Pop-music critic Sasha Frere-Jones returns this week to a favorite (and decidedly unmasculine) theme: making sure Justin Timberlake gets his due as an artist.
"Sales of CDs are sagging—pendulous, even—and in the Internet era anybody who can sell more than a million units is a superhero. Enter Captain Timberlake."I used to think Sasha Frere-Jones was a woman, perhaps like the one above. I hoped for it; I rolled her name around in my mouth: "Sa-sha." It sounded feminine, I reasoned, and the hyphenated surname probably meant an unhappy marriage.
I scrutinized her columns for a giveaway "We gals...", all the while indulging a fantasy of sitting in her New York kitchen, sipping flavored coffee, our banter rife with razor-sharp similes. And when we fell onto the bed, it was beneath of fog of German electronica—sonorous, ambient, totally obscure. (Like this.)
Anyhoo, oops, nope, it turns out that, in addition to being the New Yorker's premiere music writer and possessor of Wikipedia's bleakest page, Sasha Frere-Jones (right) is a man. Moderntime was also confused and disappointed.
ZP from Hate will contest Frere-Jones's critical supremacy, I think, putting in a claim for Alex Ross, the classical-music critic. It's impossible, though: Ross makes me feel dumb, like I should have been paying closer attention to avant-garde Finnish composers, and what was I doing with my time anyway?
When you read Frere-Jones you think, Hey, it's okay I've been hitherto ignorant of this amazing hip-hop act because, well, there's Soulseek, and still time on the clock. When you read Ross you feel that someone is on a nearby rooftop, shooting sniper pellets of scorn into your shoulder blade.
Interesting: Frere-Jones, back in 2003, when he was writing for Slate, took Ross to task for exactly that—being a snot:
"Listen to Ross slag the kids in this efficient dig: Timberlake, for those who have let their subscription to Teen People lapse, is the blond, curly-haired twenty-two-year-old lead singer of 'N Sync."His defensiveness about Justin aside, Frere-Jones makes a compelling argument for the 'big tent' approach. This openness is his greatest virtue as a critic: he's certain that not all great music has happened already, no matter our desire to retreat to our room with our Brian Eno and forget about Janet Jackson's latest offering. Viewed the right way, the idea takes on existential implications.
"The New Yorker has a track record of approaching pop music with one hand holding its nose."
(Top photo: Anggun, the Indonesian-French singer, who, herself viewed the right way, sounds all right.)