Smile Politely

PygLit tidbit: 5 questions with Jessica Hopper

Jessica Hopper is the Editor-in-Chief of The Pitchfork Review, a Senior Editor at Pitchfork, and the first living female rock critic to publish a collection. Because Jessica is such a vocal advocate for women and general all-around badass, Rebecca attempted to overcome large amounts of intimidation and fangirl-ism in order to coduct an interview. Though mostly unsuccessful, Ms. Hopper was gracious enough to answer the questions. 

Smile Politely: I love the idea of a music critic reading at the lit portion of a music festival, and I know you’ve said that you’ve moved away from personal matter as you’ve grown older, but will you only be reading from your book, or are you bringing any surprises?  

Jessica Hopper: My book is really all I have to read, unless someone would like to hear to-do lists from my notebooks. I would love to read Heidi Julavits’ The Folded Clock aloud instead of my own book, but yeah, think we are stuck with the First Collection. 

SP: Google-researching for these interview questions, I see a lot of interviews but just about a dozen readings advertised on your book tour (not including Pygmalion *cough*). Since so much of your book is reviewing performances, how strange is it to be on the other side?   

Hopper: The response to my book has been overwhelming and I am grateful to have so  many opportunities to come talk about it, discuss music journalism or just talk to young, curious people. I love to connect with anyone who feels they identify with the work, as well as people who are critical of it, upset by it–anyone who wants to engage with it seriously. 

SP: Speaking of interviews, each one I read about your book features the first eassy, “Emo:Where the Girls Aren’t”, so asking about it feels a little lazy. In my case, however, it feels as though I may be on the other side of it. When I read it, my immediate reaction was that the problem with all songs, from a characterization standpoint, is that they seek a universal audience. “You” is everywoman, or everyman, whether I love you, you broke my heart, I can’t live without you, or I want you back…and the same tends to be true for “her” or “him”. It’s really hard to give a character a name, a notivation, a fully-realized being and still have the audience stand in and hear it as if the singer is singing RIGHT TO ME OMG (which helps drive sales). What makes the problem with emo more problematic?  

Hopper: We tend to think of the male point of view as the default, that everyone can see them selves in it and any more specificity makes it inaccessible — such is the case with literature, film, most certainly music. The issue here isn’t that there were not more songs with girls names in them–but the way the women in the songs were set up, the lack of nuance, that women are basically a device for the man’s own self revelation, that they were things to essentially possess and be owned–and all of that paired with things like, few or no women being on stage — it paints a picture. Emotions are universal, as are love, lust and longing — emo was obviously totally accessible for a lot of people, even the people it erased.

SP Pt2: So does this make me a bad feminist, an overly-analytical and literary-influenced listener, or am I just wrong? Or is the problem with the industry and infantilism of the audience who wants to stand in for the person that the singer is singing to? 

Hopper: None of the above. I don’t think there is such thing as a bad feminist save for feminist that fails to be intersectional. I don’t think there is a right way to be a feminist, or to be an audience, no best way to receive and understand music. I think people think that critics have all these rules, maybe they do, but I don’t. 

SP: As the only triple-threat on this ticket (Music, Tech, and Lit), who would you name as a contender — which act are you considering a must-see? 

Hopper: Run the Jewels, of course. Zola Jesus, Psalm One, Braids, Owen, Lisa Bralts-Kelly and of course the panels with my fellow Pitchfork staffers — Brandon Stosuy, Mike Renaud. I love just visiting C-U and seeing people I have not seen in ever.

Be one of the people Jessica Hopper sees on Saturday, at Exile on Main St., from 3:30-4 p.m., directly preceding the LitCrawl. Like the majority of LitFest events, this reading is free and open to the public. 

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