Odd Future fans, much like Lady Gaga fans, are angrily dismissive of any attempts to suggest that their favorite artists were elevated to their respective echelons in the music industry for any reason other than their supposedly singular talents.
Both fandoms also like telling people who don’t adopt the party line to “shut up”. Of course, shutting up is something we can promise we will never do—either with our serious culture crit or our casual opinionating.
(P.S. It’s cool if you like Frank Ocean; we feel that his songwriting is just kinda weakly cornball and not our thing, but we trust that our readers will make up their own minds. Important thing to remember is that there’s a whole bunch of awesome black R&B artists who’ve been out for a long time if you’ve been paying attention. The biggest bummer about the way FO has been covered has been the erasure of that piece of black musical history and present reality.)
I was gonna let this slide because it’s like 2 weeks old, but that last bit really pissed me off. Because it is so fucking disingenuous. You got called out for outright getting facts wrong so you could put forth a narrative you invented in your head. Unable to accept that you got called out, you dismissed the criticism as the whining of OF stans. How you gonna run a call out blog and not know how to handle being called out, especially when the people taking your ass to task were black queer people? You can have your opinion, but a lot of your opinion was dumb and it got noted as such.
But the worst bit for me was the bit about “awesome black R&B artists who’ve been out for a long time”. So the reason you, as a tumblr that supposedly stands in solidarity against racial injustice were trying to undercut an important moment for queer black people is because you felt amazing black R&B artists were being ignored? But you didn’t mention even a single part of that in your original post.
Don’t try to run and pretend that you were really just worried for all the unappreciated and unknown out R&B artists before him not getting any attention, because they were not even a factor in that first post and you failed to actually give them any name recognition or shine in this one too. Probably because you don’t know any and couldn’t be bothered with a Google search. Stop pretending you care about black queer people. We aren’t pawns for bolstering your credibility.
And I reiterate, pointing out that artists backed by major labels will get a bigger push than people on labels with less money like this info is scandalous or unknown? You must be brand new.
Yeah. The amount of smugness on display among certain segments of (usually white) queer-dom in their need to make it clear that they’re superior to mainstream (usually gay male) culture is often incredibly obnoxious, but the degree to which it can be grounded more in a desire to feel superior than an actually well thought through critique is revealed most often when they totally drop the ball on intersectionality. (And like, I have probably been guilty of this at times, but nonetheless, it’s a really gross impulse that isn’t quite about one’s own marginalization and isn’t really about solidarity, and this is what it looks like.)
Other hints: The co-signing of the whole weird “MCA: the one decent feminist man in all of hip hop!” thing, the approving quoting of - of all people - Rufus Wainwright, who bravely speaks out against Lady Gaga’s cooption of queerness and substanceless pop music or whatever, the most extensive coverage of queer hip hop (besides posting that awesome video Dream Hampton directed) is a link to that queer swag Pitchfork article, the continued focus on ‘authenticity’ as a measure of music worth listening to/supporting, plus what I assume is the standard white people on the Internet reaction to anything Chris Brown related re: the Grammys (I mean, it’s a throw-away comment but given the fairly shallow and/or dismissive treatment of R&B and hip hop and the weird ‘authenticity’ stuff that usually gets deployed against R&B more often than not, it seems doubtful that a real understanding of the racial dynamics of the CHRIS BROWN IS THE WORST HUMAN EVER party line is present.)
Oh! and the time they quote a totally on point Greg Tate critique of the racial dynamics of critical approaches to Gaga and Beyoncé only to bludgeon their critical target of choice, and then ignore any discussion of the relationship between Beyoncé’s music/videos/dance and queerness (especially queer people of colour) or the actual content of Tate’s quote so they can post a blithely dismissive comment about Beyoncé and Target and how this means we don’t like here either.
I mean, critical discourse about pop music and pop culture is important, and there’s plenty of problematic stuff about Lady Gaga, but the flip derisiveness that comes through in how they write about her is the same way that a lot of this other stuff has been spoken about (esp. the Chris Brown and Beyonce and MCA posts) and I think generally, as a white person who loves R&B and hip hop, I’m loathe to write anything too hastily about this music, which I love, without really thinking it through, because there is a landmine of bad racist assumptions and potential ways to get it totally wrong. If you’re going to write queer critiques of this stuff, you owe it to yourself and your audience and most especially to the people of colour and queer people of colour you are writing about to think, and think about nuance, and make sure that you’re not reinforcing really messed up ideas (even unintentionally) while trying to advance a radical (presumably white) queer agenda.
ETA: I’m not denying that people can do both serious culture critique AND casual opinionating, but that certain types of topics should not be left solely in the realm of casual opinionating because for many many people the related intersecting issues are not things that can merely be casual opinions but have really tangible impacts on their lives. And that if you can write an in-depth critique of Gaga’s tactical essentialism or transphobia or capitalist whatever, you can certainly take the time to check yourself when writing about race.
AUGUST PLACEHOLDER. SOMETHING INSIGHTFUL. K$! Gaga! Marianas Trench!
June was apparently the month where despite only being active for two weeks, TSJ managed to cover pretty much nothing except for songs that I adore, prompting me to write a lot of blurbs that I didn’t hate (specifically, Patrick Wolf).
