Joanna Newsom Is No Manic Pixie Dream Girl


We have always loved Joanna Newsom, but let’s face it: For a while there, she seemed like the perfect Manic Pixie Dream Girl — the willowy, ethereal good looks and whimsical sense of style; the quirky, elfin voice; the esoteric lyrics. You kind of got the idea that she woke every morning in the dewy grass of a forest clearing, nuzzling a deer and singing to the swallows. And while some (read: the depressing number of dudes who go for that kind of thing) might have been into that, we were excited to read an interview with Newsom in Sunday’s Guardian that dispels any fears we had about her strength of character. As it turns out, the singer and harpist ripped into Madonna and Lady Gaga, praised hip hop and declared a love for raunch.

First of all, unlike that girl who lives downstairs from you and rides a fixie tricked out with streamers and a pink basket, Newsom (who is dating Saturday Night Live‘s greatest asset, Andy Samberg) admits to watching television. In fact, she tells the Guardian that “too much crappy TV” is cutting into her reading time.

In the same paragraph, Newsom manages to diss both Lady Gaga and Madonna, telling the reporter:

I’m mystified by the laziness of people looking at how she presents herself, and somehow assuming that implies there’s a high level of intelligence in the songwriting. Her approach to image is really interesting, but you listen to the music, and you just hear glow sticks. Smart outlets for musical journalism give her all this credit, like she’s the new Madonna … Although I’m coming from a perspective of also thinking Madonna is not great at all. I’m like, fair enough: she is the new Madonna, but Madonna’s a dumb-ass!

Did you get all that? Lady Gaga is all surface; she’s no Madonna; “Madonna’s a dumb-ass!” While we may not agree, we’re pretty excited that she isn’t afraid to express an unpopular opinion.

Later, Newsom sent the Guardian a clarifying email in which she somehow managed to more sharply articulate her thoughts on Gaga and Madonna without retracting one bit of her dislike:

I may have contradicted myself. My problem isn’t actually with Lady Gaga. But there’s not much in her music to distinguish it from other glossy, formulaic pop. She just happens to wear slightly weirder outfits than Britney Spears. But they’re not that weird – they’re mostly just skimpy. She’s fully marketing her body/sexuality; she’s just doing it while wearing, like, a ‘fierce’ telephone hair-hat. Her sexuality has no scuzziness, no frank raunchiness, in the way that, say, Peaches, or even Grace Jones, have – she’s Arty Spice! And, meanwhile, she seems to take herself so oddly seriously, the way she talks about her music in the third person, like she’s Brecht or something. She just makes me miss Cyndi Lauper.

Oh, how we love this statement! Let us count the ways: Watch Joanna Newsom shout out Peaches and Grace Jones! Listen to her long for “scuzziness” and “frank raunchiness”! “Arty Spice” = burn! Cyndi Lauper! A Brecht reference! Joanna, will you be our new best friend?

She further elaborates on Madonna: “I shouldn’t have called Madonna a dumb-ass. Her music and she have just gotten so boring to me, this last decade. I think maybe she doesn’t hold her money very gracefully, the way some people can’t hold their drink. But one thing she is surely not is dumb.”

Despite her critical take on Gaga and Madonna, don’t take Newsom for the kind of girl who’s too special and obscure to appreciate the mainstream, either. She mentions, for instance, that she’s into Jay-Z and Kanye West. And the article ends with her excitement about Matt Groening drawing her as a Simpson. Now that’s a lady we’d like to have a beer with.