Tuesday, May 5, 2009

You've Done too Much; Much too Young

By ned * Other ned Posts

The annals of history are filled with famous men of character reversing sides. Paul went from persecuting to embracing Christianity. You could view the trade of Babe Ruth to the Yankees from the rival Red Sox from this perspective as well. But, not all historically significant changes of heart end up being considered with reverence. With Benedict Arnold, Karl Malone and Garth Brooks switching to the losing sides of England, the Lakers, and Chris Gains respectively; history has deemed them traitors.

I too have had a change of heart of epic proportions. For the majority of my pop music consumption, I have had a vocal aversion to bands with women leads. A part of it was aesthetics. The voices of many female leads of pop acts are less sultry or rich than whiney, nasally and thin (e.g. Tegan and Sarah). This is not to say that all male acts have exquisite voices (e.g. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!). But, at least I can sing along to them and my dog does not bark at the stereo. Additionally, part of my distaste was likely caused by a hint of male pride – for what young adult male would say they attended Lilith Fair.

The Author in Days of Yore

This is no longer the case now. My heart and ears are all a flitter with a few indie crushes. Neko Case’s coronet voice is much like her red hair – not subtle but interesting and colorful. Bringing in the ranks of Elvis Costello and Conor Oberst as fans and collaborators, Jenny Lewis is well beyond her Troop Beverly Hills days. Lastly, I am hopeful that Zooey Deschanel – front woman of She & Him and friend of the elves - will eventually see the error of her ways in engaging Ben Gibbard and seek me out.

What might explain this reversal? In the past my wallet would at times make exceptions to my general anti-estrogen stance. Perhaps that might be a good place to find what’s underneath my inclinations. One such feminine purchase was the 3rd Wave Ska act known as the Dance Hall Crashers. The album was initially inserted into my case logic CD binder in 1997 – at the height of the two-tone craze. Ska was rocking the suburbs at that time with popular acts such as Reel Big Fish, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Sublime. From that indicator, it’s not too difficult to make the leap that my choices have been influenced by trends. Perhaps my taste (or distaste) has simply been a product of the times.

Like many of my era, my gateway music was grunge and punk. Bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Green Day dominated my music and also the airwaves of college/alternative/indie rock stations. The aggregate of early to mid 90’s music created this grimy masculine aesthetic - apparently also with male leads as demonstrated by my top of mind examples.

Clearly then I am a victim of society! Alt-rock, my genre of choice, must have been male dominated and is now becoming less so. Moreover, with bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs for the collegiate type and Paramore for the teenybopper and my indie crushes, intuition suggests this hypothesis to be true.

Being in the scientific age, this speculation needs statistical backing. As a data source, I turn to Spin Magazine for a couple of reasons. The magazine is a good source for the pool of music I would have been exposed to: its slightly less mainstream than Rolling Stone and broader in tastes than say the Alternative Press. Most importantly it has existed for a duration long enough to cover from 1992 (the year I entered middle school) to the present.

To show that alt-rock has been dominated by men, I took the magazine’s yearly top ten albums from 1990 to 2008 and categorized each along two lines: Male lead or Female/Mixed lead and Rock or Non-Rock. Non-Rock ended up essentially being hip-hop, R&B, and electronica, and Rock albums - coming from Spin - are then alt-rock (aka the population of albums that would potentially make it to my Discman). My hypothesis was that the number of female leads of critically acclaimed alt-rock albums has risen of late. If correct, my tastes have been driven by supply.

And the results ….

Basically, there is no correlation or trend when it comes to alt-rock acts and female leads. The grimy sound of the 90’s produced a number of successes including Liz Phair, Veruca Salt, PJ Harvey, and Hole. In other words, there was no shortage of critically acclaimed women acts in the indie universe. If anything, there are less now according to the editors of Spin.

So, what can we infer? If society is not the reason then it must be internal. This can only mean one thing. A challenge faced by many after college. Perhaps my greatest fear.

I am turning into a wuss and an adult. Verifying statistics: at a restaurant I am just as likely to order a glass of wine as beer. I have more sweaters than sweatshirts. I look forward to getting a good night’s sleep. I guess it is time to face facts.

With that said, I am off to listen to the sounds of Kate Nash as I head to my Yoga class.

The Adult Author Today


  1. oh hey ned. i like this post. listen to the magnetic fields' "smoke signals".

  2. The days of yore pick should be your profile photo...

  3. I just want to say that listening to Kate Nash is not usually conducive to wanting to meditate and do yoga. Post-Kate Nash I would be more inclined to get drunk and key an ex-boyfriend's car

  4. Me and my friend Charlie wanted to go to Lilith Fair in our formative yet misguided youth; we wanted to pick up chicks and figured the odds were in our favor there.