Good Lorde!

(Sorry.  Sometimes the opportunity presents itself and I can’t resist.)

I’m a big fan of Lorde.  That’s not really news, because she’s the first New Zealand solo artist to top the US charts.  She’s not exactly underground.

But she feels underground.  She’s a New Zealander, singing in her own accent about the experience of being on the receiving end of the USA’s cultural imperialism.

Some Americans find that uncomfortable.  Consider this post and its follow-up, which essentially boil down to “please perceive American culture from an American perspective, not your own.”

On the other hand, let’s reiterate, number one song on the US charts.  I’d imagine lots of Americans have taken her to heart.

And why shouldn’t they?  We live in a time of shocking disparity between the wealthy and the poor, so a song critiquing consumer culture in music is going to strike a chord.  (So to speak.)  And I’d argue that the Feministing posts are incorrect when they argue that Lorde singles out African American pop culture for critique.  “Royals” also refers to rock culture (“trashin’ the hotel rooms”), pop (ball gowns), and more.  It’s not just about consumption, but destructive consumption.

Maybe Feministing’s blogger would have preferred if Lorde had taken an apologetic approach to discussing the different experience of the Antipodean pop singer.  Take, for example, Australian Iggy Azalea, who raps:

Walk a mile in these Louboutins
But they don’t wear these shoes where I’m from
I’m not hating, I’m just telling you
I’m tryna let you know what the fuck that I’ve been through
Two feet in the red dirt, school skirt
Sugar care, back lanes
Three jobs, took years to save…
But I got a ticket on that plane…
People got a lot to say
But don’t know shit ’bout where I was made

Azalea is kind of the anti-Lorde.  And not just because of the traditional (loving) rivalry between Australia and New Zealand.  Azalea is older and tougher, and in contrast to Lorde’s apparent overnight success, Azalea is still bubbling under.  She has a mix tape, she’s supporting Beyonce, but her actual debut album isn’t out until next year.  Lorde sings with her own accent; Azalea raps with what the local media call a southern drawl that she picked up in Miami, although many Americans have told me the Florida accent is not actually considered southern.

(Azalea also raps about being a “runaway slave master”, and put out this video for “Bounce”.  So, yeah.  This is why I have a playlist called “catchy/problematic”.  Well, that and Amanda Palmer.)

She’s also overtly sexual, where Lorde appears ambivalent about romantic and sexual themes in music, and is critical of pop songs she considers unfeminist.  Lorde sometimes comes off as a bit judgemental in this respect, but it’s a natural phase that teenagers go through, I think — well, I did — and I’m really just as happy for a teenage girl not to explore her sexuality in public, especially in light of Charlotte Church’s comments about young women in the pop industry being coerced into doing so.

(I have a lot of feelings about how the current discourse around sexuality in pop music features a lot of ugly remarks about sex workers, and how these remarks are generally applied to women of colour, or in Miley Cyrus’ case, women appropriating the culture of women of colour.  Lady Gaga was an actual burlesque dancer, but you’ll note she’s never the subject of such “concern”.

On the other hand, I also have feelings about the exploitation of women in the guise of empowerment.  It’s complicated!)

Billie Piper (SHUT UP, SHE IS AMAZING) tells a story in her autobiography (SHUT UP, IT WAS AMAZING) about how, at eighteen, releasing her “sexier” second album, she agreed to do a photoshoot for a particular magazine, but she flat refused to pose in underwear.  She arrived at the shoot and found an entire rack of bikinis instead.

In short, it’s difficult to be a young pop star, or even an adult performer, and still own your sexuality.  Lorde walks an interesting line — she is young, beautiful, white, slim and has amazing hair, and photographers take advantage of that, but she’s always fully dressed, looking straight at the camera with a solemn, uncompromising expression.  I’m really curious to see how she grows up, and what her next moves will be.

Because they are moves.  As this fantastic blog post discusses, Lorde’s image is as carefully crafted as any other pop star’s.  The level of control she herself exercises might be unusual, but the image that we see is not necessarily the genuine Lorde.  (And why should it be?)

But people are oddly uncomfortable with the idea of a woman’s image being artificial.  We see that in the way women are criticised for wearing make-up, slimming underwear and heels, even as we’re also criticised for not doing these things.

