Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Morning Coffee,” The Atlantic, September 27, 2011
Someone help me figure out why this bugs me.
No shots at TNC, but I tend to get pretty skeptical when people, particularly men, emphasize the amount of music they listen to that’s made by women. This is because, as I’ve discussed before, it’s really easy to ignore how much of what we listen to is made by men. A playlist with a large minority of songs featuring women can seem overwhelmingly feminine, because such music stands out as an exception and the more common male voices become invisible. It’s easy, I think, to say you listen to a lot of music made by women without realizing you actually don’t. That’s certainly what I found when I examined my listening habits.
But, then again, how ungracious of me to assume that people are as sexist as I am! Perhaps TNC and Yglesias and other people who speak of their love for women’s voices actually do usually listen to music by women and are describing their habits accurately. I shouldn’t cynically debit other people with my prejudices.
The other thing, of course, is that “women’s voice” is a description broad enough to be practically meaningless, even within the confines of indie rock: Does Kimya Dawson have anything in common with Florence Welch or Angel Deradoorian other than gender? When someone says they enjoy women’s voices, they’re describing something so nebulous that I can’t help but suspect they’re trying to say something else.
The other thing about this, though, is that despite saying all that, I sort of know what TNC means. There does seem to be a specific Indie Rock Girl Vocal that is distinct, memorable, and often pleasurable. It’s that sound of a man’s voice ending and someone like Romy Madley Croft of the xx, or Amy Milan of Stars, or Jen Wood on the Postal Service’s “Nothing Better” breaking into the mix. But I can’t think of what common quality those singers might share other than gender, and so therefore, in my recognition and enjoyment of the IRGV, what is that something else I’m trying to say?