Five days ago Bethany Cosentino, one half of rock duo Best Coast took to the band’s Facebook to voice her frustration towards a recent review of a performance of theirs. Written for San Francisco’s Foghorn, the article is a ridiculous romp into the mind of a disappointed reviewer, who, through his prose, has determined the worth of Cosentino’s performance not by her ability to stir emotion and story through song, but by the clothes she chose to wear.
The paragraph that she highlights is in-fact the very beginning of the review, and honestly if it’s not an indication that writer David Garcia should brush up on his abilities to critique music, then the rest of the article certainly is. From the golden line of “a concert isn’t about listening to music” (seriously what) to the tint of mansplaining in “we paid for tickets. Please act accordingly” to reminding us yet again that her outfit was all that mattered to him with “I just wish they had put on a show half as good as Cosentino’s outfit”, the whole piece reeks of poor execution.
What makes this occurrence all the more cringe-worthy is that this is another example in a disappointing trend in the industry. We saw it barely a fortnight ago when Kalliope Jones, a young teenage band between the ages of 14 – 16 were criticised in a band competition for not being “sultry enough”.
And it’s not even limited to the popular and alternative music scenes. In my research I learned that there is a venomous culture of ‘fat-shaming’ in classical music with five separate reviewers describing a performance by the insanely talented Tara Erraught with horrid terms such as, and I wish these weren’t real, “a chubby bundle of puppy-fat“, “dumpy of stature…[with an] intractable physique” and having “the demeanor of a scullery-maid.”
More importantly, artists themselves identify the streak of sexism within music journalism;
“… I read interviews or gig reviews and they’re always talking about what women are wearing on stage which sometimes bothers me. And it’s not like they’re reviewing Empire of the Sun or Lady Gaga with their crazy outfits, I think in that regard it is really justified because it’s interesting and adds to the story, but when they say stuff like ’they were wearing docs and skinny leg jeans’ or ’t-shirt and jeans’ or ‘a t-shirt dress’ I find that irrelevant and it wouldn’t be done with male musicians”. – Paige X. Cho of DARTS
Foghorn responded to Cosentino’s social media outrage, and it’s as teeth-grinding as you could expect from the website that published that piece of journalistic refuse in the first place. There is no apology for publishing the article, going so far as to say it was “misunderstood as an act of sexism” and plays the ol’ blame game of ‘sensitive rock star can’t take a bad review’. Sure that’s not the explicit wording of the response but when it goes down the road of “She is a rock star, one with fans who buy her albums and journalists who will be critiquing her performances, of which appearance and presentation are always a factor” I find it hard to not see an angry finger pointing back at Cosentino defiantly screaming ‘See! This is your fault!’
To me this response comes across as a policing of feelings and an argument of intention versus interpretation. The writer ‘didn’t mean’ for it to be seen as sexist when he detailed Cosentino’s “short latex skirt, a sheer mesh top, and a pair of suede heels” that made her “sexier and badder than any rock star [he’s] seen in years” and so therefore any subsequently differing interpretations of his words are false. Bad news bud, but when you put something out there in a creative expression, even a live music review, it is then in the hands of the audience. What they interpret is what it becomes and your intent is pushed back to make room for what they see in your work. I get that you were disappointed by the show, but did you really need to reduce the experience down to the clothing of the female-lead?
And honestly, who the fuck cares what performers wear? It’s clothing. We all wear it, we all take it off in relief on a warm day and we all hoard it until that yearly wardrobe chuck out. But probably more importantly, and this may come as a shock to Mr Garcia, what a performer wears is irrelevant to the music they create and only one part of their stage show if at all.
So my proposal as a fellow music journalist is fairly uncomplicated; don’t talk about the performers outfit. It adds nothing to your review except to highlight your limited imagination when it comes to portraying how a musical event carried out. You’re disappointed in a show? Fine, be disappointed, but work out a better way to depict that disappointment than with the inclusion of ill fitting outfit descriptions and recounts of artist demeanour. When you hone in on the clothing or figure of a performer onstage you are reducing them down to their physical appearance, and you’re not painting the colourful picture you think you are. Despite what may be good intentions or just a poor attempt to get within reach of your expected word count, your description of their appearance is the written equivalent of catcalling on the street.
And we all know how we feel about catcalling.