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Males making a career of being blue: masculinity and moroseness in alternative music

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By Sophie MacKenzie-Smith

At work today my co-worker and I were attempting to think of an alternative band or artist who is as consistently lyrically morose as Morrissey is. He proposed Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen, Elliott Smith and young Nick Cave. I asked him why he didn’t name any females. He replied that he had never thought about it, but that’s the way it is. I quipped that females have less to be upset about. We tittered and customers listening in probably thought I was a raging misogynist. In reality, my brain was ticking this over.

Think of the saddest lyricists you can. Purely lyrical content, so don’t try to sneak Low or a Silver Mt. Zion in. Without making gender-specific exceptions, your list probably looks similar to my co-worker’s. Why is this, though? Why do males have the top hat and baton, leading the gloomy black parade of alternative music? Yeah, Cat Power is a bit of a grump sometimes and S was a sad, limping instigator in the coining of the term ‘sad-core’, but when it comes down the the true masters of the art of sadness, it’s the males that immediately jump to mind.

I can assume with a degree of certainty that Morrissey would top many a list. Of course, historically the morose poetic male is a familiar cliché (I’m looking at you, Werther), so thus Morrissey ostensibly didn’t singlehandedly patent the aesthetic, yet he undoubtedly culturally sanctioned the ‘emotional male’ in indie rock, along with the aforementioned. To make sad and, synonymously, sensitive indie rock basically means you’re chucking a Moz nowadays. To illustrate his pervasiveness, simply take a brief gander at the virulency of emotional male singers since The Moz and his homely, honorable Quiff first moped their way into our record players, clutching gladioli and sighing Wilde poetry. The sad, sensitive male singer has become a staple trope of contemporary alternative music.

As an aide for this exercise, I decided to take a sample size of suitable emotional contemporary male artists’ latest records and rate them for miserability, or shall we say ‘Mozerability’. The rating system is thus:

  • Alienation 5+
  • Unrequited Love 5+
  • Self-Hate 5+
  • Misanthropy 5+
  • Overtures Of Death 5+
  • General Moroseness 2+
  • General Existentialism 2+
  • Overtures Of Doom 2+
  • Unhappy Family Relations 2+
  • Regret At The Way A Past Relationship Has Played Out/Ended 2+

Thus, the following bands scored highly on my ‘Mozerability’ test:

  • Xiu Xiu – Dear God I Hate Myself (10 points for record title, I’m sorry but how can you ignore that?): 32
  • Frightened Rabbit – Winter Of Mixed Drinks: 46
  • Former Ghosts – New Love: 55
  • Los Campesinos! – Romance Is Boring: 50
  • The Antlers – Hospice: 72

(continues over)

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18 Responses to Males making a career of being blue: masculinity and moroseness in alternative music

  1. Pingback: 10/30 – Punk Rock, Goth & Horror | popularmusicandmasculinity

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