Why do Gallagher and other older male rock singers have such a problem with a younger generation doing things differently?
In the mid 90s, at the height of Britpop, public slanging matches between acts such as Oasis and Blur saturated the pages of music magazines. It was meaningless and childish, but it was the vocation of angry young men who seemed to view mud-slinging as part and parcel of the music scene. But why on Earth, 20 years on, are some of those same people still clambering into the headlines with their outdated and boring attacks on modern pop music?
Over the last few days, Noel Gallagher has been trending on Facebook once again. This time, for responding to the suggestion that Taylor Swift is a good songwriter with: “You’re fucking lying. She seems like a nice girl, but no one has ever said those words, and you fucking know it.” A few weeks ago, he said of Beyoncé: “If shaking your ass for a living is considered art, then she’s right up there, no?”
There’s a thinly veiled misogyny in these statements, which are both ludicrously reductive, and propped up by a microscopically narrow idea of what is and isn’t worthy of being taken seriously. Why does he cling so firmly to the blinkered notion that Beyoncé or Taylor Swift’s theatricality and calculated aesthetic somehow negate their talents as musicians?
It’s not just Gallagher, though, who seems to think there is a list of approved attributes in a musician, and that anyone who doesn’t meet their requirements deserves a slating.
Kasabian’s Serge Pizzorno described his band’s omission from the Brit awards nominations as “an outrage”. “Clean Bandit don’t even write their own tunes,” he protested (they do), and Ed Sheeran is a “square”. Sleaford Mods said Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner “has no rock’n’roll left in him” – probably because their album was such a commercial success. Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan recently said, “Rock’n’roll needs to be more aggressive in taking on pop music. Particularly in America, there’s a very cosy relationship between rock stars and pop stars, and I don’t think that’s a good relationship. Everybody belongs on their own side of the street for a good reason.” He added, “By definition, a rock star is supposed to be an independent individual who pursues a vision to an end.”
Strangely, he seems to have just summed up Beyoncé.
Essentially, the big question is this. When did the press become so utterly inundated with jaded white males, railing against their own fading relevance by lashing out at younger musicians? And if not writing your own songs disqualifies you from being taken seriously in rock’n’roll, who’s going to close down Graceland?
St Vincent said a brilliant thing recently about the tendency to view authenticity and theatricality in performance as mutually exclusive: “I am curious to unpack this idea of authenticity. Where did it become more authentic to just stand up on stage with no lights, or costume, or theatricality and just stand up there with a beard and your feelings?”
The idea of authenticity in music goes back as far as the desire to catalogue music – and it was debased at the very beginning. When Alan Lomax managed the blues singer Lead Belly, for example, he insisted the singer wear his old prison uniform when playing in front of white audiences – for authenticity’s sake – even though Lead Belly would far rather have been wearing his best clothes. Still, it seems, there are some who believe that “authenticity”, however debased a concept – regardless of the fact that whatever a group wears or does on stage is the result of a deliberate decision, even if it is a decision to stand still under no lights and wear street clothes – trumps entertainment.
There are many debates to be had about the state of the music industry today – the cynical commercialism of it, its objectification of women, the poisonous cruelty of TV talent shows – but banging on about “rock’n’roll” and launching unwarranted tirades against individuals who do, in fact, have a whole lot of artistry, is not one of them.
This article was written by Alexandra Pollard, for theguardian.com on Monday 9th March 2015 13.54 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010