She's With The Band
Please talk about your initial interest in music and what led you to venture into music criticism.
I didn’t really feel obsessed with music until a friend gave me a mixtape of a bunch of postpunk and punk bands when I was in 9th grade. I mean, I love Top 40 and had tapes and listened to the radio, watched MTV like any kid did in 1990. But being introduced to Babes in Toyland was the real lightning bolt/moment of clarity for me. And they also served as my gateway to music writing, indirectly. I wanted to write about them in the local music papers because I thought they were being treated derisively. As their number one fan I took offense. I offered to write a corrective in the local music paper in Minneapolis, and when they turned me down I decided to just make a little Xerox magazine of my own. And so it began there. Simply taking it into my own hands and being concerned that my perspective as a young female fan of music was not being adequately represented.
With the fragmented state of music (and attention spans) what do you think of the current state of music criticism? Are there any critics whose work you admire?
I think we are in a bit of a golden age—I could list dozens—but I feel particularly excited about the ecumenical nature of current cultural criticism. The way that young writers can go seamlessly between genres, frameworks, mediums, and media with ideas spanning TV, film, music, technology. That fragmentation has certainly lent itself to dissection. I love the writers that write for The Pitch and many of the young writers I worked with at Rookie, everyone who contributes to The Pitchfork Review—especially young talents, like Hazel Cills, Meaghan Garvey, Kayleigh Hughes, Dorren St. Felix. The list is pretty long these days.
Is there a moment in music that you consider to be a particularly important era? Do you think that people expect less from music now?
Music occupies a different space in society, in culture, in the scope of our consumption. In some ways it’s much easier to have a deeper and broader relationship with music because of the portability of the music we like now. It’s hard to pinpoint a particular time and say it was more crucial; every decade has brought us new technology, new ideas, emboldened the scope of how personal a song or expression can be, what an artist and a song can “mean.”
Why do you think there have been so few women in music criticism?
That’s the myth of it—there have always been women in criticism. Their work is generally just accorded less prestige. They do not have books in many cases, their work is seen as more marginal. But you know, some of them—many of them—get forced at points. They get tired of the battle for a right to exist and have an opinion and be considered authentic. You see a lot of 50, 60, even 70 year-old rock critics at papers—still all men. But plenty of women have participated and even driven and innovated music writing. But somehow very few of them have been recorded as canonical.
Name five female singers you think women of every age should listen to.
Etta James, Nina Simone, Neneh Cherry, Chaka Khan, and Frida Hyvonen.
Jessica Hopper is also a Senior Editor at Pitchfork Media. Her latest book, The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, was released in May 2015.