fader in December as their leadership wanted to show that they were sensitive to workplace harassment.
VIDEO: Madonna slams NY Times Magazine / Good Morning America
And while musicians and the press have had a notoriously dicey relationship (i.e. Lou Reed, Public Enemy, Frank Zappa), 2019 saw two particularly high profile ones, both involving women artists and women writers, both of whom have impeccable feminist cred. Tied into Madonna’s latest album, Madame X, and string of theater residencies, Vanessa Grigoriadis (Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, and Consent on Campus) did a New York Times piece on Madge that was flattering but brought up the artist’s age a few times, which sent the Material Girl into a rage on social media. Even if you’re sympathetic to Miss Ciccone (she’s the best live act I’ve ever seen), some legit questions came up about what kind of expectations stars should have about articles covering them- see Sonia Rao’s insightful article in The Washington Post. Similarly, Ann Powers wrote a thoughtful and complimentary NPR piece on Lana Del Rey but the star herself took exception on Twitter to one small bit where Powers noted that LDR adopts a ‘persona.’ For the singer’s stance, she found a defender in Ryan Adams, which, as Ned Raggett pointed out, considering RA’s own background, ain’t necessarily a good look. As for LDR not adopting a ‘persona,’ Robin Cook might have summed it up best: “Whatever you say, Lizzy Grant.”
Vice magazine as always provides entertainment not only in its own pages but with its own travails. 2019 started off with them laying off 10% of their staff and agreeing to a $187 million settlement to former female staffers who sued for harassment while getting a $250 million debt investment but still having Disney say that the huge investment they made in the company is essentially worthless now. And that was all just the first few months of the year. Later in 2019, their senior editors were also let go and a former editor was busted in a drug ring involving an intern while HBO cancelled Vice News and the pub looked for a buyer and also looked to start their own cable network while they managed to also buy up women’s network Refinery 29.
While Rolling Stone remains a premiere brand name in the music biz, they had a roller coaster ride too in 2019 with Penske Media buying up the remaining stakes in the company and effectively getting ownership of RS. Maybe as another sign of changing of the guard, former chief Jann Wenner also retired as Rock and Roll Hall of Fame chairman. That didn’t stop RS from thinking big though as they expanded into the Asia and UK markets and made plans to launch RS Pro in early 2020, promising research and insider info to compete with Billboard. Speaking of competing with Billboard, RS also took the leap into the music charts with their own listings, which faced delays and questionable ties before finally coming out in early July.
And speaking of Billboard, they also had an up-and-down year as they tried to keep up with the latest set of realities in a rapidly-changing music market. Seeing how their charts are their bread/butter, they changed things up a bit with a new global streaming and sales calculation going into their listings as well as a chart for songwriters and a partnership with Bandsintown for a music discovery service as well as a touring chart. BB also had to face down the force that is DJ Khaled over his music/mersch bundling that they penalized him for on their chart, forcing the publication to change their rules on bundling and charts to avoid a potential lawsuit with him. The venerable publication wasn’t immune from the layoff mania with their parent company (Valence Media) chopping jobs at Spin, Stereogum and Vibe. And along with competition from RS, BB also had to deal with Apple partnering with Shazam to do their own chart.
Comparatively speaking, Pitchfork had a much smoother year than the other big pubs. Its founder Ryan Schreiber left the company at the beginning of 2019, after Puja Patel was named editor-in-chief months before that. PF owner Conde Nast also made the decision that the music pub (along with its other properties) will go behind a paywall in 2020, which will mean that publicists will have to cough up cash if they wanna quote their client’s reviews there. Also, related to Nast, New York magazine had an extensive article about the company which detailed how they’re trying to figure out their future- tellingly, the name ‘Pitchfork’ rarely comes up in the article as there’s numerous off-the-record hang-wringing by the rest of the Nast staff otherwise about tightened budgets, defections and questions about Anna Wintour’s leadership (#sexism).
New York magazine, one of the best cultural/political hubs anywhere, went through its own head-spinning changes with honcho Adam Moss, a 15-year vet there who helped turn them into a national powerhouse, immediately replaced by David Haskell and its parent company going through a round of layoffs before being bought out by Vox Media.
Other larger music/arts pubs weren’t exactly having banner years either. Both NME and Uncut were sold to Singapore-Based BandLab Technologies while Entertainment Weekly turned itself into a monthly magazine (making its name a misnomer and probably why they use ‘EW‘ now instead).
