Music Features

Lorde, Sia, Pearl Jam, and More Demand Politicians Stop Playing Music Without Permission

A new letter from the Artist Rights Alliance demands that politicians receive permission for the political use of music.

Update 8/4/2020: Canadian-American singer-songwriter Neil Young has filed a copyright infringement suit against Donald Trump's presidential campaign for the use of his songs "Rockin' in the Free World" and "Devil's Sidewalk" without a license. The Trump campaign reportedly played the songs at the June 20th rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where it's suspected that the late entrepreneur and Republican political figure Herman Cain contracted COVID-19.

The suit states that Young "cannot allow his music to be used as a 'theme song' for a divisive, un-American campaign of ignorance and hate." The lawsuit will serve as a test case for license exclusions in the case of political events.

Imagine pouring your hard work, your talent, and your heartfelt emotions into a work of art for all of humanity to enjoy, only to have it co-opted by a symbol of hatred and division.

For a stunning number of musicians who vehemently oppose Donald Trump's presidency, that is exactly what has happened in recent years. Despite repeated statements that they don't want their music played at his political rallies, Donald Trump's re-election campaign has continued to use music from artists like Adele, Rihanna, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Pharrell Williams, Axl Rose, and honestly too many others to mention.

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MUSIC

Paul McCartney Buries Lennon Rivalry and Settles the Beatles vs. Stones Debate

McCartney discussed a variety of topics with Howard Stern, from Chinese wet markets to Peter Jackson's new documentary

Earlier this week Paul McCartney called into The Howard Stern Show to settle some old beefs and discuss Peter Jackson's upcoming documentary, The Beatles: Get Back.

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The newest cover of Rolling Stone is a photo of Billie Eilish, captured in grainy relief by photographer Petra Collins.

Image via ET Canada

The article that accompanied the piece was titled, "How Petra Collins and Billie Eilish Subverted Female Pop Star Expectations for Their First 'Rolling Stone' Cover." In it, Eilish discusses her vision for the cover: the "literal opposite of what a Britney Spears cover was."

Eilish was referring to the 1999 Rolling Stone cover shot that featured a lingerie-clad Spears, splayed out on pink silk sheets. Petra Collins was immediately all over the idea. "We're gonna try to take photos of you as a person," she said.

Image via Rolling Stone

Apparently, taking photos of Eilish as a person rather than a sex object (or something like it) "subverted female pop star expectations." That's a shame, but it also reveals a disturbing truth. In 2019, merely showing a pop star wearing clothes is still radical.

If we're still lodged in the era of feminism when a woman wearing a shirt is revolutionary, then we have not progressed since the 1950s. What happened to all the awareness about the problems with slut-shaming? What happened to intersectional feminism? The point is that if a girl wearing clothes on the cover of a magazine is still fundamentally radical, then Houston, we have a problem.

Petra Collins' name has long been synonymous with the "female gaze," a term that was originally coined by Laura Mulvey in her essay "Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema." Mulvey's essay was mostly about the "male gaze," the preeminent mode of cinematography that favors the desires and perspectives of men. She didn't actually define the female gaze; instead she merely called for a "counter cinema."

Artists leapt on the opportunity to create this "counter cinema," but few have been quite as successful in capitalizing on the "female gaze" as Petra Collins, whose dewy, neon-lit photos typically show girls wearing some variety of the same expression: a pensive, gloomy, blank stare. Her models are usually soft, vulnerable, pouting, drenched in colors and light, splayed out. Collins' work is about masturbation and period blood; her girls are tearstained, enmeshed in sweat or wedding veils, always illuminated. There's something sexual about Collins' work, something obsessed with the feminine and the female flesh.

Selena Gomez by Petra Collins, via High Snobiety

It's now 2019; Mulvey's essay was published in 1973. Is the female gaze—as seen by Petra Collins—still radical? Was it ever?

According to Emily Nussbaum, the female gaze as it is today is an "insight that has become blunt from overuse, particularly with its essentialist hint that women share one eye: a vision that is circular, mucky, menstrual, intimate, wise." In 2019, the problem with viewing this kind of female gaze as fundamentally radical is that at this point, this limited form of the (white, conventionally attractive, heterosexual) female gaze has been honored time and time again. A whole host of TV shows, from Sex and the City to Girls, has seen to this. White women have constantly been complicit in marginalization, and white, upper-middle-class women have reaped the majority of the benefits of traditional feminism, particularly during the first and second waves.

There's another problem with viewing Collins' work as radical and subversive. A great deal of Collins' work fixates on the archetypically "ideal" female form: the stick-thin, usually white frame. In 2017, Collins wrote an op-ed for the Huffington Post complaining about how Instagram deleted a photo of her that showed a thin line of pubic hair. Still, the most striking and central thing in that photo is not the faint line of unobtrusive public hair: it's the mannequin-like thinness of Collins' thighs. Her models aren't only often thin and white—they're often dangerously, unrealistically skinny, and the way she takes her photographs often highlights and emphasizes the body's size and shape.

Petra Collins via Jezebel

While she has photographed many diverse frames, her work remains obsessed with her own story. "Because so much of Collins's work is occupied with telling her own white, blonde, middle class story, we have to question if self-fashioning people of color in her own image accomplishes anything positive for representation," writes Hannah Simpson in Public Seminar.

Criticizing thin frames is dangerous territory, and skinny-shaming is real and problematic. Still, the modeling industry remains dominated by unhealthy bodily norms, and as a feminist photographer, Collins could do better—or media outlets should stop viewing her portraits like triumphs for the entire female gender. If we manage that, photographs that display women as people instead of decorative pieces could at last become the norm on magazine covers.

