The world is changing. Fast. In a not too distant past, we would talk and write about Negroes and muhammedans. In 1965, the Norwegian national paper Aftenposten used the term “four chocolate coloured yum-yum girls” in a concert review. Today, that would be unthinkable. It may, though, remind us that it might be a good idea to write accordingly to the time we live in. And, preferably, something that can stand the test of time.
Over the last few decades, music journalism has been professionalised. It is no longer enough simply to attach artist portraits, album reviews, concert reviews, or other reviews of artists to stereotypical clichés on skin colour, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender. The good music journalism of today is about music, and demands knowledge.
Yet, female and male artists are still treated differently in the media.
The Norwegian network and project The Art of Balance took the initiative to work out a checklist for writing about music in the 21st century. Whenever you feel the need to classify artists as girl bands, as ballsy rock, or as female musicians, try swapping gender with skin colour, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs.
If it looks odd, it is odd.
For now – and for posterityThe list below is not wording of an Act. It is a checklist to help us avoid publishing words and turns of phrases that may appear strange now, and that surely will appear very strange in a not too distant future.
1. Be professional. Show respect to your audience and to the musicians you mention. Talk about the music, not external distinctive marks on, or the private lives of, the people who make it.
2. Whenever you feel the need to classify artists as girl bands, ballsy rock, or female musician, try swapping gender with skin colour. If it looks odd, it is odd.3. Exercise caution when using gendered adjectives like fragile, feeble, sweet, cute, delicate, old fart, old geezer, and the like.
4. Exercise caution when using monarch metaphors. Very few people are ice princesses. Even fewer are pop queens.
5. Remember that musical references are not necessarily connected to gender, even though the lead singer has one.
6. Do not render artists helpless. As a rule, women and men do the job themselves. Be aloof in describing skills and competence as surprising due to the artist’s gender.
7. Be aware of the fact that women in music are objectified and sexualized to a much larger extent than men, and that these traits and trends are embodied in the language. To show skin is not necessarily the same thing as inviting to sex. Your personal assessment of the artist’s body and looks is almost always uninteresting, no matter how good intentions may be.
8. If you need a statement from an artist or another person in the business, call a woman. If there are too many women in the columns, call a man.
9. All of you who write and talk about music have the opportunity to influence the existing imbalance in the music industry. Be aware to strive towards demonstrating diversity!
10. Remember that your statements will live forever. What people will remember your statements by is often what looks most strange in retrospect.
As the Ethical Code for the Press says: Words and images are powerful tools. Do not misuse them!
This article and checklist was written by music journalists Oda Faremo Lindholm, Trine Sollie, Trine Jørgensen Aandahl, Audun Vinger and Joacim Lund, as part of the seminar “Language and music journalism”. The seminar was initiated and organized by The Art of Balance/Balansekunst at the Norwegian music business festival by:Larm in 2015.