sky ferreira, l.a. weekly, and music journalism misogyny

Last week L.A. Weekly published a flawless example of how not to write about female musicians in 2016. The magazine has now issued a response, but how it got published in the first place is equally concerning.

by Hannah Ongley
20 June 2016, 4:59pm

Since releasing her debut studio album Night Time, My Time in 2013, Sky Ferreira has acted in an Eli Roth film, gone on tour with Miley Cyrus, collaborated with DIIV, and used her internet fame to bring attention to important issues. Meanwhile, L.A. Weekly columnist Art Tavana is still thinking about the "killer tits" featured on that 2013 album cover: a Gaspar Noé photograph of the singer-songwriter nude in the shower. On Friday Tavana decided to write an obviously very ill-advised and sexist essay about this important topic, an essay which L.A. Weekly decided to accept as music journalism and publish under the title "Sky Ferreira's Sex Appeal Is What Pop Music Needs Right Now." Here's Tavana's description of the Night Time, My Time cover:

"In the now infamous photo, taken by Argentinian filmmaker Gaspar Noé, Ferreira looks like a dirtier Madonna: square jaw, strong eyebrows, lulled green eyes, crucifix, bleached blonde hair, translucently pale skin and killer tits. America's already established that Ferreira looks like a lot like Madonna (there's a V magazine spread based on this concept), but we almost never have the audacity to admit that her looks — specifically, her Madonna-ness — is her most direct appeal to the American consumer. But to pretend like looks don't matter in pop music is ridiculous. Looks matter; they will always matter. This is pop music, a genre firmly grounded in the aesthetic of 80s magazine cutouts and Calvin Klein adverts."

Tavana continues to compare Ferreira and Madonna for the 1442-word essay, attempting to strengthen his case by comparing her to women she is not like: Meredith Graves, Lorde, Taylor Swift, Grimes, Katy Perry, Britney Spears, and Beyoncé. She does get one comparison to Slash, which might have been a compliment if he was talking about Ferreira's musical proficiency or Slash's sex appeal (spoiler: he isn't). This premise is seasoned with straight-up insults framed as opinions from unnamed sources: "Her effortless, user-friendly sex appeal has resulted in some righteous huff from less beautiful people, who've vilified her as a talentless model who's famous for no reason." Tavana does list Ferreira's accomplishments, but in a very selective way. Somehow it's more relevant that she has an eyeliner named after her than it is that she was discovered on MySpace at the age of 15. 

Needless to say, Tavana's article caused a shitstorm comparable in size to the infamous album cover. Ferreira herself tweeted that she would be releasing a statement on it once she got home from Disneyland, and L.A. Weekly offered an apology of sorts in a followup post by Music Editor Andy Hermann. In it, Hermann cites a male journalist's response to the controversy as "clever" and expresses surprise that Teen Vogue — a magazine for teenage girls — had criticized their judgement call. 

Ferreira is still yet to release a statement. However she's spoken previously of the link between physical appearance and online abuse. In an Instagram post last year, the singer voiced her disgust at trolls who feel entitled to write mean things about (usually female) pop stars on the internet. "It's pretty petty and shitty that I'm supposed to be okay with being called a bitch or a slut or torn apart on my appearance daily (all day & every day)," she said. Ferreira's response echoed a similar PSA by Grimes in 2013 about not existing for anyone's viewing pleasure. "I'm tired of creeps on message boards discussing whether or not they'd 'fuck' me," she wrote in an impassioned Tumblr essay, and, "I don't want to be molested at shows or on the street by people who perceive me as an object that exists for their personal satisfaction."

In apologizing for publishing the original essay, Hermann writes, "We'll leave it up as a topic of discussion, or outrage, or as a cautionary tale about how not to write about a female recording artist in 2016." Unfortunately, the internet already offers plenty of examples of how not to write about female recording artists in 2016 — or 2015, or 1995, or 1983, when Madonna dropped her own debut album. Maybe the magazine can attempt a how-to — preferably running it by a female staff member — when Ferreira drops her sophomore studio album later this summer. 


Text Hannah Ongley
Photography Jai Odel

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