This week, versatile Icelandic musician Bjork released her new album Vulnicura several months ahead of schedule, right after it was leaked online. She spent two years creating Vulnicura, a complex album of layered lyrics, string instruments, and electronic beats, not only writing the songs but producing them, too.
In a Pitchfork interview published yesterday, Bjork notes how difficult is has been over her whole career to get recognition for her work. Even when she and the other musicians involved in the new album make it clear that she is a co-producer on the album, critics writing about the album have a habit of giving her male collaborators full credit. This isn't the first time that's happened either. In the interview, Bjork talks openly about the sexism in the music industry and how female artists have to push hard just to get a fair shake.
From the interview with writer Jessica Hopper:
Pitchfork: The world has a difficult time with the female auteur.
B: I have nothing against Kanye West. Help me with this—I’m not dissing him—this is about how people talk about him. With the last album he did, he got all the best beatmakers on the planet at the time to make beats for him. A lot of the time, he wasn’t even there. Yet no one would question his authorship for a second. If whatever I’m saying to you now helps women, I’m up for saying it. For example, I did 80% of the beats on Vespertine and it took me three years to work on that album, because it was all microbeats—it was like doing a huge embroidery piece. Matmos came in the last two weeks and added percussion on top of the songs, but they didn’t do any of the main parts, and they are credited everywhere as having done the whole album. [Matmos’] Drew [Daniel] is a close friend of mine, and in every single interview he did, he corrected it. And they don’t even listen to him. It really is strange.
Pitchfork: How does it make you feel when this happens now?
Bjork: I have to say—I got a feeling I am going to win in the long run, but I want to be part of the zeitgeist, too. I want to support young girls who are in their 20s now and tell them: You’re not just imagining things. It’s tough. Everything that a guy says once, you have to say five times.
This isn’t just a problem for Bjork—not giving female musicians credit for their work is an industry-wide issue. Hip-hop artist Sammus discussed this same issue recently, noting that after shows where she played her own songs, people would often come up and ask who had produced her beats, skeptical that she made them herself. She wrote, "I didn't think my ability to make beats would be so difficult for some people to accept. I never heard anyone asking my male producer friends who 'helped them' with their beats."
This ties into the way society and individuals underestimate the ability of women to be “experts.” The tendency to assume Bjork’s music is made by in a large part by male musicians is the same frame of mind that leads to fewer women being quoted in news reports or receiving credit for their work in science. Our culture has trouble seeing women as capable authorities. Good on Bjork for openly pushing back against that mindset—now, let’s hope on that in all future reviews of this album, she gets all the credit she deserves.
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