Joanna Newsom Is Done Reading Blogs

Joanna Newsom becomes less of an enigma with each interview. The polarizing songwriter is Under The Radar’s spring cover girl and between the pages is an enlightening ten page spread: a far-reaching interview conducted at the Bowery Hotel in February by Chris Tinkham accompanied by photos from Crackerfarm (example above).

Stereogum has covered Joanna’s professional career with much scrutiny over the past six years. We have been fair (and perhaps sometimes too fawning). I’ve never met Joanna Newsom, but I admit I’m amused when our commenters get her attention. UTR’s piece is not online, so I have transcribed only the most relevant excerpt. I hope the mag understands, and that you are compelled to purchase it after reading this…

Via Under The Radar:

Ever since the release of The Milk-Eyed Mender, Newsom has been aware of how she and her work are scrutinized. The heaps of critical praise that her debut received coincided with the mounting influence of music blogs, and while much of the attention on Newsom was incited by genuine admiration, discussion about her singing and look often overshadowed appreciation for her musicianship. Because of her distinctive voice, her fondness for vintage dresses, and the fanciful imagery of songs with titles such as “Bridges And Balloons” and “Peach, Plum, Pear,” she was tagged with terms like “elfin princess” and “wood nymph.” However, Newsom was more concerned about how her music was being perceived.

Newsom admits to being “vulnerable to the call of the Internet” and knew that fans were ascribing titles to the unrecorded songs that would appear on Have One On Me. “When I was playing new songs, people would refer to then by these titles that I hadn’t referred to them by, and they would do it real authoritatively, like super know-it-all,” she says. “It really annoyed me.” But in September 2009, Newsom called it quits and stopped reading about herself, recognizing it as destructive and dangerous. “I’m a girl, and I’m human, and so probably the things that get to me the most are just when someone’s like, ’that girl’s ugly,’ or ’stupid,’ or really playground shit,” she confesses. “Everything kind of affects me somehow if I read it, but that’s the stuff that drains your energy the most. Anything that engages the work is something that you somehow can step away from. I’ve read horrible, scathing reviews, and some of them are kind of good, kind of well-written, and occasionally they’re even funny. I remember with Ys, there were a few things that I read that made me laugh a lot, that were tearing it apart but making really good points. And somehow that doesn’t hurt my feelings as much. But there’s a class of insult that you can’t engage with at all, and you can’t defend yourself against in any way, and it just resonates with a very primal part of you. No one wants anyone to think they’re ugly and stupid, so somehow that’s the stuff that gets me.”

“I might just be talking about it and someone would point out, ’What the hell are you doing spending one second of your time caring about what some dumbo in some far-off state has to anonymously say about you on a blog that five people read? It’s just a waste of energy. Regardless of what it was that made me realize once and for all that I needed to not read that stuff, it was one little episode that was representative of a whole larger truth, which is that no matter what I read on the Internet, whether it’s ’good’ or ’bad,’ it still makes me feel weird. It’s counterproductive. Even something that is a glowing review still leaves a weird taste in my mouth.”

The piece also describes Joanna’s formative years as a 5-year-old (!) songwriter in Grass Valley and later as a NoCal sk8r girl during junior high. And, of course, the time her roommate, Golden Shoulders’ Adam Kline, gave Joanna’s “demo” to Will Oldham. You know the rest…

Under The Radar #31 is available for purchase right here.

One final bit of irony I have to share: in explaining her motivation to accept Ray Tintori’s invitation to star in MGMT’s controversial “Kids” video, Joanna says, “My New Year’s resolution [for 2009] was to start being less of a hater.”

Comments (29)
  1. joanna newsom is so pretty.

  2. I don’t think what she said was bad. I mean, if a blog is writing up an album review that says she’s “ugly” or “stupid” — then yeah, that’s idiotic.

  3. Who would ever say she was ugly?

  4. She’s clearly not ugly or idiotic or any of those things. I am one of those people who don’t get her voice. I just don’t know whether or not it’s naturally like that, or if she sings like that to be different, but it doesn’t do it for me. She’s still a great songwriter, you can’t deny that. Especially if you hear Robin Pecknold covering her.

