Via various discussions on Patrick Wolf: a tool that plots the audience gender and age skews of your top Last.fm artists. Apparently it made the rounds a while back, but I totally missed it.
(Syntax example for looking at someone else’s plot: http://playground.last.fm/demo/genderplot?users=Petronia&period=overall&artists=50)
I played around with the time range options, and the only act on my list that’s skewed further female than Patrick Wolf is 2NE1. This isn’t surprising, though - for all PW’s persona is made up of facets, there’s nothing there that I can imagine striking a chord with the majority of straight indie rock dudes, even if they don’t cause outright discomfort. Like, on some level you have to be thinking “I want that,” “I am that,” or “I want to be that,” no? Or even the flip of any one of those, some kind of darkside repulsion/fear of the Jungian shadow that at least causes a response. If a given pop star and audience combination fails on all three, there’s not going to be a connection regardless of the quality of the music. Cf. me and Radiohead.**
On the other hand, what really boggles me is that Saint Etienne skews vastly male on the chart. Really? Really? Most Saint Etienne fans I know are late-twenties Asian women who shop at Banana Republic (the changing rooms play Saint Etienne incessantly alongside eg. Stars or Florence and the Machine). Is this one of those New Order/Kylie things where in the UK the audience is made out of burly truckers? (Probably.)
On the other hand, the XLR8R podcast (which I listen to regularly) skews so far male the chart had to expand to keep up with it, which… well.
** This is not completely true: I want Jonny Greenwood a little bit.
The only two artists on mine that skewed as or further young and female than Patrick were Ashlee Simpson and Taylor Swift, and, strangely, Patrick Stump. I’m not sure what it is about Patrick that draws that audience - I hadn’t thought of the want/am/want to be trifecta. It intuitively makes sense, but I don’t know if it empirically holds up re: music that I listen to.
I think I’ll actually reblog this to OWOB and see if it starts a conversation. Thoughts on Patrick Wolf and demographics? Thoughts on queerness and predominant fanbase gender? Is it purely a sexuality thing? (Cf. Rufus Wainwright, Mika, etc. Bloc Party vs. Kele solo?) What about Owen Pallett, whose audience definitely is significantly male but who is just as out and queer as Patrick?
I edited the post before I realized you’d reblogged it, with this bit re: Owen Pallett:
The more I think about it, the more I think PW’s sincerity is way more of an issue than his sexuality. Like, dude totally does not give a fuck about looking ridiculous, which if you are someone who does care about that (like most indie dudes) basically forces you to cut yourself off emotionally from what’s happening in order not to feel painful proxy embarrassment. This may not be a conscious process. Owen Pallett is again an instructive comparison, because not only does he write songs about Zelda, that mofo is a ball of acute anxiety and over-intellectualization of everything. I say this as someone who loves Owen Pallett.
Why this matters less to girls: because as a woman you are not made ridiculous by doing the sort of thing PW does - at least, not more than you are inherently made out to be ridiculous/frivolous just by being a woman.
Excellent questions here.
I’m a straight indie rock guy, and the only Patrick Wolf I’d listened to much before Alex’s coverage this week were The Magic Position and a few stray tracks, most of which I enjoy—I’m really liking the stuff I hadn’t heard before, incidentally, particularly Lycanthropy (from which I’d only heard “To the Lighthouse,” because I’m a sucker for lit-referencing pop music). What’s odd is that, based on the albums covered thus far (and supported by this post, I think), the material with which I’m most familiar is that which codes queerest in his catalog. It hadn’t even occurred to me that The Magic Position might have been inspired by a woman or that Wolf’s sexuality was at all ambiguous.
But more to the point, I’d like to engage a bit with minimoonstar’s idea:
This isn’t surprising, though - for all PW’s persona is made up of facets, there’s nothing there that I can imagine striking a chord with the majority of straight indie rock dudes, even if they don’t cause outright discomfort. Like, on some level you have to be thinking “I want that,” “I am that,” or “I want to be that,” no? Or even the flip of any one of those, some kind of darkside repulsion/fear of the Jungian shadow that at least causes a response. If a given pop star and audience combination fails on all three, there’s not going to be a connection regardless of the quality of the music.
