I personally feel like a lot of the ways people (and critics…usually men) talk about Newsom and discuss her music is really, really intensely sexist. Like that SO much of the language used for her (‘fey’, ‘precious’, ‘elfin’, etc) are really just code-words for ‘feminine.’ And related to this, she gets described as ‘crazy’ and as being some wild muse that needs to be hemmed in by the more ‘rational’/’intellectual’ male collaborators like Callahan, O’Rourke, Banhardt, and [Van Dyke Parks]. But the thing is, Newsom IS intelligent, and her music isn’t some ‘wild’ thing, nor is it ‘precious’ or ‘childlike’ or ‘fey’. It’s complex, intelligent, intricate, creative, technical and also very mature. It feels to me like Newsom is a very extreme example of people’s perceptions of gender conditioning and distorting their perceptions of art and artists. The Newsom I read about in reviews has NOTHING to do with the Newsom I actually encounter in her music. And the former seems like it’s just a myth mostly constructed from fear of recognition of women’s intelligence, creativity, and proficiency. They’d rather cling to a storybook wild pixie filled with some magical, incomprehensible female inspiration than actually accept that a woman can be every bit as capable a songwriter as their beloved Leonard Cohens, Tom Waitses, Bob Dylans and so on, and as capable a composer as their [Van Dyke Parkses]…Seems to me a perfect example of sexism prevalent in music journalism and ‘hipster’/indie sub-culture, amongst people who pose themselves as more ‘enlightened’/sensitive than the rest of society.
Natalie Reed, in conversation with me on twitter, on the sexist, infantilizing, and reductive media narratives about Joanna Newsom. She brilliantly synthesizes what we have been saying at Blessing All the Birds since the beginning.
I also think the “fey” words are code for “we do not want to actually engage with this music because doing so would actually mean acknowledging a woman’s words are powerful and intellectual and thus, threatening to patriarchy in music (and the world).” Those words, most importantly, bespeak of the fear of Newsom’s intense and subversive femininity.