Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The most depressing list in the world

Okay, maybe not the most depressing one, but still… Stereogum has printed a clean, reader-friendlier version of Hype Machine's "blogger-sanctioned meta-list beast," which is as good an indicator as any of what indie kids listened to in 2008.

And what a sad, sad sight it is.

The top five albums are by Fleet Foxes, TV on the Radio, Vampire Weekend, Bon Iver and MGMT, in descending order. Just looking at these names makes me want to poke a stick in my eyes. And one in my ears too, for good measure.

There's plenty to say about the list, but I'll focus on one aspect of it: Where are the women? Out of 50 entries, seven bands (Portishead, She & Him, Crystal Castles, Beach House, Ra Ra Riot, Mates of States, the Kills) include women in prominent roles, and then there's a grand total of three female solo artists (Santogold, Lykke Li, Jenny Lewis). Just pathetic.

Seriously, what is wrong with hipsters that they can't relate to women making music? Nowadays, the indie charts are dominated by dudes with beards, whereas the Billboard Hot 100 is a lot more hospitable to women making smart, chart-friendly pop music. I guess that's okay in a way: Taylor Swift, Lady GaGa, Miley Cyrus and Rihanna are the ones laughing all the way to the bank. Still, it'd be nice if they could get the critical respect they deserve, too.


Drew said...

You make a good point. There should be more popular women-inclusive or women-led indie rock acts. However, I'm not sure it's fair to say hipsters won't listen to women. They would and, in fact, do when there's quality acts like the ones you mentioned above available to them. It's the genre itself that excludes women, likely because rock in general has for a long time. Look at the careers of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan versus who was doing what first. Pop, on the other hand --- especially the poppiest of pop --- has always been more hospitable to women.

I know it sucks to see this lists and their lack of women on them, but when you compare the number of prominent women now in indie rock against how many were active in a not-so-long-ago trend of the moment --- say, grunge, for example --- then it seems like American music culture has actually made a little bit of progress.

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

Actually I don't think we've made that much progress. We haven't regressed, but we haven't progressed either since the days of grunge (to use a milestone you mentioned). I actually wonder if there weren't more hard-hitting girl bands then, actually. (This actually came up when I interview Cristina Martinez from Boss Hog a few weeks ago.)

You are absolutely right, however, in that the right question isn't why hipsters don't like listening to women, but why women don't make the kind of music hipsters like to listen to. I'm not sure I would call that "quality acts" though!

(In terms of 60s icons I would take Carole King over Bob Dylan any day, but that's just me.)

Drew said...

A quick follow-up: Why the bias against women would persist in indie rock and not country music is baffling to me. The genres share a common ancestry, but indie --- generally beloved by stereotypically progressive urban kids --- has fewer big-name female singers than does country --- generally beloved by stereotypically conservative urban people. I don't even listen to country, but I can name off a quite a few notable women from the last ten years in no time flat. Funny how that works.

Mike Wolf said...

There were more women involved in -- pinch my nose to type it -- the grunge years, even if some or many of them would have balked (or thrown fists) at being lumped into such a scene. We're not talking just the obvious Courtney, L7 and Babes in Toyland either. Dig only a bit past that and you find Julie (Pussy Galore) Cafritz getting her rocks off with STP (no males) and the Action Swingers (at least one too many males), the late and extremely talented Kristen Pfaff (Janitor Joe and, sadly after that, Hole) and really, all manner of bands known and less so, the Gits to Dickless (silly name but "Saddle Tramp" still sounds fierce like few things today). That's just a few prominent names from a few cities. More important than the quantity of women musicians seen and heard then was the generally wide range of personalities and emotions on display; they could be tough and tender at the same time, and far more complicated overall, whereas today's indie scene seems receptive mainly to hippie princesses and/or ever-so-slightly quirky girl-next-door fantasies. If "grunge" signifies (rightly enough) as stiff and stilted, the attendant scene around it was probably more open that what we have today. The problem still rests with the fact that this level of music continues to be largely run by dudes but at this point i think we can extend it further onto the girls -- where are you ladies? Drew hits it in the prev comment when he ID's the scene's main players as being "stereotypically progressive"; would real progressivism be so easily stereotyped?

MidSouth Mouth said...

Perhaps repairing the lacuna before the term hipsters with more qualifiers-- like
> white/young/willing to spend disposable income and time cultivating a following of said bands-- might demystify some of this.

as a 32 yr old African-American urban-dwelling female with eclectic tastes, I am probably not the demographic they think they are reaching.

beyond billboard and ticket sales, i think that the online fans probably outnumber those who can go to all the hip places to hear people play.

as far as women rocking, perhaps there needs to be a schematic that breaks down bands where women were involved with a bandmate versus not. in an overwhelmingly not only male-oriented but heterocentric industry, the dynamics must be difficult without support systems

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

I'm curious as to what you (MidSouth Mouth) mean by "support systems."