    • Amen to that.
      Nothing personal against the girl, even enjoy the music and the lyrics, but good god, the voice just drives me nuts. It’s like listening to somebody drill holes on a metal sheet.

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  6. “My New Year’s resolution [for 2009] was to start being less of a hater.”

    Amazing. Can everyone here be more like that?

  7. This is playground shit. Everyone knows to just ignore the internet trolls.

  8. shut up internet, Joanna Newsom is hot.

  9. I’m not really asking this out to be critical of your writing or the content you provide on this site. Just reading this post struck me as strange to the point where I’m admittedly curious. I’m not entirely sure why, but reading the first part of the article struck me as having a bit of restrained hostility toward Joanna Newsom. The “too fawning” link pointing to stereogum’s review of Have One On Me is a large part of the hunch, but also the way your entry seems to be relating stereogum’s relationship with her… as if you’re defending your work personally. Basically, I got the sense that when I got to the excerpt, I was going to find some specific citation from stereogum that would be read as an attack by the staff. But she was just talking about how she can’t engage in the blogs because people feel free to both attack her and to praise her in ways that interfere with her job. It seems like a totally reasonable stance; she wasn’t saying “these music writers are thoughtless bastards and shouldn’t be writing about me.” So basically I’m wondering, when stereogum published the review of Have One On Me, do you think you weren’t entirely evaluating the album based upon its quality alone, but under the sway of some level of charm or infatuation with Joanna Newsom herself? If so, does her admission that blogs get under her skin dampen the feelings you had toward her, causing you to retort by saying the review is overly fawning? Did the album simply sound good at first and then get stale? I mean I don’t think it’s easy or even entirely possible to totally disengage from a performer’s persona these days, evaluating an album on its content alone. So I’m not accusing you of being bad journalists. It’s something that just makes me curious.

    • how can you write so much and not really say anything? i’m confused as to what your point is…

      • massromantic, you attacked this for being long before getting to the point: you confuse easily.

        I think ohboyohboyohboy is just asking for clarification since the article starts out as if there’s gonna be a feud between JN and stereogum, when really, it just sounds like she’s tired of reading about herself.

        Are they lamely *trying* to accept culpability for something they aren’t involved in?

        Or are they admitting that their review is evidence of the stuff she’s complaining about?

        not terribly difficult to decipher.

        • The confusion is my fault. This post was rushed. My language was intended to be apologetic not to Joanna, but to Under The Radar, because I know what’s it like to have your original reporting repurposed w/out credit. Theirs is a long, terrific interview. I transcribed just the most relevant part to Stereogum readers, and UTR hasn’t e-mailed me to complain, so let’s just call it a day.

          No feud between Stereogum & Joanna. I don’t think we’ve ever written a negative thing about her beyond music criticism? I’m sure she doesn’t know what Stereogum is. Just that “internets can be cruel”?

  10. Hey Joanna, I know you’re not reading this anymore, so this makes it easier to tell you. I love you. That is all. Thank you Internet!

  11. i hated Ys, but Have One On Me is truly a beautiful record.

  12. hey joanna, you aren’t ugly but you aren’t beautiful either. you are above average. Your fans will of course say you are the most beautiful women ever, but they are FANS. Get some self-esteem.

  13. lol shes literally a child. grow the fuck up.

  14. Can’t deny she was great in The Dark Crystal.

  15. I feel bad for her. It must be really really hard to be Joanna Newsom.

  16. Ugly, annoying, fat, AND talentless.

  17. I think I’m slowly getting used to her voice. The way she plays the harp has always enthralled me, but her voice put me off more often than not. Now that I’ve listened to her more ( I used and other sources, trying to find more about Joanna Newsom), I think I can appreciate her. She’s so unique, and her lyrics are quite poetic and beautiful. It’s a slow process, but I’m seeing more and more how beautiful her voice can be. ♥

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