Other smaller music publications were also treading water, too. Punk bible Maximum Rocknroll, which has had $ problems before, put an end to their print version while Drowned In Sound continued to do fundraisers to save itself before finally making the decision to fold. Sadly, Red Bull Music Academy. which had been a source of adventurous programming, also shut down, ending its publications and festivals. Is it any wonder that publicists are having a hard time pitching artists with less mags available to take the stories?
While we’re at it, let’s pour one out on the curb for three music scribes that we lost in 2019: country chronicler Chuck Dauphin, RS writer/Hall of Fame curator James Henke and Unsung Heroes author and Jerry Lee biographer Nick Tosches.
To counter some of the doom/gloom of the music scribing world, there were a few positive signs. Along with Buzzfeed and other online sources, Pitchfork took the plunge into the world of unions in March 2019. NPR made the wise move of providing curated playlists from its scribes (which other pubs should do). Some new pubs sprang up too, including Mike McGonigal’s Third Man imprint Maggot Brain and a new online magazine from the venerable Aquarium Drunkard blog along with a wonderful music journalism mailing list from former Red Bull editor Todd Burns, appropriately called Music Journalism Insider (free now but will be $6/month in 2020). Not to mention this here site as well, the Rock & Roll Globe, whose expanded its readership exponentially over the last year with its distinctive brand of good old fashioned consumer-and-collector-driven music journalism.
For a pair of noted writers, there were also some bold moves made in 2019. Anne Midgette stared up her own website and decided to give up her vaunted post at The Washington Post as their classical music chroniclers (one of her pieces is noted below in the ‘Best of’ round-up) so that she could return to her original passion, authoring books. Dean of Rock Crits Robert Christgau left Vice‘s Noisey imprint in June and soon started up his own crowd-funded online newsletter for reviews, “And It Don’t Stop,” and a Q&A column (“Xgau Says”) through his website. And it seems to be working too- supposedly, through the crowd-funding, he’s making more than he did with Noisey.
Meanwhile, venerable Chi-town indie Consequence of Sound made some of its own power moves in conjunction with ticket-reseller Stubhub which will sponsor and post COS content on its site along with a podcast taped at Stubhub’s NYC headquarters and also launch Consequence of Sound Live Content Hub to cover the live/concert world. (On a down note, it was also revealed that COS had acquiesced to Ryan Adams to remove a story about his alleged toxic behavior to indie rocker Phoebe Bridgers). Another large self-owned ‘indie’ Paste magazine (which claims > 5 million monthly unique visitors to its site) did its own wheeling/dealing by buying up Noisetrade, a company that lets artists upload their work and give away their work for free to fans who cough up their email and zip code. In the most Lazarus-like comeback of the year, CMJ is saying that the publication and marathon will both return in 2020, though some people who they still owe money to ain’t necessarily thrilled.
And speaking of comebacks, pieces of The Village Voice resurrected itself from the dead again long enough to have another Pazz & Jop poll come out in February 2019, which was a surprise to all of us who got a ballot out of nowhere last December. Granted, voter participation was down by half (400 voters nowadays versus about 800-900 before) but at least they did restore the usual individual ballot listing (though it was done in an odd way that had no cross-referencing or listing for voter’s singles choices) plus there was yet another impressive sum-up essay from Jessica Hopper noting it that it was another ‘year of the woman’ but more so with more dominance. And who knows- maybe by the time you read this, they’ll send out ballots for 2019 voting (I asked the Voice about this but haven’t heard back yet).
And for the best news of all about music scribing in 2019, there were 30 reasons to be cheerful. The articles below come from everything ranging from mainstream media (Washington Post was esp. strong this year), indie pubs and social media (plus a bunch of #MeToo reckonings about Kelly) but they’re all cause for hope in a journo world that keeps shrinking by the second.
And please, don’t forget to contact and thank the writers/publications for their great work- they rarely ever hear kind words from anyone about their work and your thumbs-up could mean the world to them and encourage them to keep doing quality work.
Happy holidaze, ya’ll.