Image via Rolling Stone

All that said, it's not like Billie Eilish and Petra Collins' photoshoot deserves ire or that it shouldn't have happened. They are both extremely talented women who are doing important work. It's simply disappointing that Collins' work is still called subversive and that Eilish has had to work so hard to avoid sexualization. It shows how much more work there is to be done.

Music Lists

Six Songs You Should Hear This Week: Musical Acid Trips

New tracks from Valerie June, Kevin Abstract, Norah Jones, AURORA, and more.

Each one of this week's best new songs is a miniature revelation in itself, trippy enough to open your mind to new worlds.

For the record, the creator of this list has never taken acid; but these songs are what she imagines it would feel like, and truly, who needs drugs when you have songs like these? Transcendence, peace, revelations, a feeling of interconnectedness, swirly imagery—it's all here for your listening pleasure.

1. Drinker: Wave

Bicoastal NY/LA duo Aaron Mendelsohn and Ariel Loh (aka Drinker) have gifted the world with a gorgeous piece of pop psychedelia in the form of their new single, "Wave," released on Wednesday. The haunting track starts slow and ethereal, building up to a climactic tower of synths punctuated by bell-like guitar tones. A slow burn that's rewarding the whole way through, it's the kind of song meant for lying on a dock at sunset, sifting through memories and feeling the first hints of evening chill. Lyrically, it's a testament to the strangeness of time—the way it continues to move forward, but the past always seems to surge into the present. "Who is this? I'm stuck inside a wave," goes the refrain, a line that could be about dissociation, or fear of the future, or déja vu. "I feel like we've been here before," sings Mendelsohn, "but it wasn't you that I was here with." Hypnotic in its spaciousness, disconcerting in its dissociative leanings, this is an immersive sonic experience that bodes well for the duo's upcoming EP release on May 3.

2. Valerie June: Little Wing

Valerie June - Little Wing www.youtube.com

Valerie June has returned with a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing," and it's absolutely breathtaking. Mystical and pure, raw and electric, it's a compilation of whirling guitars, whistling strings, distant organs, and eventually a horn section to drive it all home. June sounds a bit like Stevie Nicks, but perhaps even more weather-worn, her voice is ageless, meant for staticky radios. She proved her songwriting abilities on 2017's The Order of Time, but this cover is a testament to her aptitude as an arranger and a conveyer of raw emotion. In a way, it seems to come straight from a timeless dimension where there are only peace and starlight, and yet, at the same time, it cuts through to the core of something distinctly of this world, some pain known only to humankind. If you listen to one song this week, listen to this one.

3. Novo Amor: I Make Sparks

Novo Amor - I Make Sparks (official audio) www.youtube.com

Nobody is better at making soupy lullabies than Novo Amor, but he's made a particularly beautiful one with "I Make Sparks," a title that—despite its swaggering implications—moves beyond the realm of woodsy folk. Ideal for the ending frames of a film, the song is a miniature vacation in itself. Light strings cast flickering lights over Amor's frail, breathy vocals, and though his voice never grows to anything more than a whisper, the music swells and grows throughout, reaching a satisfyingly disorienting conclusion.

4. Aurora: The Seed

AURORA - The Seed www.youtube.com

For a slightly more energized but equally intense listening experience, AURORA's newest release, "The Seed," will do the trick. It sounds perfect for, say, the finale of a show like Game of Thrones—hopeful and dramatic, full of rhythmic humming and intense violins, designed for scenes of armies charging over snowy hills.

In essence, this is a song about environmental destruction—one of many, certainly, as we approach the end times. "When the last tree has fallen and the rivers are poisoned, you cannot eat money, oh no," she sings. Ominous, indeed; maybe avoid this if you're actually going to take acid because it could potentially send you on a bad trip.

5. Kevin Abstract: Georgia

Kevin Abstract - Georgia (ARIZONA baby) www.youtube.com

Kevin Abstract announced his newest project, ARIZONA baby, in a cryptic Instagram post a few days ago. But the first single, "Georgia," is transparent and honest, a welcome return to Abstract's distinct solo work. On this song, he draws lyrical inspiration from the old classic "Georgia On My Mind" and spins it into a web of bells, swirling electric guitar, and gritty basslines. At heart, it's a love song, a tribute to the free-fall of true emotion, communicated through rapidly panned vocals and electronic vocal effects layered over a slow beat. Abstract is a master of his craft, and with the release of ARIZONA baby, he's continued his tradition of making some of the best atmospheric rap out there. (For better or worse, it was produced by Jack Antonoff, which may explain its sonic similarities to Lana Del Rey's "Venice Bitch"—the high-pitched synth is definitely the same—but that's another story).

6. Norah Jones: A Song With No Name

A Song With No Name www.youtube.com

This song is the sonic embodiment of a tall glass of water, a breath of fresh air, a drive upstate in the midst of a New York City summer, a comedown after a wild night. In classic Norah tradition, it's easy on the ears and heart, just ambiguous enough to feel applicable to almost any kind of subdued situation, but has enough nuance to merit multiple listens. Striking lyrics cut harshly against soft acoustic guitar and not much else—"If I had a gun, if I had a knife, if I had your love if I was your wife," she sings, as gentle piano twinkles in the background.

Special Mention: LSD

Save yourself

LSD - It's Time (Official Audio) ft. Sia, Diplo, Labrinth www.youtube.com

This list wouldn't be complete without mentioning LSD, the project of Sia, Diplo, and Labrinth, whose debut LP dropped this Friday. But unless you have a taste for poorly crafted, shamelessly algorithmic, and lyrically embarrassing pop music, spare yourself the pain and skip this one.


Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York City. Follow her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.


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