Sorry, Damon Albarn, but your comments about Taylor Swift sound a lot like sexism to me

The Blur frontman’s comments are part of a long line of women artists being undermined

Victoria Richards
Thursday 27 January 2022 00:08
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In the 1990s, you fell into two main music camps: Blur vs Oasis. I found the Gallaghers too boorish, too much on the mod side of indie. I felt an affinity with Blur frontman Damon Albarn – he’s from my neck of the woods (we both grew up near “Hollow Ponds”, title of the third single on his 2014 solo album Everyday Robots); and Blur always seemed cooler, grittier. Plus, Albarn was hot.

But now? The gladiatorial combat of Blur vs Oasis has given way to the far more unlikely Damon Albarn vs Taylor Swift – this time, though, there’s one clear winner, and it sure as hell isn’t Albarn.

The source of the ire? Well, Albarn gave an interview to the LA Times in which he pompously slammed Swift, saying “she doesn’t write her own songs”. When the journalist pointed out that she does – and co-writes some of them, too – he sneered. “That doesn’t count,” he said. “I know what co-writing is. Co-writing is very different to writing.”

Albarn was quick to caveat his comments – “I’m not hating on anybody, I’m just saying there’s a big difference between a songwriter and a songwriter who co-writes”, he said – but he still continued to stick the knife in, and duly compared himself to Swift, with himself in lead role of Great And Serious Male Artist: “When I sing, I have to close my eyes and just be in there. I suppose I’m a traditionalist in that sense.” He also dismissed Swift by comparing her to Billie Eilish, saying he preferred the “Bad Guy” singer because “it’s just darker – less endlessly upbeat.”

Foolish, Albarn, so foolish to go into bat against Tay-Tay: queen of our hearts, our pandemic princess; the star who managed to put out not one but two albums during lockdown that (for me, for countless others) became soundtracks to our collective melancholy. To me, dismissing her as “endlessly upbeat” only serves to reduce her – and I wonder if that is exactly the point.

As my colleague Kevin EG Perry wrote last night, the war into which Albarn has waded looks a lot like old-fashioned, indie tribalism. But in my opinion it also goes further than that – his comments form part of a pattern of cultural women being undermined; an unfortunate tableau of talented women artists, scientists and inventors being discredited, undermined or completely overlooked for their work.

Just the other night I was reading a story to my children about the English paleontologist Mary Anning, a pioneering fossil collector who discovered the groundbreaking ichthyosaur. Male scientists bought the fossils Anning discovered, but failed to credit her discoveries in their scientific papers on the finds. You’d have thought such views and behaviours would have died out with the Jurassic period, yet now we have Albarn.

Swift, as expected, fought back, tweeting directly at Albarn (and you can almost hear her cracking the very same knuckles as those she used to write bangers such as “Cardigan” and “Illicit Affairs”) to express how disappointed she was: “@DamonAlbarn I was such a big fan of yours until I saw this. I write ALL of my own songs. Your hot take is completely false and SO damaging. You don’t have to like my songs but it’s really f**ked up to try and discredit my writing. WOW.”

She followed that up with an eye-roll of epic proportions: “PS I wrote this tweet all by myself in case you were wondering 😑.”

Brava, sis, brava. And while Albarn apologised – yes, on Twitter – it’s not the first time he has been accused of laying into female artists. He once reportedly called Adele “insecure” and “middle of the road” after they had worked together on music in 2015 that was never released; she described this to Rolling Stone as “one of those ‘don’t meet your idol’ moments”.

“And the saddest thing was that I was such a big Blur fan growing up,” Adele said. “But it was sad, and I regret hanging out with him.” Albarn later denied the slights, saying the reports stemmed from someone overhearing a conversation with a friend – but this wouldn’t be the first time he’s found himself in hot water, accused of saying something derogatory about his female contemporaries.

Some of the backlash has been savage, and must be making Albarn wince, particularly from Gen Z. One fan wrote back to Swift: “If it makes u feel any better i don’t know who this guy is but i have every single one of your lyrics burned into my brain”.

Man, that’s gotta sting. After all, Swift was awarded the Songwriter Icon Award in 2021, the National Music Publishers’ Association stating that “no one is more influential when it comes to writing music today”. The Week described her as “the foremost female songwriter of modern times”. Albarn’s heyday, by contrast, is arguably over – and now, to me, he comes across as just another bitter man with a fragile ego.

Some people pointed out that writing her own songs is literally what Swift is known for; others said it looked a lot like Albarn was actively trolling her: “At this point Taylor Swift’s achievements are so highly respected in the music industry that I think you either have to be actively ignorant to claim you don’t know she writes her music OR – more likely – looking for attention and a reaction by publicly undermining her,” said the journalist Sarah Carson.

But others – myself included – fear it’s nothing less than a typical, misogynistic jibe at women writers, whose work has been diminished and undermined (as well as erased, forgotten, stolen and uncredited) for centuries.

One writer, Dr Una McCormack, shared this screenshot of the cover of a book by Joanna Russ, entitled “How to suppress women’s writing”, which contains quotes such as, “she wrote it, but she had help”, and “she wrote it, but she isn’t really an artist”. How apt. It could almost have come straight from Albarn’s LA Times interview.

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Feminist bookshop The Second Shelf also tweeted: “Don’t know if you know this about us or not, but we are consistently mad on all women writers’ behalves. No this is not a tweet to Taylor Swift. It’s for all. And also her. And for all.”

At best, Albarn’s take looks like ignorance. Perhaps he genuinely does believe she never writes her songs. But at worst, Albarn simply can’t believe Swift writes her own songs because she is a young woman – and young women who are both beautiful and successful couldn’t possibly be talented enough to do so – could they?

My teenage self dearly hopes it isn’t this reason, because then I’d have to switch allegiances retrospectively to Oasis, and I’m not sure I can get behind Noel Gallagher now, I just can’t.

But one thing seems achingly clear to me: and that is while Albarn is busy trashing his reputation, and losing fans (and perhaps Adele was right when she said you should never meet – or read quotes from – your idols), Swift is only marking herself out as more of an icon. And it’s her name we’ll be reading for far longer in the history books.

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