EMA and Tearist, video stars

Today, I thought I’d share two music videos I really like. They don’t necessarily have thematic similarities. EMA’s “Milkman” music video is in color, employs trippy imagery, and looks deliberately cheap. Tearist’s “Disposition (In Black)” clip is in black and white, creates a sense of foreboding with shadows, quick cuts, and strobe effects, and is beautiful in its compositional austerity.

But both foreground the female singers–Erika Anderson and Yasmine Kittles–in a manner not completely out of step with pop video standards. No, we’re not dealing with Katy Perry cheesecake. No one is ejaculating icing from their bras, and glad I am for that because Jesus Christ never again. However, if music videos are foremost about elevating musicians to stardom–if only for a few minutes–these clips follow that trajectory while creating arresting imagery that befits the artists in the process.

I should also disclose that I’m prompted to dash off this post because the director of “Disposition (In Black)” contacted me recently. She told me about a write-up she saw on Lin Party where the author posted the video and used it as a springboard to talk about how Kittles makes him hard (incidentally, he didn’t talk about the song, the video, or the craft put into either creation). She wondered if I had written on the prevalence of these kinds of responses toward female artists by male critics in the past. Here’s an edited version of my response. I took out mention of the director’s opinion, because I’m not sure if she wants that reprinted. I thought I’d share because it deserves a larger conversation and I’m happy to use this blog as a forum.

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So this guy is the worst! This goes way beyond getting the band’s name wrong. “If you ever have the erratic urge to jump up and shove your soft spot crotch in my face in public (or private) I will welcome it with two arms, a shirt that says ‘Fuck me I’m Bell from Bell Biv Devoe’”?!?!? (note: the author is referring to a video Kittles did with Erik Wareheim where she straddles his face several times to Bat for Lashes’ “Daniel”) Really? Gross. This just reminds me of how my journalism professors would say things like “don’t describe a woman as beautiful if you’re doing a feature profile on her” or “don’t describe what the (female) rape victim wore.” The idea being that women are so often judged on looks that we don’t even think about it when deciding whether disclosing that kind of information suggests a bias and furthers the story. Like, what do these things actually tell us about the person? Giving into it is both lazy reportage and old-school sexism.

I haven’t written too much on this topic personally beyond the occasional aside. I do make a conscious effort not to indulge in it. It can be kind of tricky. Rock culture has always been twined (if not synonymous at times) with sexual desire. So when writing about it, I always try to be mindful about how to write about sexuality without conflating a personal arousal with a professional endorsement. I wouldn’t say I succeed at this 100% of the time. I recently wrote about Jana Hunter and how I find her stage persona and music powerfully sexy and alluring–enough to cut my hair like hers in tribute. The piece is really about the sexual politics of fan practices. But I tried to parse out what I find in her work without being like “she’s good at what she does because she turns me on. The proof of her value resides in her ability to get me wet.” Because that’s just super-insulting. If the author took out any mention of finding Kittles attractive, what would he talk about? And he could talk about her voice or the band’s music or her stage persona (without getting into what she wore or how his boner reacted to her dancing onstage or whatever). That he didn’t talk about those things ultimately reduces her work to his id.
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Anyway, I’m glad women like Anderson and Kittles are making music. I like EMA’s debut album and now I know about Tearist. I’m also pleased talented cisgender female filmmakers are working with them and a whole host of artists. I’m working on knowing more about and supporting transgendered artists and filmmakers, alongside contributions from girls and women of color. But I’m going to be really happy when bros stop equating women’s cultural value to their looks and their fuckability (shudder, ugh, vomit). The end of chauvinism relies upon both me and you.
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7 comments

    • Alyx Vesey

      Hey, BMichael. I know you from the Tiger Beatdown OF comment thread! Hiya!

      I love Amy and her band, but must’ve slept on this post. Thanks for putting it in the conversation.

  1. Mouse

    Hearing about Kathleen Hanna made me think “Nooooo” because the Beastie Boys song “Girls” is just too unfunny. I mean, I don’t take gender stereotypes seriously, or think of them much at all, until someone brings them to my attention. It’s like nails on a chalkboard.

  2. Ruby

    I just stumbled onto this post (I know I’m coming into the discussion really late), and although I did think the part of this guy’s post that you quoted sounded like something a 12-year-old would write, I read the whole thing and really think his biggest offense is just being a terrible writer. I’m not just trying to make an empty insult here– the point I hope to make is that his post read (to me) like he just wasn’t very good at describing what makes Kittles such a fascinating/amazing lead in the first place: her vocals are amazing, the music is entrancing, and the whole of the performance puts the viewer under a spell. I think he started to get into this (very superficially) but failed. I don’t think there’s anything offensive about finding yourself totally attracted to YK based on the power of her performance, which happens to include a very specific kind of physicality. I even think that physicality/strange sexuality was the whole point of the Wareheim/Kittles video. Anyway, I’m a hetero female and I also think it’s hard to separate Kittles from her beauty/rawness/vulnerability/sexuality. I wouldn’t want to separate her from any of these things, either. They’re part of her magic and it makes sense to talk about them. I just think he’s a horrible writer who didn’t know how.

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