And it’s particularly true in the music industry.  We want to believe that Stevie Nicks and Tori Amos are really manic pixie dream girls, that the Spice Girls really were/are BFFs (despite all evidence to the contrary).

There was a lot of backlash when PJ Harvey abandoned her raw, indie persona to wear heavy make-up and hot pink catsuits, and some fans I know can’t forgive her for plucking her eyebrows, wearing make-up and performing in a Victorian dress with a bird on her head.  (I was there.  It was great.)

Harvey herself has said, “Some critics have taken my writing so literally to the point that they’ll listen to ‘Down by the Water’ and believe I have actually given birth to a child and drowned her.” (Source)

Men aren’t immune from the expectation of honesty, but they seem to have more flexibility.  Well, whichever way they go, they have flexibility — Lindsay Buckingham has been writing songs about his ex for decades, and he doesn’t get half the shit that Taylor Swift does.  (He’s still the better songwriter, though.  Sorry, Taylor.)

With all this in mind, it’s quite interesting that Lorde is often compared to Lana Del Rey.

Del Rey, again, stands in opposition to Lorde.  (Although Lorde was listening to Del Rey when she had the inspiration for “Royals”, and in my opinion, the musical influence is visible — audible? — when you look for it.  Listen for it.)  Her image was carefully crafted, and is frequently derided as “fake”.  Her first two albums (one released under her real name of Elizabeth Wooldridge Grant) bombed, and her stage name was created by her managers.

But all this works, because it’s part of the mythos she has created:  whoever Elizabeth Wooldridge Grant is, Lana Del Rey is “a gangsta Nancy Sinatra”.  She’s Doris Day after a bender.  Lorde may paraphrase Joan Holloway, but Born to Die is an entire album about Betty Draper.

Both artists are critiquing the American entertainment industry, and both do it through highly produced pop music.  Del Rey’s take is glossier, and appropriately so — she adopts the persona of the girl who has swallowed the American dream myth and is choking to death, “a freshman generation of degenerate beauty queens”.  On her Paradise EP, she responds to critics, describing herself as “a groupie incognito posing as a real singer”.

Lorde, by contrast, sings as an outsider who has an ambivalent relationship with the trappings of the American dream.  She knows it’s an illusion, but still, “We’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams.”  In “Tennis Court” she sings:

Baby be the class clown
I’ll be the beauty queen, in tears
It’s a new art form, showing people how little we care (yeah),
We’re so happy, even when we’re smilin’ out of fear,
Let’s go down to the tennis court, and talk it up like yeah (yeah)

It’s introspection and adolescent melancholy wrapped up in the language and cliche of the American high school drama.  Whether or not it’s a true reflection of Lorde’s experience almost doesn’t matter, because the feeling is surely universal: “These feelings don’t look like they did on TV.”

Lorde sings, “And I’m not proud of my address, In a torn-up town, no post code envy”.  But Ella Yelich-O’Connor comes from a well-off middle class suburb in Auckland.  Does it matter?  Is she lying to us through song?  (“I hate when people do that!”)  If her next album is a synthpop confection with videos full of pole dancers and bikini shots, has she betrayed us?

“Pretty soon I’ll be getting on my first plane,” Lorde sang.  That first plane trip was long ago, now.  She’s an international pop star, not a kid from the suburbs.  How far can you critique the system in which you work?  Will she be allowed to grow up, or will she end up like Avril Lavigne, still looking and acting like it’s 2002?  Am I just asking rhetorical questions because I’m not sure how to end this post?


66th down under feminists carnival

Hello! Welcome to No Award and the 66th edition of the Down Under Feminists Carnival! I last hosted the 54th edition over at one of my other eleven million blogs, which means it has been exactly twelve months! I guess November is just the time for me (Steph).

We’ve got some categories here for ease of perusal; and just a note that things without categories only mean they were singular in their category this month, not that we don’t love them! And there are some amazing articles here this month, as there are every month – but just because the month is over don’t think you need to hold back! If you have a comment to make or somewhere to go with the conversation, go for it, even if you’re encountering these bloggers for the first time through the carnival! More chat is great. Thank you to everyone who contributed links – and of course all the great antipodeans writing awesome things.

Next month’s edition is planned for 5 December, 2013: MJ at Kiwiana (inked). Submissions to burningthescript [at] gmail [dot] com for those who can’t access the blog carnival submissions form. Previous carnivals can be found on the blog carnival index page. Please do submit if you think something is relevant to interests, you can submit your own work and/or someone else’s.