BEST STORIES OF 2019:
Alyssa Bereznak “Memes Are the New Pop Stars: How TikTok Became the Future of the Music Industry” (The Ringer, June 27, 2019) Entertainment apps aren’t the new record labels per se- as Bereznak notes, they’re the new A&R department that develops acts. Plus, you might say that they’re the new indie labels- a place to launch an artist into recognition before one of the few remaining label majors swoop in to cash in. TikTok is the latest in a series of social media platforms alongside YouTube and Soundcloud to serve as a launchpad and as such, its stars are creating music memes of 15 seconds or less, making even Whack World seem epic and lengthy. Luckily, some bands are ready for the challenge.
VIDEO: T-Bone Burnett talks SXSW keynote speech on the PBS News Hour
T-Bone Burnett “Keynote Speech” (SXSW, March 13, 2019) A 4700-word fire n’ brimstone screed that includes Marshall McLuhan, MLK, Polish poets, Nazi’s use of propaganda, French philosophers and more wisdom from the noted producer about the evils of Facebook and Google that would make John Barlow Perry proud. “I am here today to strongly encourage all of you artists to not give in to the extreme intimidation of a sad group of very rich, emotionally and intellectually stunted people who threaten to destroy centuries of human experience and hard won knowledge, who threaten to destroy our race- the only race we have, the human race- but instead to stand up for yourselves, to stand up for humanity.”
Katie Cameron “Reckoning With The Ethics of The Ever-Unfurling Prince Vault” (Paste, October 23, 2019) Sure, we love that we have more access than ever to the Purple One, who was as notoriously stingy with his out-takes as Dylan, but is it the best way to honor him without him having a say anymore? And are the ‘new’ releases any match for much of what he decided to release himself? (I’d say no) In a better world, his non-existent last will and testament could have given some clue about what to do with all his fabled vault material, even if the answer might have been ‘burn it all.’
Brent Michael Davids “Cultural Appropriation in Classical Music?” (NewMusicBox, November 21, 2019) No, it’s not just Jimmy Page ripping off blues musicians- uncredited ‘appropriation’ happens in all styles of music, even the most highbrow one around. As a Native American, Davids schools us not just on his own cultural and how diverse it is and how much their own country has tried to stamp our their culture and population but also how ‘pow wow’ rituals compare to orchestral recitals, with the former being crowd-inclusive and the later sure as hell not. He also wonders aloud about when a piece of music appropriately appropriates its sources from another culture- in his case, some stellar collaborations with Kronos Quartet and others. But he does leave us with some questions that he asks us to answer: “What lives beyond the Western musical hegemony? Can we jettison the impossible acultural neutrality narrative in Western classical music to discover a mutually enriching exchange of culture?”
Andrea Domanick “Playboy’s 20Q: Maren Morris” (Playboy, June 18, 2019) “Q: Are you concerned about how people might react to your being in this magazine? A: I’m speaking such a loud, noisy concept of what it means to be a woman in the music industry right now. This feels like I’m amplifying a message I’ve been passionate about since the beginning that has intensified in the past year. I feel I’ve already challenged a lot of sexual norms.”
Geoff Edgers “Six songs tell you as much about Aretha Franklin as any memoir could” (Washington Post, June 19, 2019) Questlove, Paul Simon, Oprah Winfrey, Carole King tell their tales of Aretha and how she was the ultimate diva in a great way (that voice) and not-so-great way (that ‘tude). But she was queen above all else, from gospel to opera to pop to R&B. Who else can claim that? Bey’s on the cusp but there will always be one Re.
VIDEO: Jimi Hendrix – Band Of Gypsys: Music That Changed Lives
Nelson George “Jimi Hendrix – Band Of Gypsys: Music That Changed Lives” (YouTube, December 4, 2019) Experienced and Ladylandare seen as the ‘classics’ but for a kid from the projects who was mildly curious about a wild man ‘from another planet’ who opened a world for him and many others and who weren’t part of the hippie crowd, Gypsies’ mix of rock, soul and funk was a gateway to another planet for them. Soon, it would also be a gateway for Miles, P-Funk and Prince among many others.
Rob Harvilla “The Art of the Pan: What’s the Point of a Bad Review in 2019?” (The Ringer, January 10, 2019) It’s not just the Pitchfork take-down of Greta Van Fleet or the Washington Post taked-own of Post Malone (and no, neither of the writers are contrite after the fact), the art of the pan happens in any art medium, as we hear about TV and film critics who do the same and no, they’re not sorry either but they do admit they do get a rush and feeling of power out of it. Not to mention some recognition for themselves, even if we writers don’t wanna admit it.
