Have we told you lately what a BUNCH of Bettys and Baldwins you all are?
Our deepest thanks to you, darlings of Dames Nation! You are funny & smart & thoughtful & generous! We had a grand time with you during our Clueless live-tweet last week and deeply appreciate all of your responses to our readership survey (nearly 500 before we closed it out)!
A pleasantly surprising (to us!) number of you asked for more original cultural criticism from this newsletter. We’re happy to provide it and have some long-term plans in that vein. We’re kicking off things with a new criticism section called Bossy Spotlight, where one of us will forego her Top 5 of the week in favor of some cultural criticism thoughts of the week.
OUR ANNIVERSARY APPROACHETH!
That's right, Dames and Stalwarts! As of next Friday, Dames Sophie and Margaret will have been doing this newsletter for ONE WHOLE YEAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This seems, to us, both like an impossibly long time to have been doing the project and also like somehow not enough time, because we can barely even remember a time before it was GIVING LIFE to our Fridays. We have something special in mind for next week's issue, so stay tuned!
Dame Sophie’s Bossy Spotlight on 1989 by Taylor Swift (and Ryan Adams)
The struggle is real, man-baby who Dame S. nonetheless identifies with
“But wait!” you say. “Dames, you have already told us what you think about 1989!” That’s true. Our first-ever Bossy Take was 1989 Words About 1989 (because we’re cute & verbose like that), and those words stand tall still. However, this week the entire Internet was consumed with hot takes on Ryan Adams’ album-length cover of Swift’s original, and I’m into synthesizing threads of continuing cultural narratives, so here we go!
There are three main threads here:
Rockist listeners & critics peeing their pants over a sensitive indie rock king revealing to them the shocking truth that Taylor Swift can write a decent song, after all!
Poptimist listeners & critics justifiably rolling their eyes a bit and saying, “yeah, these songs have always been good. You’re late to the party, but congrats on making it, after all.”
Astute critics asking “isn’t it kind of a problem that this shaggy little project is getting so much positive attention when Taylor’s every move is dissected so nastily? And it’s on SPOTIFY? What’s going on with the money side of things, anyway?”
Look, if some rockist somewhere listens to Adams’ covers of Swift's meisterwerk & begins to appreciate that Swift’s songwriting mastery is such that her lyrics work in a variety of musical contexts, GREAT. Ears once closed are now open? I’m here for that & will furnish those people with further listening recommendations. Welcome to the club.
But I will never ever ever EVER be here for the false dichotomy that rock & pop are in opposition. In tension, sure, the way siblings often are. But both forms need to coexist, without any of this nonsense that one is more authentic & worthy (read: male) while the other is just a bunch of silly artifice (read: female). This same harmful logic is used to circumscribe areas of seriousness & worthiness & otherness & frivolousness in every creative field. Pop & rock are both all of those things & more, and I’m hoping that this whole thing is showing rockists that their critical view is a species on the verge of extinction.
Also, I agree with Jon Caramanica that Adams needs Swift more than Swift needs Adams. Her album is #5 on Billboard’s charts right now, nearly a year after its release. She’s on a monster world tour. He is an artist with a variable-quality back catalogue, covering her work to help him get through a sad & messy divorce. His evident respect for her (and savvy drawing of parallels with beloved, deeply emotive male performers like Bruce Springsteen, the Replacements, and the Smiths) might change some minds, but he benefits more by borrowing the ears of her Poptimist Army more than she does by opening the hearts of his Rockist Grumps. Bottom line: he’s mostly basking in her reflected glow, while she earns both cash and karma points by being enthusiastic and gracious.
Speaking of money, the most interesting angle for me is the financial & legal one. How is the author of an original song compensated when another artist covers it? What’s Taylor’s cut on all the different streaming services? According to the excellent podcast Pitch, copyright law covers this by requiring a 9.1-cent mechanical license fee per copy of a cover song, even if the covering artist is giving their version away for free. All of the streaming services use complex algorithms to determine artists’ cuts, but it’s a tiny amount: fractions of pennies per play.
