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The Female Auteur


Bjork speaks of sexism in music:

Pitchfork: When it was originally misreported that Vulnicura was produced by Arca, instead of co-produced by you and Arca, it reminded me of the Joni Mitchell quote from the height of her fame about how whichever man was in the room with her got credit for her genius.

B: Yeah, I didn’t want to talk about that kind of thing for 10 years, but then I thought, “You’re a coward if you don’t stand up. Not for you, but for women. Say something.” So around 2006, I put something on my website where I cleared something up, because it’d been online so many times that it was becoming a fact. It wasn’t just one journalist getting it wrong, everybody was getting it wrong. I’ve done music for, what, 30 years? I’ve been in the studio since I was 11; Alejandro had never done an album when I worked with him. He wanted to putting something on his own Twitter, just to say it’s co-produced. I said, “No, we’re never going to win this battle. Let’s just leave it.” But he insisted. I’ve sometimes thought about releasing a map of all my albums and just making it clear who did what. But it always comes across as so defensive that, like, it’s pathetic. I could obviously talk about this for a long time. [laughs]

Pitchfork: The world has a difficult time with the female auteur.

B: I have nothing against Kanye West. Help me with this—I’m not dissing him—this is about how people talk about him. With the last album he did, he got all the best beatmakers on the planet at the time to make beats for him. A lot of the time, he wasn’t even there. Yet no one would question his authorship for a second. If whatever I’m saying to you now helps women, I’m up for saying it. For example, I did 80% of the beats on Vespertine and it took me three years to work on that album, because it was all microbeats—it was like doing a huge embroidery piece. Matmos came in the last two weeks and added percussion on top of the songs, but they didn’t do any of the main parts, and they are credited everywhere as having done the whole album. [Matmos’] Drew [Daniel] is a close friend of mine, and in every single interview he did, he corrected it. And they don’t even listen to him. It really is strange.

It’s hardly surprising but it’s terrible. And these things aren’t just restricted to music journalists, but I think are pretty ingrained in the popular imagination, albeit the popular imagination of people who care this deeply about albums, which is not all that many people.

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  • jim, some guy in iowa

    it’s weird- you’d think they’d *want* to write about a female auteur (for some reason i find this a terrible word, but whatever) just for the sake of doing something different

    • wjts

      (for some reason i find this a terrible word, but whatever)

      It’s a terrible word because it deliberately overlooks the fundamentally collaborative nature of the arts (film, music) to which it is most often applied.

      • Vance Maverick

        Au contraire, so to speak. It asserts authorship even in the context of obviously collaborative work. That’s why “auteur theory” was a theory. And Björk works in a collaborative environment, yet remains, interestingly and one would have hoped uncontroversially, the author of the music.

  • Srsly Dad Y

    Auteusse theory.

    • Vance Maverick

      Larousse suggests “auteure” or “femme auteur”. We needn’t follow.

      Anyway, another great depressing topic. When will Joni Mitchell be recognized for her contributions to Neil Young’s Hejira?

      • wjts

        “Autuere” est le mot plus correct, mais vide supra.

        • Srsly Dad Y

          Ah d’accord, ce était une petite blague, cf. masseuse.

      • Turangalila

        Anyway, another great depressing topic. When will Joni Mitchell be recognized for her contributions to Neil Young’sJaco Pastorius’s Hejira?


        • Turangalila

          To be fair though, if there’s one recognized “female auteur” in music, it’s got to be Joni. Perhaps I’m naive but I think at least among musicians themselves and more serious critics she’s pretty well established as a unique genius and innovator.

          • Vance Maverick

            yup, thanks also for batting that feeble shot back over the net.

  • cpinva

    “(insert female name here) speaks of sexism in (insert subject here):”

    there, fixed that for ya. hey, no need to thank me, it’s what I do.

    • Vance Maverick

      Let’s not confuse the fact that the blanks can be filled in like Mad Libs with a suggestion that they’re not worth filling in and examining, case by case.

      And I need to avoid making jokes about this sort of thing — they come out sounding all too plausible.