Tim Ingram “English-Speaking Artists are Losing Their Global Pop Dominance – and YouTube’s Leading the Charge” (Rolling Stone, February 1, 2019) Just to make you feel insecure about the Queen’s tongue and how it’s not exactly lingua franca anymore, we can thank the Internets for making music and language more global and less Yankee-dominated. Latin music is making bigger and bigger dents in the US market, plus hip hop is finding its way into native tongues around the world but there’s one locale that looks to reap the most benefits. “A good bet would be India.” Break out the Bollywood, baby.
Kyle Kerchaert, Irene Kim and Grant Tyler “Everything you missed in Taylor Swift’s ‘You Need To Calm Down’ music video” (Business Insider, June 19, 2019) Even if you’re not a Swifty, you have to be impressed with all the cameos, references and Easter Eggs that she manages to cram into her video, here dissected skillfully in 12-minutes. She’s into gay pride, feminism, numbers and media-created ‘feuds’ she has with other divas, which she turns around by making her peace with an old rival and becomes a Katy-Cat. Makes you wonder what Tay could unleash in a full-length film, even if people much cooler than me have no love for this video.
Thomas Lake “Fifteen Questions Surrounding James Brown’s Death” (CNN, February 2019) What seems like a list-icle is actually a two year,hree part report that spans thousands of words and dozens of interviews about the fate of the Godfather. Like they said of the Kennedy assassination, it’s a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma, featuring lawyers, managers, wives, lovers, bodyguards, other mysterious deaths, withheld information, cryptic text messages, accusations, denials, a circus singer, a black duffel bag, narcotics, prescription drugs, faulty memories and a mysterious figure named ‘Ghost.’ Even if you want to think that maybe a small fraction of what comes up here is true, you have to be impressed with all the foot-work involved and the issues that are still up in the air, including why there was no autopsy and, maybe most disturbing of all, where the hell is James Brown’s body right now?
Maureen Mahon “How Bessie Smith Influenced A Century Of Popular Music” (NPR, August 5, 2019) You might think that hooking a blues goddess’ work to Beyonce and other modern day divas is an attempt to make Smith sound relevant today but Mahon proves that there’s no real effort needed because the connection actually is there if we keep our ears open. Re Salt-N-Pepa and TLC tunes, “the forthright approach of these songs and their direct address to women were in the mode of Smith’s songs about the pursuit of sexual pleasure.”
r meehan “The Song I Hate: Battery Park NYC, July 4th 2008, or Occupy the Sprawl. Extend the Technique . . .” (Aquarium Drunkard, July 24, 2019) In what seems like a lifetime ago, at the end of the Ought’s, we wonder what happened to indie rock and why did all of the ideas/spirit that Sonic Youth generated dissipate. There was the NYC gentrification project + the shitty economy + the loss of SY itself + the emergence of streaming culture. Still, there’s some idealism that meehan ponders about and what we’re still missing and lacking nowadays. And if you listen to the show in question, it still sounds fierce, raw, vital. Maybe even more so now, even (or especially) for those of us lucky enough to have see it with our own eyes and ears.
Kelly McCartney “Mind Matters: Musicians on How Meditation Keeps Them Focused and Free” (No Depression, October 7, 2019) Since it’s No Depression, you can assume we’re talking about alt-country musicians in particular, including Angaleena Presley, Gretchen Peters. Beyond the artists sharing their experiences about how mediation has helped them personally and creatively, we get to hear their specific routines (breathing, guided meditation, self-awareness) and some recommended sources they use. It makes it tempting enough that you might want to try it yourself. Which you should.
Anne Midgette “Our classical music critic was on hold with the IRS for an hour. She didn’t hate the music.” (Washington Post, January 3, 2019) More than the funny headline, Midgette does an important public service by diving into the world of telephone hold music to tell us about how it’s scientifically picked and also how little the composers of the music make for it- for $50, a company like Getty can buy a piece of music that it uses millions of time a year. And you thought it was just majors and Spotify that were ripping off artists?
Benjamin Morgan “It’s wrong to cut and paste Global North policies onto Africa’s music industries” (The Conversation, September 26, 2019) A compelling argument that instead of wiping out the underground market for music, the music biz should employ them to usher in a legit, authorized market, as they successfully did with Nollywood. And the argument that Western models don’t necessarily work exactly in other locales kind of applies for politics too, right?
