Lorde “Green Light” music video

A fair share of Antonoff’s productions are great. Taylor Swift’s “I Wish You Would” is supremely underrated, Fifth Harmony’s “Dope” should have been on the album rather than a B-side, and I still get excited when I hear “Green Light” out in public. But I’d argue that the unchanged nature of his production style leaves a lot of his music stuck, dated, in the glittering ’80s nostalgia-wave of pop music several years ago. He tends, as well, to have a squeaky clean, piano-ballad approach, like he’s willingly applying motion-smoothing technology to artists who might not need it. When Melodrama was set to come out, I steeled myself for a record built in the shadow of 1989, an erasure of Lorde, and was pleasantly surprised to find I could still hear her.

I steeled myself for Lorde’s erasure not because I thought she could easily disappear, but because it’s happened so many times before with women artists. Antonoff has largely been pitched to the masses as a producer who cuts through that stereotype. He’s a pop music “Nice Guy” (someone your mother would love, New York Magazine once pointed out) in an industry just barely beginning to reckon publicly with how much misogyny is embedded into pop music-making. It’s hard not to connect the recent infatuation with Antonoff’s celebrity with Dr. Luke’s fall and see him as a shred of male decency in a dark industry. More than being a nice guy, he’s made it clear that he cares about women’s artistry. “I always want to hear women sing my songs. I just want to be around women,” Antonoff told Pitchfork. “It’s not a sex thing—I’m heterosexual, but it’s not coming from any place like that. It’s just a comfort thing.”

Last year, he told The Guardian, “In no way do I feel like a woman. I feel very male. But when I’m writing I don’t think about Lou Reed or Bowie. I think about Kate Bush, Björk, Fiona Apple. I’ve always been extremely drawn to female artists who are being brutally honest. That is so much more attractive to me than a lot of the weird paths certain male songwriters lead you down, that hide and mask emotions.”

In an interview with the New York Times promoting Melodrama, Lorde told the reporter that when she played “Green Light” to producer Max Martin, who has an almost Renaissance-flare for technical perfection, Martin told her it was “incorrect songwriting.” Not an insult exactly for Lorde, but one that only underscored how much she perceived Antonoff as a looser musical partner who wasn’t like the other guys.

Or is he really not like the others? As much as I feel constantly pitched on the idea that Antonoff isn’t a typical pop producer, the way music media treats him feels like just another fetishization of the old-school producer dynamic. You couldn’t confidently write off Melodrama as a collection of Antonoff songs, just as you can’t write off his collaborations with Lana Del Rey, St. Vincent, or other artists as women simply singing “his songs”—but it’s these kinds of assumptions that happen when a male producer chooses to be a celebrity. And when you consider the fact that successful women in this industry still struggle to establish their genius in the same ways men do (because, frankly, they’re quickly rewarded the distinction in spades), you wonder if Antonoff’s collaborators would benefit from him taking a bigger, less vocal step back.

No matter how nice he is, or respectful, or a good #ally—and as much as he may be unaware—Antonoff is assuming a historically authoritative position in pop music. Even if Antonoff is an unwitting participant, he exists in a system that will always inherently award him the position of being a pop mastermind when it comes to the collaborations he creates with women, who are ultimately the authors of their work but often treated as subjects. And the giddiness with which Antonoff speaks of his collaborations with Taylor Swift or Lorde or St. Vincent to a fawning press might come with the best of intentions, but his female collaborators ultimately have to work overtime to claim authorship.