      • Ann Outhouse

        More importantly, when you discuss sexism in the abstract, people don’t relate to it. When you give specific examples and details, they do.

        • Lee Rudolph

          when you discuss sexism

          or racism or classism or …

          in the abstract, people don’t relate to it.

          However, there are (it appears) lots of people who, even after they “relate to” some “specific examples and details”, can’t seem to “relate to” the generalization. It’s often said (hell, I‘ve often said) that a lack of empathy is characteristic of right-wingers, but I think that an broader impairment of the faculty of (correct) generalization may also be.

          • jim, some guy in iowa

            sometimes empathy is just the thing that gets left out in the effort to be clever and cutting and truthful all at the same time

          • Moondog

            Oh yeah, it’s not just right wingers. Most of us fall short.

            Older women will tell you, or at least they’ve told me, that what really pushed them over the edge — the final straw that launched the third wave of feminism — was left wing men.

      • cpinva

        “Let’s not confuse the fact that the blanks can be filled in like Mad Libs with a suggestion that they’re not worth filling in and examining, case by case.”

        not at all. the point i was making, if it wasn’t obvious, was that practically any issue in our society involves sexism. so much so, that entire books can be (and have been) written about them. one could also insert racism/religion/sexual orientation/etc. it is a very useful turn of phrase, able, with slight tweaking, to accomodate a multitude of areas for discussion.

  • Nutella

    I work in a corner of the software industry where the average age is about 28 and we pride ourselves on being cutting edge, but we’ve got the same shit.

    Two experienced speakers (let’s call them John and Mary) gave a talk at one of our developers’ conferences. They carefully divided the talk into many same-size segments and alternated so half the speaking was by Mary and half by John.

    The topic was diversity, both in hiring employees and in conference speaker selection.

    Everyone who commented on it said how much they liked John’s talk and looked at me blankly when I reminded them that John did not give a talk at that conference. It’s only when I pointed out very specifically that John and Mary gave a talk that they realized their mistake. I doubt if any of them will remember that they completely effing missed the point.

    (edited for clarity)

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      They were so concentrated on staring at Mary’s tits, that the “yadda yadda” coming out of her mouth just washed over them and left no impression?

      Okay, perhaps that’s too charitable.

    • howard

      didn’t the whole concept of “mansplaining” arise when some lout explained to rebecca solnit the book she had just written?

  • Owlbear1

    Silly Bjork. Doesn’t she realize her highest ideal should be pregnant property?

  • YRUasking

    I’ve noticed that St. Vincent has managed to avoid this so far, but who knows for how long that will last. I wonder why that is.

    • postmodulator

      It feels like Polly Jean Harvey avoided this, and she had high-profile male collaborators pretty often (Flood, John Parrish, Eric Drew Feldman, Joe Gore).

      • Barry Freed

        Kate Bush too. But this is missing the point. That it happens so routinely, and literally, thoughtlessly, is the problem. I find it even more astounding that this should happen to an artist as clearly accomplished and self-realized as Bjork.

        • mpowell

          That’s what I was thinking as well. For the no-name, no surprise. For Bjork? Crazy.

          • postmodulator

            There’s the long-standing belief that Kurt wrote all of the second Hole record, which is risible on its face if you know anything about music and listen carefully. There’s stuff on Live Through This that Kurt, God bless him, didn’t know how to do.

            But I can think of counterexamples too. I don’t remember anyone but Tori Amos getting credit for Tori Amos records. I don’t remember that stuff being said about Liz Phair.

            • howard

              actually, when exile in guyville came out, there was a lot of comment about the guy who phair worked with whose name escapes me: some chicago underground hero type.

  • witlesschum

    Since we’re talking about the 90s, see also Courtney Love.

  • Bitter Scribe

    This is making me think of Colette’s husband taking credit for her work.

    Or, to go many notches down on the taste scale, Walter Keane taking credit for his wife Margaret’s “Big Eyes” paintings.

    (Anyone seen that movie yet?)

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