By the time punk swept the U.K., the sound had cut itself back to the sinew and muscle of early rock and roll, yes, but it had also excised one of the key things that made early rock and roll captivating to young people, which was some sense of sexual urgency—swing, groove, sly vocal implication. All were traded for happy hectoring and desiccated angularity. The guitars may have a kinship with Chuck Berry, but the barking does not.
Ergo, punk never had much appeal for me.
Nitsuh Abebe on the Punk Movement — New York Magazine
[Hair-metal musicians] are idealists, some of the last true believers in a weird idea that had floated around for decades: that rock music could be used to escape all the moral and hygienic values of the working and middle classes–self-restraint, work ethic, humility, sexual decency–and live happily among baser pleasures.
Why We Fight: Uncomfortably Numb | Features | Pitchfork
It’s become, I think, a straight American commonplace to want to dignify same-sex relationships by treating them the same way we would heterosexual ones — which means that when someone tells us, for instance, that he’s gay, some of us who are straight might silently assume his relationships are not just as valid as ours but fundamentally the same as ours. As habits go, it’s politically useful and often accurate, but it also means we don’t see much mainstream discussion of the way that figuring out a sexual identity, via any one of the million different paths we all manage it, influences a person’s experience of love itself and the stories they have to tell about how it feels.
Nitsuh Abebe, as thoughtful as ever.
Abebe: Why Frank Ocean’s Coming-Out Was Unique
We’ve all spent years talking about taste in the age of the mp3, and how listeners can shuffle happily from Hank Williams to Too $hort to Katy Perry. Minaj might force some people to accept that a musician might have more than one inclination as well — that she might, unsurprisingly, be interested in steely rapping and sugar-rush pop at the same time.
Abebe: Nicki Minaj, Hot 97, and the Fight Over ‘Real Hip-Hop’ — Vulture
Disco’s success at capturing glamour and sex as an aesthetic can be frightening — in approximately the same way it’s frightening to watch the world do similar things to weddings, turning them into sites of glittery yearning where one’s sense of self and love turns strangely prop-filled and expensive. This seems like one of the more-flattering reasons why rock fans treated disco with so much hostility: It’s a puritan’s gut instinct that there’s something dangerous about a sex-and-glamour bubble floating too exuberantly beyond the realm of reality, becoming too stylized and commercial. And of course straight, white, male rock fans were the ones who’d feel that fear and loathing most strongly: They’d have been the listeners with the least to gain from actively reimagining love, sex, and glamour. Disco claimed the audience with the most critical stake in reframing those things — gay, black, female, and Latino listeners chief among them.
The Last Days of Disco: Abebe Remembers Donna Summer and Robin Gibb
When the world decided that Lana totally bombed on Saturday Night Life, we could see Lana telling us nothing other than what we already tell ourselves about women in music. We already assume that the feminine is inauthentic. So, I mean, why does everyone care so much if she has had plastic surgery, or if her management company created an image for her? What’s the big deal with being deceived? Some of our most respected musical icons (Bob Dylan, anyone?) used music to continually invent and re-invent possible selves.
See also Nitsuh Abebe:
Making pop music— more than almost any other art— sits right at the intersection between being yourself and finding something better than yourself to be. This, in the end, is what we’re looking for: Someone who can devise some fantastically compelling version of herself to act out, while still seeming as if she’s… being herself. Musicians are expected to write a great part and convincingly act the role at the same time. And even after that, we’re not really judging them on how compelling the identity they’re offering us is— we judge them based on which types of identities we personally need or aspire to at the moment. There is no identity politics quite as nuanced or complicated as people arguing about music.
Amy Rebecca Klein: The Last Thing I’ll Ever Write About Lana Del Rey
The music we spend our private time on, and use to build our identities, varies more wildly than ever from person to person. But there’s at least one kind of music that needs consensus to function, and that’s the stuff we dance, party, and strut around to. “The club” might be the last remaining space where strangers are all forced to pay attention to the same songs. And whether it’s an actual club or just a bedroom, it tends to be a space where people enjoy feeling fabulous.
Cf. Norman Lebrecht.
We Must Be Superstars – New York Magazine
Making pop music– more than almost any other art– sits right at the intersection between being yourself and finding something better than yourself to be. This, in the end, is what we’re looking for: Someone who can devise some fantastically compelling version of herself to act out, while still seeming as if she’s… being herself. Musicians are expected to write a great part and convincingly act the role at the same time. And even after that, we’re not really judging them on how compelling the identity they’re offering us is– we judge them based on which types of identities we personally need or aspire to at the moment. There is no identity politics quite as nuanced or complicated as people arguing about music.
Nitsuh Abebe kills it every time.
Pitchfork: Columns: Why We Fight #15
Dang, Nitsuh Abebe can write the shit out of a pop-culture essay. Every time.
Pitchfork: Why We Fight #4 – The Trouble With Maya
“Why celebrate pretense and bold gestures in pop music, but get weirdly skeptical of them in the indie world?” See also part 2.
Pitchfork: Why We Fight: Why We Fight #1
Isn’t this whole Olympic narrative sort of a dream we’ve made up to make ourselves feel better? Well yeah: of course it is. That’s sort of the point. That’s how ideals work, isn’t it? They’re a way of practicing for things we can’t actually do yet.
In which I realize I’m sort of a believer in the Olympic spirit, actually