On Sex and Sexuality

At A Life Unexamined, Fixed and fluid sexual identities (from an ace perspective).

Claire at Sextracurricular Studies brings us two great posts this month: Mythbusting the Hymen by Claire at Sextracurricular Studies, on virginity and education and the dangers of this myth; and on pornography and sexual culture.

Nausea Nissenbaum presents us with Hot & Hotter: interviews with sex workers’ rights activists.

On Misogyny and support for women

Women need resilience to rise to the top, by Zoe Krupka at New Matilda.

Over at Hoyden About Town, Maybe if we all went barefoot by Mindy, on how ladies buy too many shoes which means they can’t buy houses, amirite.

Sikamikanico writes “I don’t need feminism”: The Women of a Voice for Men (a Voice for Men is a group with a MRA agenda).

In Ministerial responsibility, Ben at CXLI writes on Tony Abbott as the Minister for Women and what this might mean.

Rachel Rayner writes Spare us from idiots, on a particularly gross piece of opinion piece published in the NZ Herald re: women.

“A Dirty Game”: One woman’s retrospective on the UQ elections looks at the reinforcement of patriarchy (and also in harassment) in the UQ elections. Also up at Womynews is a 2013 Reclaim the Night recap.

On Anonymous Hatred

Broken at Fat Heffalump. This is also about fat hate and also a nice story about people being nice.

By Amy Gray, the text of a speech: Reading the Trolls

Things to Read and Watch

Molly Eliza at Womynews reviews Destroying the Joint: Why Women Have to Change the World, edited by Jane Caro.

Chally reviews About Time, the latest Richard Curtis movie.

Fi at Reading Kills talks about Every Breath, a Melburnian YA murder mystery by Ellie Marney.

Amy Gray has put up the text of an ACMI speech she gave: Enlightenment and the need for unlikable women.

Here at No Award, Liz read The Deep by Tom Taylor (who she later met!!!), an Australian comic about a multiracial family of aquanauts. (I really want to read it)

Media and Representation

At HaT, Today in Fantasy Film Sexism: Disney tries to pat some feminists’ heads, on Frozen, the new Disney film.

I navel-gaze about Chinese dating show If You Are The One (非诚勿扰) and discuss what it means for dating and stereotypes, and why it’s so popular in Australia; and in love me long time ugh help i’m dying I talk about the ongoing representation of South East Asian women in Australian media as other and hypersexual and ugh.

Also at No Award and by me, I have been reviewing the ABC-TV HBO Asia coproduction Serangoon Road, set in Singapore in 1964 and featuring way too many white people (primarily Australians). In my reviews I discuss the show but also colonialism and imperialism and white attitudes in the SEA region in the period.

Stalking, Sexual Assault and the Gilmore Girls is a look at the character of Jess on the show. Includes discussions of sexual assault and rape (and pop culture as vehicle for rape culture).

Fi writes from eighteen to thirty with nothing in between, about the dearth of crime fiction featuring protagonists under thirty.

Scarlett Harris compares Book VS. TV: Stephen King’s Under the Dome. Scarlett also writes in Defence of Sex and the City and The Problem with Sex and the City 2.

On Health (including Mental Health)

Elizabeth at Spilt Milk writes A Good Mother, on motherhood and society and mental health.

Rachel Rayner writes The Cost of It, a beautiful piece about getting an IUD and the situation around it. (Beautiful as in, it’s a poetical and lovely piece of prose)

The Little Pakeha writes Presents well, on living with depression; and Coley Tangerina writes It’s Mental Health Awareness Week.

On Racism, Race, Ethnicity

Te Ika-a-Māui and Te Waipounamu are not second-class names, by Queen of Thorns.

Australian feminists need to talk about race by Kelly Briggs up at the Guardian.

Jennifer at No Place for Sheep presents Immigration Minister Morrison instructs his staff to lie.

On Specific Women

friday feminaust: Nabila Farhat

A Friday Feminist over at HaT: Soul singer Tina Harrod.