Mark Naison “Why Hip Hop Began in The Bronx” (Welcome2TheBronx, October 28, 2019) The story of how Kool Herc birthed a worldwide phenomenon at his house parties is an oft-told legend by now, but here, we get much more cultural/social detail than usual. Did you know that the police actually aided in hip-hop’s birth? (oh, the irony) And then there’s the culture melting pot that was the Bronx in the mid/late 20th century and how we’ve soon forgotten that rap is only one slice of hip hop, leaving the long-forgotten components of graffiti and break dancing sadly long forgotten. Time for a revival for sure.
Noname “white feminism said fuck Beyonce and Rihanna lol” (Twitter, November 25, 2019) Where the Chi-town rapper then lists the ‘woman of the year’ winners for Billboard this past decade and guess which race they are? A whole lotta shade here? Sure. Deserved? Sure. Just to parse this a little, blame here should go to Billboard per se. But that doesn’t let others off the hook per se either. If you wanna say this sets up a divide in feminism, Noname’s not the one doing it- she’s just pointing it out.
Nola Ojomu “Taylor Swift Has A Long History of Omitting Facts to Fit Her Narrative” (Complex, July 2, 2019) Not to hate on Swift or the Swifties but by now, even Bob Lefsetz (who’s had his own battles with the star) figured out that she should have made a bid for her catalog. For pop culture though, the most important part of the story of her losing her catalog rights was the feud she had with the new owner, Scooter Braun, and head-scratching over who’s right in the fight and who’s backing which side. Overlooked in this dust up is that fact that TS has been known the stretch the truth in past fights and maybe she’s doing the same thing again. No, that doesn’t make Braun ‘right’ per se or any kind of hero (especially after the AMA spat) but that doesn’t make Taylor right or heroic either necessarily. Still skeptical? See what Ojomu notes about Justin Bieber, Joe Jonas, Calvin Harris and yes, even Kanye West.
Oskar “State of Sampling” (Tracklib, February 7, 2019) A fascinating study that shows how much of the charts now include samples, what the most popular sources are, which years/decades are most popular to sample and why (hint: it has to do with the producer’s childhoods). Plus, Sting getting into a rap beef and a sample chain that goes from Wu-Tang to Barbara Streisand.
Ann Powers “Before and After” (NPR, May 11, 2019) “I have to ask you to stay with me in an uncomfortable place” says the great feminist writer who grapples with her love of Michael Jackson’s music in the wake of the Leaving Neverlanddocumentary and wonders how to reconcile its #MeToo accusations. “This essay gets it wrong, I’m sure. But maybe it’s a start,” she admits. Trying to reason if MJ should be a part of cancel-culture, she immerses herself in his solo catalog as it bring up memories, vivid details in the music, thoughts about his genre-crossing and influence but also a creepy shiver over the love songs and especially the ballads. Her conclusion is that he was a horrible, maybe even evil, person but his music can’t be denied. Like Pete Rose, he goes in the history books but with an asterisk.
Jody Rosen “The Day The Music Burned” (New York Times, June 11, 2019) A musical horror story. In 2008, a fire at Universal’s backlot took out 118,230 ‘assets’ valued at $150 million but the historic, cultural damage is devastating- masters gone forever from Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Buddy Holly, Elton John, R.E.M., Janet Jackson, Eric B. and Rakim, Nine Inch Nails, Sonic Youth, Captain Beefheart, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Tupac, Merle Haggard, Al Green and many others. Quality reissues, archive material, any masters with premium quality are all things of the past with all of these classic albums. UMG kept the story mostly under wraps for over a decade too. Even UMG can’t give a good guess of all of the material that might or might not have been lost thanks to haphazard cataloging processes on their part. And it’s not like the remaining archives out there are safe. If that wasn’t bad enough, Rosen adds that “the Library of Congress, estimated in 2013 that less than 18 percent of commercial music archives had been transferred and made available through streaming and download services.” Our music heritage is ready to disappear and will we do anything about it? Also see Rosen’s follow-up story about even more cultural treasures that are now lost forever from the fire.
