Monday, March 01, 2010

Have One On Me

There are probably some naive souls who'll listen to Joanna Newsom's new album on its own merits and conclude that she's a singular talent who doesn't need to be lazily compared to other female singers. But none of these people will be music journalists. As everyone who knows anything knows, all women in rock and pop can and must be compared to a very small number of other women. Using this simple equation we can construct a compass which enables us to categorise all female artists without having to think about it very much. So rather than say anything genuinely insightful about Ms Newsom's excellent new release, I offer this handy graphic depiction of where she's come from and where she's at, as derived from sundry reviews of the record:


Paul said...

While this is fun, Bjork to Bush isn't really an extreme enough scale.

Perhaps Sarah Brightman to Bush or someone equally lame would be a more suitable range. Although this wouldn't let you dig that Newsom has always cribbed her style.

petemaskreplica said...

This theory is a work in progress (i.e. I just made it up), so all comments and suggestions are welcome, thanks.

It's important to remember that this isn't supposed to be an accurate representation of style or merit - it's a representation of press perception. Thus the vertical axis represents a continuum from high-minded art (Mitchell) to unashamed commercialism (Madge), while the horizontal axis moves from a central position of normality to on the one extreme, Bush's established and therefore comforting eccentricity, to Björk's edgier, more disturbing weirdness on the other pole. These positions are mutable of course - Björk has of course been around long enough that her kookiness has come to seem more endearing, and she will in time come to occupy the left-hand "West" position in place of Kate. Depending on how her career develops, a move away from the commercial aspects of her sound could see Lady Gaga take up the Eastern pole previously occupied by the Icelandic icon.

So, your example of Sarah Brightman would occupy a position exactly on the vertical axis and slightly to the south, as she shows no sign of originality/eccentricity (it's the same thing if you're a woman, apparently), and is commercially closer to Madonna than Joni Mitchell.

There are possible candidates for North-East, North-West, South-East and South-West points, but to expand the compass beyond four points would take it beyond the current reference points of music journalism.

It's interesting that even female writers by and large adhere to this model of description, by the way.