In The Music Industry, Female "Geniuses" Are Hard To Find

Illustration for article titled In The Music Industry, Female Geniuses Are Hard To Find

Jane Czyzselska thinks that women in music are rarely referred to as geniuses. The Times of London writer claims that Rufus Wainwright gets plied with the "genius" accolade frequently, while similarly blessed female musicians like Kate Bush, Bjork and Goldfrapp are not given the genius label. Um, Jane? Goldfrapp? You're really arguing that Goldfrapp is a "genius?" Maybe the term genius is being tossed around entirely too frequently, regardless of gender. That made me doubt Czyzselska's original thesis, so I decided to google Jezebel fave "Liz Phair" and "genius" and found this incredible review of Phair's third album whitechocolatespaceegg by Laura Sinagra. I checked out the Billboard Hot 100, and as five of the top ten albums are by women, maybe we need to lament the lack of "genius" females in music writing, not music making.

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Though the New York Times pop music section is edited by the incomparable Sia Michel, almost all of the writers are dudes. The editorial staff — particularly on the higher rungs — of Rolling Stone is mostly male. Of the twelve editorial staffers listed on Pitchfork's website, there are 2 women. Of course, the paucity of females writing about music in the most influential publications bespeaks a larger sexism in the music business. Yes, 50% of the top selling artists this week are female, but they're all, to a woman (Rihanna, Natasha Beddingfield, the abhorrent Katy Perry, etc.) beautiful, under 25, and singing pop. Several of them do not write their own songs, and their popularity is largely driven by their packaging, not their music.

In her review of whitechocolatespaceegg, Laura Sinagra writes, "Phair's genius has always been for fantasies sprung from the precise pen of the passive observer. Her first songs weren't about thinking on your feet, or slinging zingers at the straw-man rockboy she called Johnny Sunshine; they were about crafting retorts later in your bedroom and living off their power." Perhaps the future female music critics, as well as the future music makers, should use Phair's specific genius as guide.

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Why Can't Women Be Geniuses Too? [Times of London]

What Makes You Happy [City Pages]

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DISCUSSION

stoprobbers
stoprobbers

@Cam/ron: Several steps to my response to your well thought out comment:

1. Mozart has missteps? No way. The rest of 'em sure, but that guy got it right every single time. I went on a very stoned soliloquy last night about how sometimes I think Mozart is perhaps proof of "God" (or some higher, guiding power), which is probably not appropriate to rehash here.

2. Yes, yes, yes to: "genius" is flung around WAY too much. It's come to replace "brilliant" which, while seemingly a synonym, is able to focus on a single song, or a single album to highlight its exceptional quality in contrast to its peers in that moment. To me, to label something or someone "genius" has a lot more weight to it, and is often used when it is unearned.

3. Yes, yes, YES to: more women music writers =/= more women in music covered.

I must admit, I am not particularly fond of the music in the rock/indie/alternative category that is made by women. I know this is an unpopular opinion here, but I am really not a fan of Liz Phair. I cannot stand her. And I would never label her or her music genius.

Which is maybe why I feel it's so overused. Music that is labeled "genius" should be genius no matter whether you like it or not. I know a lot of people who aren't particularly fond of Radiohead, but who admit, when asked, that "OK Computer" and "Kid A" (especially) completely changed the face of music in their genre, and therefore could justifiably carry the "genius" tag.

Someone like Carole King, who was responsible for writing songs that shaped the entire genre of rock n roll (when she worked in the Brill Building) deserves a "genius" tag. Joni Mitchell, who changed the American approach to folk, deserves a "genius" tag. Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James.. they deserve "genius" tags.

And I like to think they are generally recognized as such.