So I’m in the middle of a Facebook debate with a friend of mine about Beyoncé that was basically provoked by this article, which he agrees with and has led him to broadly assert that Beyoncé “affirms heteronormative heterosexuality as the sole way for girls to assert their sexuality.” That seemed overly reductive to me, and we’ve been bantering back and forth about it. Figured I’d rather compile what I wrote somewhere easier for me to locate than someone else’s Facebook wall. However, I’d be interested in hearing the rest of y’all weigh in on this. Is B thoroughly tied into heteronormativity? Moreso than your average pop or R&B star? Less so? Should she really be, as the article suggests, embracing Gaga-esque positions in her music?
None of what I say below should suggest that I think anyone should be immune from cultural critique about racism/sexism/heterosexism/mysogyny/ablism/etc. in their art. I’m just trying to think through some ideas out loud. Any critiques are welcome and appreciated.
"I think it’s really easy and really reductive to cherry-pick a couple of songs from an artist’s discography and use it to brand them problematic from a feminist perspective without engaging thoroughly with what they’re doing. Notably, I only see this happen with female musicians (see, also: Taylor Swift). I rarely see trendpieces wringing their hands about whether male performers are problematic unless they’re as blatantly misogynist as Odd Future etc. (and i would argue there are additional reasons why OF get [rightly] called out where some other artists don’t). Anyway, I think most female pop singers - are going to be (to some extent) affirming heterosexuality, if only because a lot of them are going to be straight. Even Gaga, who gets held up as the wonderful queer saviour wrote ‘You and I’ which is a big hetero country love ballad about her love for her ex-boyfriend, her dad and Jesus.
I’d rather talk about how Beyonce has/can/does, on occasion, subverted gender norms and standard pop treatment of gender. In the video for ‘Upgrade U’ she performs Jay-Z’s entire verse herself in male drag. ‘Ego’ is a song that is - literally, textually - about how her boyfriend has a big “ego” but how she has a bigger one. It’s a song about how SHE HAS A BIGGER DICK THAN JAY-Z. ‘Suga Mama’ is about her buying her (essentially) kept man clothes/watches/etc. in exchange for sex.
The album ‘4’ is admittedly a little more normative than some other stuff she’s done in the past, but ‘Countdown’ is specifically about a *specific* relationship with a *specific* person, and in the midst of her raving about how awesome she thinks Jay-Z is, she still manages to throw in “Yup, I buy my own - if he deserve it, buy his shit too.”
With the exception of a couple of songs that are really iffy c. Destiny’s Child (Cater 2 U), her whole approach to relationships in song seem to be very focus on two financially and otherwise independent people who are just really gone for each other. Which I suppose works when you’re both multi-millionaire pop stars, but not so much for everyone else. Ok. This is way too much writing about Beyonce for one day.”
And then, in response to the point that in the video for ‘You and I’, Gaga does male drag and makes out with herself, etc.:
"I know! But the song itself still codes very…I dunno. I’ll try to put my finger on what it is about it. Maybe the sonics? The general sound of the album to me is Springsteen and Def Leppard + beats - I guess her re-appropriating sounds that normally code so straight-American-heartland is subversive in and of itself.
Still, not much of what Gaga does on Born This Way codes super-queer to me. Fame Monster did some really wonderful stuff with the idea of sex/bodies/voices, sex-as-death/horror film/etc. Born This Way’s seems to be a much more personal album - the politics are more feminism (Scheisse is totally wonderful for this) and Catholic baggage, etc. Queerness pops up as tactical essentialism on the title track and vaguely in Americano. [And I like her, I just think that if we’re objecting to female artists writing songs about loving dudes a whole lot, then Gaga’s whole first album is BoysBoysBoys and 9 times out of 10, her lyrical affections are still directed at men.]”
The point was also made that in all the attempts I made to point out subversion, B is still reinforcing the supremacy of the phallus, etc. etc. etc.
Anyhow, any thoughts people have on the following would be appreciated/interesting to me:
(a) Beyoncé, feminism, gender roles, normativity, etc. would be intriguing. (I’ve read that piece on B’Day from Da Capo Best Music Writing ~ 2007 or so, but still. This is meaty.)
(b) Gaga - substantially queering pop music, or just queer window dressing on top of an otherwise provocative and interesting approach to feminism, sex, religion and pop music?
(c) The racial dynamics that I suspect are at play when talking about Beyoncé vs. Gaga as potentially transgressive pop stars.
N.B.: I’m not saying that there is a racial element to comparing them or that those who like one over the other are doing so because of race. I guess what I’m trying to say is that part of me suspects that B and Gaga are pushing against different boxes that pop music/society would place them in, and that Gaga can do/perform/whatever certain things by virtue of her whiteness and also is probably more interested as a project in combatting/transgressing certain things as a result of where she’s situated, while Beyoncé is probably facing a different set of expectations/constraints/etc. culturally that she’s pushing back against through her music, but I haven’t read/written/thought enough about this stuff to think of how it would play out. Kind of along the lines of Isabel’s comment over at Jukebox about Nicki and ‘Super Bass’ and how ‘conventional femininity’ is racially coded and how that interacts with the imagery and presentation of black women in the music industry. (Similar thing alluded to in the side note about OF - Are those expected to not promote problematic gender relations in pop music and those chastised for doing so mostly women themselves and racialized men?)
Part of me feels like white dudes in pop/rock music get a misogyny pass more often from the broader culture, and that women (of all races, but especially women of colour) working in the industry are subjected to more pressure to totally subvert the system while simultaneously being successful or risk being labelled coopted/anti-feminist/etc., and men of colour in music get more quickly called out on problematic gender issues than anyone else. Is this wrong? Am I crazy?