The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic
By Jessica Hopper. Featherproof, 200 pp, softcover
That it took so long for a collected works from music critic Jessica Hopper to arrive is mind-boggling. From her early-’90s punk-zine work through to pieces for the Village Voice and Spin, up to her current role as senior editor of crowning tastemaker Pitchfork, she’s been ubiquitous in cataloguing fascinating moments of modern music history.
The author admits upfront that the title of The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic isn’t entirely accurate, citing older works by Ellen Willis, Lillian Roxon, and Caroline Coon in a foreword. It’s still mostly, and sadly, true, making the arrival of the poignant, hilarious, and occasionally crushing anthology a godsend.
One of the volume’s many strengths is the vast swath of musicians ruminated over in 40-plus reviews, think pieces, and profiles. Intimate portraits of Kendrick Lamar as a visionary “rap savior” and Rickie Lee Jones jelling into a subversive, Christ-compelled songwriting phase are touching. Less sympathetic is a Q&A with journalist Jim DeRogatis, where the two discuss in detail the disturbing, court-based evidence of R. Kelly’s sexual proclivities. Just as biting is 2003’s “Emo: Where the Girls Aren’t”, which takes a hard look at the clumsy, possessive misogyny of “the boy rebel’s broken heart”.
Praise for Eddie Vedder, meanwhile, pops up intermittently in the book, with Hopper high on the Pearl Jam singer’s undying DIY spirit and “anti-rock-god rock god” vibe. A midbook punch line arrives when, in a review of the Seattle rock band’s 20th-anniversary show, she notes disdain for the music itself, labelling guitarist Mike McCready “truly one of the blandest guitar players” she’s ever heard.
Navigating the concept of personal and public identities, a Village Voice feature about St. Vincent has critics’ choice Annie Clark telling Hopper about maintaining a balance between the two: “I have one answer for you if the tape recorder is on, and another if it’s off.”
Elsewhere, “Deconstructing Lana Del Rey” examines how that pop-noir performer has been vilified by others in the press, incorrectly, as an inauthentic creation of male record-label executives.
Whether humorous or harrowing, Hopper’s collection is essential, and hopefully a spark for even more female-written music journalism in book form. We’ve seen recent album-examining book entries from writers Evie Nagy, Susan Fast, and Anwen Crawford; Kim Gordon gave an in-depth look at her time in Sonic Youth in her memoir, Girl in a Band. As Hopper recently wrote on Twitter, “Every woman I know writing about music or making it has a book in them. We need those books to exist. And soon.”