I want to be a music writer. I’ve made a ton of steps in the right direction (I’ve stuck with my zine since September, and am selling it in stores and going to zine fests), but my crushes on musicians are getting in the way, not through my own doing, but that of my friends. I made the mistake of simply mentioning that I found a favorite singer of mine attractive, and now it seems as if I can’t like any band with guys without being in love with them. I’ll mention a band, and a friend goes, “So which one is the hottest?” Um, maybe none, and I just like their drum solos?! Like, what the hell. It’s really affecting my feelings of professionalism and being taken seriously. An art teacher has even referred to my zine as a “cute boys” zine, even though I write about plenty of women in bands (Sleater-Kinney, Frankie Cosmos). I want to have feminine and girly emotions, while still having genuine opinions and professionalism (which I believe I have, unbeknownst to those judgmentally inclined). How do I embrace my inner Ellen Willis?! —Loris, 18, Chicago
Hey, Loris! From way over here, it seems like you’re doing everything you need to do to embrace that inner Ellen Willis of yours—it just sounds like everyone around you is woefully playing down your hard work. Unbeknownst to most people, zines require a METRIC TON of labor. The fact that you’ve been so incredibly dedicated to: (1) writing your own zine, (2) printing your own zine, (3) promoting and distributing your own zine, plus, (4) taking no shit from naysayers, proves that you’re in it to win it. You wouldn’t volunteer hours upon hours of your time (not to mention loads of cash on paper supplies) if you didn’t take your writing seriously. Your work ethic and your level of enthusiasm already sets you apart from thousands of wannabe critics and snarky overlords of music-mag comment sections. So, brush off your shoulders and congratulate yourself: Your initiative is your best asset in this business.
Still, being a professional writer does not require you to be a sexless vapor, discreetly suspended in the air at your local indie rock show. It’s totally fine to have crushes on your subjects—because you’re a human with emotions and, every once in a while, somebody will appeal to those emotions! Whether it’s in the way their lyrics hit you square in the gut, or that sweet, cherubic pout you just can’t resist, or both. So as long as you have a good story to tell, and follow baseline ethical guidelines—e.g., citing your sources, turning down friends and lovers looking for good press—it shouldn’t matter that you have a secret shrine dedicated to your favorite singer. After all, the first step to becoming a music writer is becoming a music fan.
Also, there’s nothing exclusively “feminine” or “girly” about feeling impassioned by an artist and their work. Plenty of grown men have followed the Grateful Dead on tour for decades and nobody calls them “fangirls”—they call them Deadheads! Unfortunately, you’ve been met with a lot of attitudes about your writing that are just symptomatic of the sexist society we live in. The first one being that, as a woman, your interest in music must start and end with men (puhleeze); and the second is that, as a woman, you are incapable of appreciating music beyond the appearances of the people making it. Why is it so hard for some people to believe that an industrious young woman, such as yourself, cannot grasp a subject you’ve devoted so much of your life to?
But don’t fret, here are some fabulous Rookie alums/critics who took the same path you did: Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, culture editor at Jezebel, cut her teeth writing about skateboarding in a fanzine called LICK. Long before Jessica Hopper became editorial director of music at MTV News, she was the brains behind the iconic punk zine, Hit It or Quit It. I had been writing my Latina perzine series, Malcriada, for five years before I began my post at Rolling Stone. With your kind of drive, and a little bit of elbow grease, you’re well on your way, too. ♦
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