This article originally appeared on ACMI Channel.
The world of professional rock criticism has traditionally feigned the bravado of swaggering frontmen, a boy’s club soaked in roadie’s sweat, swaying woozily between mistrust and dismissal. Since she was listening to Babes in Toyland as a teenager in Minneapolis, writer and music critic Jessica Hopper (Rolling Stone, Pitchfork) has sought to demystify the myths of women in music – on stage and on the page.
In her latest book The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, Hopper declares she’s planting a flag, that the book is “for those whose dreams (and manuscripts) languished due to lack of formal precedence, support and permission.”
As a rock critic with 20 years experience, a Senior Editor at Pitchfork and editor of The Pitchfork Review, Hopper definitely has the credentials to give female rock writers permission, leading the charge by stabbing her switchblade critique into everything and everyone from emo and Goth to Gaga and Grohl. In celebration of Jess Hopper In Conversation with Myf Warhurst, presented in partnership with The Wheeler Centre, we look at three must read Jessica Hopper articles.
In 2011 the world celebrated the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s seminal 1991 album, Nevermind. To cash in on the undiminished demand for Cobain and Co.’s culture-capsizing CD, a new box set of the album was reissued, much to the dismay (and boredom) of Hopper.
After dissecting and dismissing Universal’s four CD set, Hopper turns her attention to the tragic commercialization of dead Cobain, “the anointed grunge Buddha”, and how there’s only one thing any real fan actually wants, yet can never have.
“All the Nirvana boxes and anniversary editions prey upon a simple wish—the wish to relive the singular moment of revelation, the feeling of being possessed for the first time by “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” its pure abandon, its stuttering pound, the implacable tension between verse and chorus, the feral grain of Cobain’s voice. That wish is there in anyone who ever heard Nirvana and loved them. But you never get as high as the first time.”
Back in 2012, when Lana Del Rey’s DIY vid for Video Games infected pop culture after going viral on YouTube, the online music world was feverish with the excitement of unearthing a novel, self-made indie artist. When it was revealed that Lana was actually Lizzy Grant, a private school student whose lips might be collagen-composed rather than bee-stung, and who had readily courted major labels and signed with Interscope, the posers-cum-tastemakers cured themselves of the betrayal with an antidote of unbridled criticism directed at Del Rey.
Hopper found it all very amusing, and in a SPIN feature, not only exposed the truth, but determined that Del Rey’s apparent inauthenticity isn’t any different to male artists before her, it’s our inability to accept a woman who plays the game so perfectly.
“For critics and anonymous commenters alike, the prospect of an attractive female artist who sings plainly about her desire because she has it, with a vision that is personal and not manufactured by others, who writes her own songs and makes her own videos, who understands what it takes to be a viable pop product and is capable of guiding herself to those perilous heights, this is an unsolvable equation. Yet, Lana Del Rey is doing it all, before our very eyes.”
Just because Hopper rallied to Del Rey’s defence amidst claims of inauthenticity, when she believes it in another artist, she’ll call it. So it is in her 4/10 review of Miley Cyrus’ apparent coming-of-age album, Bangerz. Though she questions what there is to even review about a Miley Cyrus album, dismisses her behaviour as a “strategic hot mess” and labels her voice “generic” and “perfected by software”, Hopper’s keen observation turns the review into mediation on what society has demanded of “a post-teen girl who has belonged to the public her whole life.”
“What else could she do but nuke it, saturate herself in our greedy gaze until she dissolves, give it all away, turn herself out until our knowledge of her is borderline gynecological?”
Her criticism of Cyrus and her music is savage, but her condemnation of current culture is the most acerbic:
“She gives us exactly what we want in lethal doses, grinding against our most American horror.”