Chris Richards “I gave R. Kelly rave reviews. How much damage did they do?” (Washington Post, January 7, 2019) John Cleese once said that the hardest thing for a Brit is to admit that they’re wrong and the same goes for music journalists. Cheers to Richards for coming clean and implicating himself in the Kelly cult of praise, even when the pedophile allegations were first starting to be known. Also see Monica Hesse ace analysis of how Kelly & Kevin Spacey & Louis CK made a living off their bad boy personas in a pre-#MeToo era. And see Richards’ piece on Michael Jackson on the aftermath of the Leaving Neverland doc where the author again wonders how he’ll reconcile his love of an artist’s music with the artist’s disgusting behavior (see Powers’ entry here too).
Shawn Setaro ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ Executive Producer on Investigating R. Kelly’s Dark World” (Complex, January 2, 2019) Exec producer dream hampton explains the harrowing and necessary process of making this documentary series, and its many sickening revelations, come to life. Her message: “believe black women… Just listen to black women.” Also see Setaro’s great analysis of how streaming data affects singles, touring & soon the music itself- “How Data Is Making Hits and Changing the Music Industry” (Complex, September 5, 2019).
Gary Suarez “We Are Not Friends: On the Relationship Between (Hip-Hop) Artists and Critics” (DJ Booth, May 3, 2019) Should artists be overly sensitive about critics? Should critics be best buds with artists? Should writers accept junkets and write puff pieces? Should we expect decent music journalism from these writers then? A; No, no, no and no. Madonna and Lana Del Rey take note.
Yanan Sun, Xuejing Lu, Mark Williams and William Forde Thompson “Implicit violent imagery processing among fans and non-fans of music with violent themes” (Royal Society Open Science, March 13, 2019) A long-time-in-the-making retort to the PMRC and metal haters. “The results of the binocular rivalry task suggest that long-term exposure to music with aggressive themes does not lead to a general desensitization to violence as depicted in images. Fans of violent music, just like non-fans, showed a robust bias to process violent imagery.” Contacted by the BBC, Bloodbath singer Nick Holmes said, “We don’t have any issue with [our music being used in the experiment]. The lyrics are harmless fun, as the study proved.”
Jonathan Valania “People Laughed When This Philly Lawyer Sued Led Zeppelin. Nobody’s Laughing Now.” (Philadelphia, February 11, 2019) The wild story of a scruffy barrister from the City of Brotherly Love who counts Zep as his fave band yet vows to get comeuppance from a band who’s paid the piper for ripping off many a bluesman and may finally have to fork over over the mythic stoner classic “Stairway to Heaven.” As a nice burn, the legal eagle calls Zep “the greatest cover band in all of history.” He may yet prove that to be true, yet again.
Jennifer Wortman “Theories of the Point-of-View Shift in AC/DC’s ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’” (Electric Literature, March 18, 2019) Remember when the Beatles were supposed to have used an ‘aeolian cadence‘ in one of their early tunes and everyone laughed? You might have the same reaction where an AC/DC classic gets broken down into narrative perspective but Wortman makes a compelling case that we should listen and think again about the drooling, head-banging song, maybe even more than Angus would ever care to, adding in her own bits of interpretative fiction to go along with each verse. She imagines the singer as fearful, desperate and curious, beating back an inferiority complex and trying to not just make it with those American thighs but also with the Divine One (religiously speaking, not Bette Midler) and become one with himself in a spiritual and non-spiritual vibe. I’d like to suggest “Paranoid” as a follow-up.
Bill Wyman “How Did The Media Get The R. Kelly Story So Wrong? The New York Times Led The Way.” (Buzzfeed, January 17, 2019) ..And so did Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and other mainstream media places, all in the service of the story line that despite allegations and lawsuits, the “brave” Mr. Kelly persevered, or so they said. Plus, we learn how boosting his image fed into the whole popist/rockist crock from certain scribes that made excuses for other pop stars.
Emily Yahr “Why Kacey Musgraves, who keeps winning awards, still can’t get a country radio hit” (Washington Post, June 6, 2019) Yes, of course a lot it is because she’s a woman but it’s also because the radio programmers seem to be needy for love from their stars. To bolster the story, there’s also a study done six months later shows that it’s getting even worse, not to mention Jada E. Watson’s excellent number crunching that showed the same sexism happening concurrently. And as Yahr points out, it isn’t any better for women on festival rosters or label rosters. Does it even matter if they make epic albums? You can ask Beyoncé, who got denied Grammy love for Lemonade.
VIDEO: Kacey Musgraves and Lana Del Rey perform “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” on The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show