Feminists in Fiction: Mulan at a Life Unexamined. (No Award note from your resident Chinese lady: This is a great look at the Disney Mulan but I’d just like to remind everyone that Hua Mulan is considered by many to be an actual figure in history, not just in fiction)

On Julia Gillard in conversation with Anne Summers: Carly Findlay: Julia Gillard in conversation with Anne Summers: “You have a decision to make: you could have a crap rest of your life”, [or you can move on]; Catherine Fox: The Gillard Effect: A role model we are lucky to have; Scarlett Harris: Anne Summers in conversation with Jullia Gillard.

On Marriage

Thoughts on being married by Gaayathri at A Human Story

O Brother, Where Art Thou On Gay Marriage? by Rebecca Shaw.

The logic behind Julia Gillard’s same-sex marriage opposition by Simon Copland at Ausopinion.

Poverty, Classism, Society, and getting a free pass

Poverty is Political by Anjum at Kiwi Stargazer, on the politics of poverty (and the assumption that poverty can be reduced through individual action).

The Left must own its shit and stop defending abusers by Queen of Thorns.

Dreaming of Home, by El Gibbs, on housing in Australia.

Fat Hate

Kevin Hague jumps aboard the fat-hating bandwagon, by Queen of Thorns.

Rebecca Shaw at The King’s Tribune: What do you see?


At Idealogically Impure Queen of Thorns writes Teacher abuses position to slut-shame a teenager, gets a slap on the wrist – how moral! and From a prochoice position, changing our abortion laws DOES MATTER (the laws referred to here are NZ laws). Also by Queen of Thorns, 25 ways to be a smug slacktivist antichoice wanker.

Talk about Assault (warnings for discussion of rape, sexual assault, rape apologism, victim blaming, people being jerkfaces)

Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you Mr Jones? by Luddite Journo over at The Hand Mirror.

Chally discusses Sexual assault discourse where the listener is the cautionary tale.

The News with Nipples makes two posts on Mia Freedman’s rape apologism: Ah Mia Freedman, it all makes sense now and Today in what Mia Freedman has done now. And further on Mia (though not really), Ben McKenzie writes re: Mia Freedman et al and their “advice”.

At Hersute, Alcohol is a Misdirection When We Talk About Rape; and at Sikamikanico, Sexual Assault and Alcohol: it’s not common sense, it’s not true, and it’s not helping.

On Bob Jones and related: Gaayathri at A Human Story writes Bob Jones: An advocate for violence against women; One girl’s response to Bob Jones at Rape Crisis Dunedin; Fuck off, Bob Jones: and advertisers? Be warned at Idealogically Impure.

Tangerina reports that Wellington Rape Crisis might have to cut its services again.

And the gold goes to… by ShoniaS at Hoyden About Town (includes warning for discussion of child sexual abuse).

The Little Pakeha writes The vast majority of rapes are committed by shrubbery.

Andie writing at Women’s Agenda: To the unconvinced: the perpetrators of crime are responsible for crime.

Tigtog at HaT with Advising women to prevent their own rapes is not brave or edgy or helpful.

Clementine Ford writes Excused for sexually humiliating a woman at Daily Life.

Misc Stuff

Five Questions to Kelly Briggs is about this week’s Indigenous X tweeter – and if you’re not following the Indigenous X twitter, highly recommend.

freedom, by Stargazer, is about burqas and prejudice.

A letter to my non-black friends by Pheeby at Different Strands, talking about black hair (and what not to do).

Veronica Foale writes My disabled body, my choice, on disability and fertility.

Can HECS debt be privatised? at HaT.

Sarah Burnside at Overland on Helen Razer’s beauty myth (this post is actually from today Nov 1 but I went to school with Sarah and you can’t stop me hahaha)

Why the opal card could be a bad thing by Mindy over at HaT, on the introduction of a new PT smart card in Sydney.

feminist fashion? feminaust fashion?! by MsElouise is a look at whether truly feminist fashion can exist.

Kate Davidson looks at Bikes, sexism and Australia over at Overland.

Permission to geek out – granted, by Fat Heffalump, on women geeks and geeky interests.

At the Washington Post, How British colonialism determined whether your country celebrates Halloween, brings up some interesting notes about Victorianism, colonial social mores, and colonialism.

Are women underselling themselves at maths? A post by Sarah Macdonald at Daily Life

On Stigma and Violence by Gaayathri at A Human Story.

A Public Confession by Morgana Lizzio-Wilson at Womynews.

A poem! Refuge, by Anna Caro.

Yay! See you next time!