I can only speak for myself, but I’m not sure I appreciate Wolf’s music through any of those particular interpretive filters, primarily because I don’t always consume music with much thought to overall personas. I mean, there’s probably some level of identification insofar as anyone who’s ever been madly in love can probably find something in common with the sentiments of “The Magic Position,” but that’s a matter of the song, not necessarily the singer.
That’s also an easy one, since the emotions in “The Magic Position” are pretty generalizable. Here’s a trickier one (using one of the other examples from the list): Rufus Wainwright’s “The Art Teacher.” In this case, we’re talking about a song written by a gay man, told from the perspective of a middle-aged woman about an experience she had as a teenager with a (male) high school art teacher. I wouldn’t say “I want that” about any of the entities involved—Wainwright remains in character throughout, the female narrator isn’t inviting sexualization in the least, and the art teacher is more concept than person. I also wouldn’t say “I am that” about any of these entities; Wainwright isn’t inviting identification with himself; the woman is easy to empathize with, but I can’t say I’ve ever been in a comparable situation; and the art teacher, again, is essentially objectified. Finally, I wouldn’t say “I want to be that,” because Wainwright is external to the scenario, and the narrator is in a situation few would aspire to (in a loveless marriage, fixated on the past).
Despite this, I find the “The Art Teacher” quite moving. Wainwright certainly has an overall musical persona, but engaging with it in one of those direct ways (“I am that,” “I want that,” “I want to be that”) isn’t key to appreciating his music nor does “The Art Teacher” necessarily encourage one to rethink his overall persona. There’s always the alternative of appreciating the music as narrative removed from persona. That is, my appreciation of To the Lighthouse is not predicated on my relation to, desire to be, or desire to be with Virginia Woolf, so why should my appreciation of “To the Lighthouse” be predicated on my relation to, desire to be, or desire to be with Patrick Wolf?
For that matter, some may simply enjoy the music qua music with little regard for lyrics or persona building. Speaking as a musician, I often find my appreciation of some artists starts with compositional and instrumental creativity and sometimes even ends there (that is, I’ve always been ambivalent-to-negative on Billy Corgan’s persona, but the musicianship on Siamese Dream blows me away; that’s aspirational, sort of—”I want to be that”—, but it’s not really persona-based).
It’s somewhat tempting to frame the “I am that/I want that/I want to be that” as specifically intrinsic to commercial pop music, in which pop personas and personal narratives are key for marketing purpose, but I’ll admit that’s probably bullshit. Personas and narratives are just as important in contemporary classical music, jazz, more avant-garde stuff, etc.—anything that wants to reach an audience.
So I think this really does come down to individual modes of listening. Even if we’re, at times, encouraged to interpret every song, every gesture as a means of getting to know an overall persona (be it Patrick Wolf, Kanye West, Liz Phair, Bruce Springsteen, or whomever) and decide whether we are that, want to be with that, or want to be that, we’re not necessarily stuck with those options. I think it’s empowering to deny that impulse a bit. Take Watch the Throne, for instance, an album by two guys with hyper-developed public personas. If we insist on interpreting it strictly through the lens of persona, there’s a lot of interesting discussion to be had about the album. So arguably, it succeeds wonderfully in terms of further defining the personas of Jay-Z and Kanye West; it may help us develop our personal notions of “are that/want to be with that/want to be that” with regard to these guys. But that doesn’t account for all facets of the album, which I found to be pretty hit-and-miss on its other, non-persona-building levels. When we buy too heavily into the persona-building model, there’s arguably less room for us to step outside of our fandom (“we’re getting a new part of his/her personality on this album!”) and be critical (“it’s still not his/her best work!”).