I posted this on my Tumblr a couple weeks ago after I saw St. Vincent and Holly Herndon perform live at Terminal 5 in NYC. I wanted to get out some thoughts I had on the show, on how rude people can be and on how people’s tolerance of “weirdness” in art is weird. My friends and fellow music dweebs gave me great feedback, and we exchanged horror stories of awful crowd experiences. I also got to write “dickhead(s)” five times.
St. Vincent is fucking weird, and we love her for it. Wednesday night at the awful Terminal 5, Annie Clark twitched, writhed, stared blankly, shuffled in sync with her guitarist and delivered BuzzFeed-like banter in a detached voice. That’s not yet taking her music into account, which, as she said on her Colbert Report appearance, aims for “the intersection between accessibility and lunatic fringe.” Her music is definitely pop, but it’s fucking weird. And she still had the whole of a sold out Terminal 5 shouting “An-nie! An-nie! An-nie!” waiting for her encore.
Some of my favorite artists all but trick people into liking strange music by pairing it with familiar pop hooks and melodies and/or danceable beats. Julia Holter, David Bowie, Talking Heads, Flying Lotus, a chunk of DFA. Holly Herndon talks about this idea in a PitchforkTV interview that I’ve already blabbed about. “I’m able to slip in some really weird vocal processes if it’s in the context of a structured pop song … if you have something that people are physically engaging with, you can really get people to open up.” I knew I had to spring for a St. Vincent ticket when Holly Herndon was set as the opener. My bf got to see Holly Herndon perform live last year, and I’ve been jealous since. Even though Terminal 5 was not the space to experience Holly Herndon’s music, Tim was 200% right in that she’s next level, unmissable and important. Worth it.
As is my usual luck, I was stood next to a group of dickheads Wednesday night. There I was, grooving and obviously enjoying Holly Herndon’s stellar set, and the people next to me proceeded to make fun of her music the entire time. At one point while Herndon was doing her choppy processed voice thing, the loudest of the dickheads said “if you gave a 5-year-old a microphone, this is what would happen,” and mimicked it, in case we didn’t understand his distaste. He obviously has no clue Herndon’s a PhD candidate for electronic music composition and her music is the result of that. Also, as Tim pointed out, that is what tedious assholes say about modern art — “lol fuck Jackson Pollock I could totally fingerpaint that and make soooo much money dude.” No, you couldn’t. After Asshole #1 made that comment, I couldn’t help but say out loud, though not directly at any one, “No, it’s not, dickhead.” He didn’t hear me, but he didn’t have to because his friend next to me did. He must’ve shared my comment with the group, and soon I was treated to half-overhearing loads of creative comparisons of Holly Herndon’s music. After a minute of this bullshit, I had to ask them to stop because what else would I expect of fully grown adults. They didn’t, of course, but I made sure to be a little less careful and polite with my dancing in the cramped space. Holly Herndon’s music is weird to the unfamiliar ear, and it’s okay if you don’t like it. (Especially considering Terminal 5 is not the right setting for it.) Just, please don’t be rude and ruin other people’s experience. Please.
This also makes me wonder if that dickhead would have make the same comments if Holly Herndon was a dude. I hope that’s not the case, but something tells me he wouldn’t have compared a male producer’s vocal processing to a 5-year-old playing with a microphone.
What really gets me about this dickhead encounter is that St. Vincent isn’t comfortable listening, either. By liking St. Vincent, you’ve proved you can be musically open-minded to an extent. (And if you forget to be, she reminds you: “I want all of your mind / Give me all of your mind.”) You can appreciate the jarring sounds and confusing performance of Annie Clark; that a catchy rhythm or contagious beat can carry the crazy of everything else. That’s Holly Herndon’s philosophy. You can dance to St. Vincent and you can dance to Holly Herndon. That’s how they want you to react, while still challenging your taste. I thought St. Vincent’s set was a hell of a lot weirder than Holly Herndon’s, which was absent of purposefully awkward choreography and banter. Weird is relative, but it is especially strange what people’s tolerance and interpretation of weirdness in art is.