AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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“OLD TOWN ROAD”: COUNTRY OR NOT?

Soon after Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” debuted in December 2018, it quickly rose to the top of Billboard’s Hot Country Songs. But in March of 2019, Billboard removed the song from the country chart, claiming that it had been wrongly classified as country. The track went on to top the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, staying there for a record 19 weeks. But a debate remained about whether Billboard’s claim was right. Is “Old Town Road” a country song or not? Continue reading


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HOLDING OUR BREATH: MAKING SOCIALLY DISTANCED MUSIC TOGETHER

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What follows is a guest post by John Dyck.

Singing is a potent way to spread the virus. I learned this in a Zoom call with my parents, getting the update from back home in Canada. Singing together in worship, they said, has been banned in my home province. I looked it up: Congregational singing is a high-risk activity and is not allowed. The provincial government’s guideline for places of worship explains: Infected people can transmit the virus through their saliva or respiratory droplets while singing. Even singing in a small live-streaming group is not allowed. Soloists and instrumentals are encouraged instead. Some groups, I’m told, are reading their hymns.

It must be strange to worship over a screen. If you are used to singing in worship, it must feel even stranger to worship without song. For some faithful Christian souls, I imagine, worship without song must be as jarring as worship without communion, the saliva and droplets gusting up out of your throat as sure a sign as the bread and wine rushing down into it. Continue reading


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HOW TO PARTAKE IN THE FUCKERY: A ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION ON HIP-HOP, GENDER, AND LANGUAGE

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L to R: Bates, Lissa Skitolsky, and BL Shirelle

In January, we hosted an interview and preliminary discussion of some pressing issues in rap and hip-hop. We wanted to investigate the fact that, in Bill Adler’s words, hip-hop has never been “a model of civil discourse”. We did that by talking to two queer Black women rappers, BL Shirelle and Bates, to get their takes on the matter. Now we follow that up with a roundtable of scholars, each reflecting in their own way on what BL Shirelle and Bates had to say.

[Warning: This discussion contains explicit language, including a variation of the n-word.]

Our contributors are:

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HIP-HOP, GENDER, AND LANGUAGE WITH UNDERGROUND RAPPERS BL SHIRELLE AND BATES

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L to R: Bates, Lissa Skitolsky, and BL Shirelle

This is Part I of a two-part series. Part II is a roundtable discussion of the below interviews, featuring scholars working on these issues.

I. What Is There To Discuss?

A Prompt for Discussion by Bill Adler

Bill Adler is a music journalist, hip-hop archivist, and legendary Def Jam publicist.

As wonderful as it is, as impactful as it is, hip-hop music has never exactly embodied a model of civil discourse. On the contrary, it has often been—and remains—rough, rude, and heedless. Indeed, those very qualities are at least part of what makes the culture so appealing to so many folks.

Happily, hip-hop has also generated a body of exemplary critical commentary from the very beginning. For over thirty years now, critics and journalists who came of age as hip-hoppers have wrestled with the music’s sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and materialism… and have done so with love, from inside the culture.

Naturally, the music’s sexism has been particularly vexing to women, and doubly vexing to women of color. In a review for the Village Voice in 1990 of Amerikka’s Most Wanted, the first solo album by Ice Cube, the critic Joan Morgan quotes a girlfriend of hers as follows: “Joan, you know this motherfucka must be bad if he can scream ‘bitch’ at me ninety-nine times and make me want to sing it.”

To Chuck D, though, it wasn’t a problem—at least not then. Women had R&B, he argued. White men had rock. Rap was by and for Black men. End of discussion.

Let’s discuss.

Continue reading


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7 EXPERTS RANK THE DECADE’S TOP 5 IN MUSIC

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Childish Gambino, “This Is America”

This year marks the end of the second decade of the 2000s. In honor of this, we thought we’d take a look back at our decade with an end-of-year series.