I imagine that Swift isn’t thrilled to have Adams’ versions of her songs on Spotify, but I can also see her shaking it off, because her versions - the authoritative ones, the ones I will continue to play at the highest volume my & my daughters’ ears can stand for years to come - are only licensed to stream where she wants them to.
I put my favorite Taylor & Musical Finance Tabs into an annotated Readlist for you all. This will make it easier for you to export the links to the service/device of your choice -- at least, that’s the idea! Let us know how it works for you. Want the Readers’ Digest version? Here are my top three recommendations are the first three pieces linked in the list:
In summary, to the rockists:
And to the poptimists:
Special Misandrist GIF Segment!
They are all so excellent; if you have strong feelings about alternate choices, go with them bc there are no wrong choices
Oh, friends, do we have a treat for you. Dame M. found this truly inspiring roundup of misandrist-themed GIFs over at Persephone Magazine, which prompted Dame S. to share some more from her collection. And then more members of our Twitter family followed suit. In the spirit of sharing, we’re posting two here and these plus 12 more will be available for your perusal, downloading, tweeting & texting pleasure via the magic of OneTab! Thanks to Christina (check her BALLER NEW PODCAST!), Ally (check her HOT TUMBLR), & Ying (check her AMAZING books!).
For those new to this sly, comic appropriation of the term, here’s a handy loose definition of misandry as we’re using it here: it’s a rejection of the kind of toxic masculinity that feels threatened by the achievements and advances of people who identify as women. It’s also playing jiu jitsu with the reductivist notion that feminism is man-hating: when even the most measured critique is will be dismissed by many as AN ATTACK ON MASCULINITY, why NOT reclaim our right to laugh in the face of patriarchal garbage in the most direct, satisfying terms possible? The people who’ll read it as earnest misandry would have done so regardless of how delicately we phrased it-- at least this way, the people receptive to our observations also get to laugh. So! Drink deeply from your complimentary cup of male tears. They are delicious & nutritious. And also funny.
Dame Margaret's Top Four-&-Some-Change
Like, yeah, Dame Margaret guesses something happened this week other than The Original Cast Recording of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton premiering on NPR Music but, after listening to the album on repeat now for hours, it’s pretty difficult for her to recall… literally anything else. Although the NPR stream is no longer active (now that the album is available for both streaming and purchasing), Frannie Kelley’s accompanying review of it is glorious, arguing persuasively that, far from being “unlikely,” a hip-hop musical about our founding fathers was inevitable. Listening to the album is greatly supplemented by reading this short piece from The New Yorker on “The Women of “Hamilton.” (h/t Damespal Connor!)
And now for a moment with another New York-based industry grappling, with limited success, with its deep-seated diversity issues: Publishing! Pros: They are asking people of color (like author Mira Jacob) to speak about their experiences! Cons: They are literally not listening to them while that happens! One step forward, two steps back. But read this piece Mira wrote about her son’s obsession with Michael Jackson, THINK about that son getting to see Hamilton, and JUST TRY not crying. YOU JUST TRY IT.
While we're on the subject of diversity and music, let's go listen to Darlene Love, world's greatest back-up singer and world's most persistently undercredited solo artist, tell her nine favorite behind-the-scenes stories about Elvis, Phil Spector, Sam Cooke, and others!
And finally, ‘cause 'TIS THE SEASON, please delight your eyes with Stacy Schiff going long on the Salem Witch Trials! Like, for a taste: “In isolated settlements, in smoky, fire-lit homes, New Englanders lived very much in the dark, where one listens more acutely, feels most passionately, and imagines most vividly, where the sacred and the occult thrive. The seventeenth-century sky was crow black, pitch-black, Bible black, so black that it could be difficult at night to keep to the path, so black that a line of trees might freely migrate to another location, or that you might find yourself pursued by a rabid black hog, leaving you to crawl home on all fours, bloody and disoriented.” GREAT READING, AM SHE RIGHT??????
Two Bossy Dames are out of the woods.