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Can music writers just stop using words like “cute,” “adorable,” or “twee,” to describe a band’s sound already? Maybe such words are actually apt descriptions of a band, or maybe even the band themselves had a like adjective in mind when they went into the studio, but when it comes from a critic it just seems to degrade the hard work and endless late nights the musician spent making that music. If you project yourself to me as a figure of authority on such matters, telling me an album is cute not only makes me immediately lose all respect for you, it tells me nothing.
When my label released a tape of Ali Koehler’s home recordings, I was so excited for how well-received it was and how many people fell in love with it like I did, but I was also a little disheartened to see that almost every single review of it resorted to calling it cute, and, because of it, stopped from providing any further insight into the album. It’s as if as soon as it was labeled, the review was deemed finished without a need to proceed any further. I felt bad that a collection of recordings I hold an incredible amount of reverence for had been simplified to such an astonishing degree. Nothing was ever mentioned about how stunningly honest and true her lyrics were, or the amount of emotive range expressed within it from pure love to a full blown panic attack. No, just “cute.”
There’s definitely a double standard lurking around the blogosphere regarding such descriptions—as it is with pretty much everything: women, and predominately female-led bands seem to be targeted far more than men and full-blown, hairy dude bands. Big surprise, right? It seems commonplace now that when a girl just feels like writing a traditional love song, it can’t just be left alone at that, but must be swiftly categorized as adorable because it isn’t angry. If it isn’t riot grrrl, it must be twee or a girl-group rip off. For a woman, a song can never just exist unto and for itself. No, it must be labeled as one of these two extremes. When some dude writes a pure love song, he possesses a “subtle, innocent intelligence,” or some other pretentious Pitchfork-ian excogitation lurking somewhere in his beard and suspenders, but when a girl decides to write a love song, what was once a full paragraph reserved for that guy is now boiled down to a single word for her: adorable. Have you ever thought how silly that sounds?
It seems as if I have only seen one of my favorites bands Cub labeled with such epithets, but the same writers wouldn’t be caught dead calling heroes like Calvin Johnson or Jonathan Richman cute. Childish? Sure. Naïve? Maybe. But cute? No, because that would trivialize the so-called bold paths such male innovators take for choosing a simpler lyrical direction. If a band wants to call themselves cute there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but let the band decide what they want, or don’t want, to be called. It doesn’t seem like that’s so much to want—to actually ask the band what they think they are instead of saying it for them. So, can we throw out those words from the journalist’s surprisingly thin vocabulary already? It will still have its many flaws—*cough*Robert Christgau—but maybe music journalism will be at least a little less sexist.