The internet loves lists, especially year-end ones, and we’ll feed that love a little bit this December. We’ll be hosting seven lists of expert Decade-Best picks. We’ve done movies, games, and writing, and TV so far, and you can look forward to two more: traditional visual arts and one surprise list at the end. Our experts include philosophers and other academics whose work concerns these topics, and people working in the relevant media. Up today: music!

Perusing the below lists, you may find yourself wondering: Where’s the Kendrick Lamar? The Lana Del Rey? The Arcade Fire? If you want that kind of list, go hit up Rolling Stone or Pitchfork. We’re here to give you something a little different. The world of music is huge, and contains a lot beyond the contemporary mainstream. Instead, what we have today is a glimmer of that variety in music, including everything from opera and rap to metal and Christmas music.


Our contributors are:

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8 EXPERTS REVEAL THEIR TOP 5 IN THE DECADE’S WRITING

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Florida (Lauren Groff, 2018)

This year marks the end of the second decade of the 2000s. In honor of this, we thought we’d take a look back at our decade with an end-of-year series.

The internet loves lists, especially year-end ones, and we’ll feed that love a little bit this December. We’ll be hosting seven lists of expert Decade-Best picks. We’ve done movies and games, and you can look forward to television, music, traditional visual arts, and one surprise list at the end. Our experts will include philosophers and other academics whose work concerns these topics, and people working in the relevant media. Up today: writing!

Writing is a curious category, one that can be extremely broad, as writing touches so much of the arts. Movies have scripts; songs have lyrics; cookbooks have written instructions. So in our lists below, you’ll find novels as well as a selection of the best of what writing and storytelling had to offer this decade.


Our contributors are:

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SPIN ME ROUND: WHY VINYL IS BETTER THAN DIGITAL

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What follows is a guest post by Tony Chackal.

Ever wonder why people prefer vinyl records over digital formats? Are they just snobs who fetishize vintage culture or elitists overly concerned with being hip? Are vinyl enthusiasts backward-looking in resisting contemporary technology? Maybe. But there are other substantial reasons to prefer vinyl to digital formats that may account for recent rebounds in vinyl sales. In this piece, I’ll highlight what I think they are. Continue reading


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ARTIST-PHILOSOPHER INTERVIEW: MATT LINDAUER

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Musician and philosopher Matt Lindauer interviewed by Alex King for AFB

Matt Lindauer is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Brooklyn College, City University of New York. He specializes in moral and political philosophy, moral psychology, and experimental philosophy, and has published work in Philosophical Studies, Journal of Moral Philosophy, Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy, and Oxford Studies in Experimental Philosophy, among other venues. He is also a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. His band Myrna recently released their debut EP on Kitty Wizard Records and a full-length release is coming soon. His solo project Utena also produced a recent album that was recorded almost entirely on his iPhone between Australia and Brooklyn. He also played in the banjo-key-drum group Sugarbat and in Daphne Lee Martin’s band as guitarist and banjo player, and has recorded a number of other projects. Some of his music was recently featured in an ad for Joe’s Jeans. Continue reading


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WAPO POP MUSIC CRITIC RESPONDS TO PHILOSOPHERS

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Last year, we did a series of five Artworld Roundtables in collaboration with Chris Richards, the pop music critic for the Washington Post. Richards posed the “five hardest questions in pop music”: “cultural appropriation, problematic lyricism, selling out, the ethics of posthumous listening, and … separating the art from the artist.” In response, we rounded up several thinkers working in these areas to see what they had to say about each question. Richards provided us with key examples to draw out the problems and complexities of each debate. The results are here: cultural appropriation, how to respect the wishes of dead artists, whether selling out is still possible, how to engage with objectionable lyrics, and separating the art from the artist who created it. And now Richards is back. Read on to see what he took away from it all.

What follows is a guest post by Chris Richards. You can find him at the Washington Post here and on Twitter as @Chris__Richards. Continue reading