Björk has put music journalists on blast, not happy with the way critics, including myself, reported on her Day For Night DJ sets this past weekend. The publication of an open letter posted by the Icelandic artist to her social media accounts on Wednesday was picked up by mainstream publications and created a frank discussion about sexism in the music industry.
Björk stated the following on her Facebook page:
“...some media could not get their head around that i was not "performing" and "hiding" behind desks . and my male counterparts not . and i think this is sexism . which at the end of this tumultuous year is something im not going to let slide : because we all deserve maximum changes in this revolutionary energy we are currently in the midst of”
So, are we, the media, actually sexist? This is an extremely compelling conversation that draws on decades of abhorrent misogyny towards female musicians on many different levels.
Let me say this first: I’m a huge fan of Björk and have been for over 20 years. Any fan of her work knows to expect an element of the unexpected, especially under the guise of the “Björk Digital” moniker being used in Day For Night promo.
For me, gender had nothing to do with how I reviewed the show. My job is to report what I see onstage and the reactions from the audience. I stand by my original take on the performance in which I said: “Any truly devoted fan would chalk it up to Björk being Björk. It left everyone else scratching their heads.”
I would have said the same about any DJ playing a laptop among behind, quite literally, a thick shroud of foliage. One female festival-goer bluntly told me afterward, "That was fucking lame." I had equal (and maybe even harsher) criticisms for the non-syllabic set by Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler aka DJ Windows 98 the night before that could have been replicated by anyone with a few CD-Js and an appreciation for classic rock and R&B.
The fact that it was Björk definitely elevated the level of scrutiny. She was one of biggest names at Day For Night, both for her interactive art installation – which received high praise – and as a performer. It’s not unfair to say many people bought a very expensive ticket to see her and were left disappointed when they really couldn’t see anything at all.
Most music fans know her as an extremely talented, otherworldly performer and many were ready to have their minds blown Sunday evening. The feeling was palpable as the crowd rushed the stage in advance of Björk’s set on The Blue Stage. The anti-climatic showing was hard for fans – diehard and casual fans, female and male – to register.
Am I guilty of sexism as a music journalist? Having done this work for 14 years, I can say it’s a pitfall for writer to fall for gender stereotypes and classic tropes regarding female musicians. It’s discussions on the topic over the years that have forced me to rethink and reshape how I approach my critiques and coverage because consciously or otherwise, it’s easy to see things from a biased perspective.
An enlightened understanding is something all members of the media need to strive for; to recognize these biases in an effort become better reporters of modern culture. Just as we watch episodes of Mad Men and cringe at how women were systematically mistreated in the '60s and '70s, or listen incredulously to the anti-female rhetoric of the recent election cycle, we must grow and evolve to understand others.
So, while the way she called into question the professionalism of those who reviewed her performance was somewhat misguided, I admire Björk's goal to shed light on a problem that has existed in the music industry for ages, and most especially in the electronic dance/DJ medium.
In that sense, Björk’s performance was successful in raising consciousness on a level she might not or, knowing her extremely meta way at looking at the universe, might have intended.