Welcome to Blessing All the Birds, a feminist fan project focused on the work of songwriter Joanna Newsom. We see Newsom's work as feminist literature and our goal is to provide it the serious critical analysis it deserves, as well as to discuss her unique place in popular culture.
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I am not sure how I have never read this article, but, my goodness, Joanna talks a lot about gender and sexism and the reception of her work by women. It’s written by Eugenia Williamson, for Venus Zine. Really worthwhile read, my friends!

Here is an excerpt:

Newsom sings of thistles, meadowlarks, rushes, and sparrows, and she’s braced for an infantilizing critical reception like the one sometimes incurred by The Milk-Eyed Mender. “The songs are really dark,” she said of her last full-length. “Not just dark, they’re adult. They’re actual heavy shit. It was really frustrating that some people developed an idea of what I was doing, and what I was about, and never bothered to listen more closely; even when, to my understanding, these lines were overtly heavy. It would take actual effort to avoid understanding the dark meaning in a particular line, to at least sense it.” As she challenged this kind of estimation, Newsom closed her eyes, stuck her fingers in her ears, and sang a series of lalalas in imitation of a defiant toddler. “It would take complete denial to consider these the products of a whimsical, fairy-tale innocent,” she concluded.

Newsom blames pervasive sexist attitudes for this sort of misunderstanding. “The most topical example might be Devendra [Banhart],” she explained. “He has a non-conventional voice, and his lyrical style is extremely different from mine. But I think there are parallels. I think people are much more hesitant to use words like ‘childlike’ or ‘innocent’ to describe him. They were more quick — to the disservice of his songs — to jump to ‘creepy,’ ‘prophetic,’ ‘shambolic.’ Those are no more accurate. But those belie other prejudices. I think it immediately codes that critique as gender-specific.”

Newsom’s run-ins with sexism weren’t relegated to the impersonal realm of music journalism. She also received static from acquaintances. “I remember being absolutely wounded by some woman once saying that what I was doing — this was a friend of a friend — she said, ‘What Joanna is doing is bad for women.’ I wanted to be, like, ‘Actually, the mentality that breeds you interpreting what I do in the particular way you do is bad for women — beyotch!’ It really depends on the person. But it comes to my attention that there are some really interesting undercurrents that stem from people’s baggage, that connects to gender.”

These undercurrents include the way people apprehend her songs. “I think that there are women, as well as men, who misinterpret my music for reasons that are gender-specific. But I would definitely say that I’ve had better conversations with women about it,” she said. “When a woman says something, how they interpret vocal timbre, how they interpret composition, the extent to which they pay attention to musicality, lyrics — there are a lot of those divisions that run neatly along gender lines.”

You can read the entire thing at Venus Zine.

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