Five Years of PopMatters: Columns

PopMatters cultivates smart writers/smart thinkers from the world-at-large. Our staff ranges from the multiple-degreed and/or world-traveled, to young writers of high caliber, to "seasoned" folks who punch the 9-5 clock, regardless of what type of degree, if any, they may hold.

PopMatters cultivates smart writers/smart thinkers from the world-at-large. Our staff ranges from the multiple-degreed and/or world-traveled, to young writers of high caliber, to "seasoned" folks who punch the 9-5 clock, regardless of what type of degree, if any, they may hold. PopMatters recognizes that creative intellectuals reside in all levels of society, and it values their cultural criticism. Naturally, this extends to great respect for the reader, who, like our staff, hail from many parts of the world and bring many experiences and expectations to this magazine. PopMatters provides tremendous scope of coverage in content, in point of view, and in format: from the standard, high-quality reviews, to interviews with artists and intellectuals, to in-depth essays on all things pop culture.

On the matter of essays, particularly, it has been my privilege and pleasure to work with PopMatters' General Columnists, who live and work in various parts of the world, since September 2001. We call this group of writers "columnists", but unlike the typical newspaper or column of its own merit, yes, but of a different character, PopMatters General Columnists are in fact essayists. As in keeping with the caliber of PopMatters, the quality of content these writers provide is on par with many renowned publications including: The Guardian, The New Yorker, Harper's and Granta, just to name a few. I could go on singing the praises of columnists present and past, highlighting the merits of each individual, but our readers are better served by the General Columnists themselves.

� Karen Zarker, Editor General Columns

As Music Columns Editor since January 2002, my mission has been to find interesting, self aware, talented writers, each with an insider's knowledge of a specific music scene or genre, and encourage them to share their musical interests and insights in monthly columns. I believe passionately that music's greatest value is as a social art � a form of communication that, at its best, can unite people in ecstatic moments of social harmony. From this perspective, I have always been interested in writers who actively participate in music scenes and sub-cultures more than in star-worshippers or lone wolf critics who socialize by reviewing CDs. Some of my favorite columns of the last three years are by writers who are insiders in a scene, but also stand back from it and examine it critically. Participant-writers who can evoke the musical worlds they inhabit with an insider's commitment and also a measure of critical distance � "observing the moment and never quite totally in it" as Andy Hermann puts it � allow readers to participate in musical realms that they might otherwise never experience. If you like these columns, check out the rest of the authors' work in our Columns Archive section. Enjoy!

� Michael Stephens, Music Columns Editor

PopMatters Editors' Picks

Cosby Redux
Column by Mark Anthony Neal (Critical Noir)
Articles like this allow our international writers and readers to learn things they normally wouldn't about American life and American people. Neal wrote with great honesty and humility in this piece and throughout his column.

Queering the Mic
Column by Terry Sawyer (Mind Over Matters)
Sawyer interviews queer hip-hop artists who challenge homophobia in hip-hop. With a nod to the rich past and current context of hip-hop, Sawyer talks to queer rappers, and considers the problems of bringing down the "master's house", so to speak, with the "master's tools".

8 Simple Rules for Writing a Top 10 List
Column by Devon Powers (More Than Words: Musings on Music Journalism)
A lighter moment for PopMatters, this one's a favorite of staff music writers. Powers' take on making a top 10 list is spot-on and very funny. Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself.

That's Not Soul Music, It's a Bloody Racket
Column by Maurice Bottomley (Soul Spectrum)
Bottomley wrote with a true obsessive insider's knowledge of and love for the English Modern Soul club scene as this example shows.

From the Harvest Festival to HOVA � Bhangra Meets Hip-Hop
Column by Priya Lal (Bollywood from Beyond)
Even if you know nothing about the bhangra tradition, this article is an informative and insightful take on India's pop music scene and US-based hip-hop. PopMatters really strives for cross-cultural writing, and this piece (and Lal's column as a whole) is a good example of how this is achieved with a global view of culture.

How to Be a Candy Raver and Other Tricks for Infiltrating the Dance Scene
Column by Andy Hermann (Edge of the Dance Floor)
Hermann's work was marked by witty writing about American club-culture and dance music and its signifying, mutating culture.

Kelis, "Techniques", and Freaks
Column by Cynthia Fuchs (Amazing Phases)
Fuchs shows the varying ways that Kelis's song, and especially the video, are open to interpretation, allowing for an in-depth look at black female sexuality, with nods at girl culture and the market side of sex.

Aware of What They Wear?
Column by tjm Holden (ReDotPop)
Sweet and funny, Holden explores the vagaries of pop phrases that have bounced across oceans only to reappear, somewhat scrambled, as slogans on the T-shirts of another country's youth.

On Subcultures and Fitting In
Column by Audrea Lim
Lim continues to explore youth sub cultures in places as diverse as Toronto and Vienna in her work. Lim's columns never fail to fascinate and enlighten, and this column on subcultural style is a great example of her ability to illuminate complex issues.

Rein of Doom: Iran's Revolution Turns 25
Column by Tara Taghizadeh (Global Graffiti)
A child of exiles from Iran, Taghizadeh invokes the perpetual ache felt by those forced to leave their homeland in time of war, an ache felt to this day by their children.

Is Women's Work Finally Done?
Column by Simon Warner (Anglo Visions)
Warner compares how the UK and US music industries view women pop artists in this insightful piece of cultural comparison.

Artist, Radical, Man: The Life, Art, and Politics of Woody Guthrie
Column by Ronnie Lankford, Jr. (Plundering the Vault)
Lankford is a true musical scholar who hung up his PopMaters Music Columnist hat to complete a book on '60s folk (look out for it). Lankford's column "Plundering the Vault" is full of richly detailed essays on folk rock like this one on Woody Guthrie.

Normalizing Torture
Column by Michael Stephens (BodyMatters)
US media coverage of the Iraqi war has taken on a lurid fascination with torture. Stephens considers media and viewer responsibility on the matter, displaying a typically critical eye for the complexities of mediated visions of the body.

Wickets and Missiles
Column by Priya Lal (Bollywood from Beyond)
Lal's essay on tensions between Pakistan and India as played out on a cricket field is a fine example of broad cultural criticism and beautifully stylized writing.

Black Like Me
Column by Devon Powers, (More Than Words: Musings on Music Journalism)
Powers columns cover issues in music journalism that are often overlooked, in this case: the derth of black music critics, and what that means for the musicians. Powers has a talent for identifying and analyzing key elements in music � like the importance of appearance � that are right in front of our eyes, but that seem to escape the notice of most music critics.

On the Importance of Differentiating Fantasy from Reality
Column by Colin Harvey (Trivial Pursuit)
When pop art holds up a cracked mirror, those of us in the reflection don't always like what we see, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be able to look. This is a sensitive approach to the difficult subject of violence in video games, and violence in our children's lives.





The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

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