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nytimes.com
Popcast: Joanna Newsom
Ben Ratliff and Melissa Marturano discuss Ms. Newsom’s new album, “Divers.”

I had a very weird, but amazing opportunity this past week: I spoke with the New York Times about Joanna Newsom, sexism, feminism, radical crying (seriously: what is happening???), and how Joanna is understood and misunderstood in the media. Ben Ratliff was great to talk with: smart, kind, welcoming, and a good talker and listener. In his description of our conversation, he wrote very generously about the work we do and Newsom: 

The singer, composer, harpist, pianist and producer Joanna Newsom, whose new album, “Divers,” came out last week, has inspired many listeners to feel deeply, and many critics — mostly men — to write badly.

Our guest on this week’s Popcast is Melissa Marturano, one of the proprietors of the five-year-old blog Blessing All the Birds, described on its home page as a “feminist fan project” dedicated to Ms. Newsom’s work. It is a place of enthusiasm and also of criticism. One of its ongoing concerns has been to catalog examples of sexist, condescending, or otherwise minimizing language used to frame Ms. Newsom’s work: reviews or essays that depict her as a forest nymph or fairy figure or supernatural enchantress, that partly frame her accomplishments through the imprimatur of male producers or arrangers, or that use reductive or loaded words to describe her music or singing. (One of the most common is “childlike,” to describe an aspect of her vocal tone; I’ve used it.) The reception to Ms. Newsom’s work has changed since her first record in 2004. Her work is naturally complicated, full of layered meaning in word and sound; listeners, engaged or casual, now tend to accept that her music will take time to come into focus.

She’s generally taken on her own merits rather than as part of a larger school or trend. Her interviews have revealed much about her work (and, strategically, concealed some things too). There is some useful critical vocabulary for what she’s done, and less caricature. Blessing All the Birds, directly or indirectly, has something to do with this shift.

Give us a listen and tell us what you think. 

—Melissa