With some level of dismay, I read this morning that David Byrne had to defend himself from being accused of not having any female collaborator for his upcoming new album. His own words were:
I regret not hiring and collaborating with women for this album – it’s ridiculous, it’s not who I am and it certainly doesn’t match how I’ve worked in the past. It doesn’t represent my current live show, which has a slew of diverse creators and collaborators, making this even more negligent on my part.
First of all, who criticized him? He posted the list of collaborators on Twitter so it is imaginable that there were quite a few comments on Twitter pointing out they were all men. Probably even an hashtag was created and gained some traction. Knowing how Twitter is dominated by a “progressist”, leftist crowd, it doesn’t surprise me.
Which leds me to the second point: do we have to care about what people who don’t play an instrument, aren’t part of the music business and are barely able to discern a pop song from a rock one, which is the average demographic of the Twitter users, think? Honestly, no. Nor David Byrne should either. Not to the point of having to make a statement to apologize. But clearly we have entered a world where even artists have to defend their choices from an hashtag on a social media, created by people who were barely born when he started making music. This saddens me. It is a dictatorship of the numbers and not of the expertise or knowledge, a dictatorship that as all proper ones that predated it, should have no place in a democratic society.
Third point: among all the artists that are still making music nowadays, David Byrne can’t be accused of being misogynist or not progressive in any way. Already in 1975 he founded a band with a female bassist, Tina Weymouth, in an epoch when female musicians could be pop/jazz singer and little else. It was the time pre-Madonna, when rock dominated and 90% of the musicians were men. Byrne had no issues in founding one of the most influential band of all times, Talking Heads, with a female member who actually wasn’t just an hot babe but an integral part of the sound of the band. Secondly, he pioneered the use of worldbeat elements, funk and african rock in western music, even before Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon. Reading his apologizing on Instagram is therefore at least odd if not downright humiliating.
Luckily on Twitter not everybody is witch hunting
After a career full of women back-up singers, working with a female bassist in Talking Heads, and collaborating with St. Vincent, David Byrne now has to apologize for lack of females on #AmericanUtopia Because of course we achieve #equality by limiting creative expression.
Do we judge the making of art now instead of the art itself?
This is the more worrying part of it all, and if you want to take only one thing from this article be this one: is it now important for an artist to prove he created art in a way that appeases the modern political and social trends? Is it equally important than art itself? Are people willing to listen to music created without respecting those trends as much as music that instead does?
Looking at the faces of Byrne’s collaborators, there are a few things to notice, outside of the lack of female ones:
There are POC. 2 to be precise. 1 asian too. I see nobody that can be taken as hispanic or of latino origins though. Does that mean his choices are discriminatories towards them?
What about veganism? It is not stated if any of those people adhere to a vegan diet. Does Byrne need to excuse himself for not specifying it too?
Political orientation. Do we know if any of the collaborator is from the “alt-right” movement or not? Is there any commie among them? Neo-liberists? Perhaps a nazi hids behind one of these faces and Byrne didn’t tell us.
I could go on but you get my point. I’m joking but I bet somebody on Twitter came up already with one of these questions. If an artist has to explain the inclusion or exclusion of elements or people in the making of his art, the artist isn’t free anymore. He is bound to the current trends to bend, no pun intended, his art in order to not be rejected by the, thinking or not thinking, masses. It may not matter anymore what his art is actually, the quality of it, the influence it may have, the actual output that those collaborators put out after weeks of work. If it doesn’t meet some prerequisites, as including minorities, women and who knows what else the Twitter intelligentia thinks it is a requirement these days, there are people who won’t listen to the album, that won’t appreciate it fully, that may even boycott it on principle.
It is the exact opposite of what happend with a nearly full black movie as Black Panther, which was praised on social media well beyond its merits. At least there the praise was on the actual final product, not just how it was filmed.
We risk distancing ourselves from the objective judgement of an art opera, may it a movie or an album. To be politically correct we may throw away honest recognizing of some artists, only because they don’t meet our idea of how he or she should have created the art. We risk closing ourselves in our own idea of what we experience on media should be and rejecting what is not totally conform to it. This will be in the end detrimental to the quality of the art we watch or listen to, as we remove freedom in creating it in order for it to comply to our own rules. Which, let’s admit, may or may not be right. Then we’d just discover that we have not paid the attention a particular artist deserved and as a result we have closed ourselves to the experience the art of that band, movie director, actor/actress, painter and so on could give us.
We could end up being culturally poorer. And it would be a bigger crime than not including women among one’s collaborators.
David Byrne was accused for not including any women collaborator in his upcoming album American Utopia. Does he has to excluse himself for the choice of collaborators? Isn't an artist supposed to be free to create art in the ways he see fits?