Taxing beauty / Simmering melancholy

Close up on an eye with artfully applied eyeshadow and thick black winged eyeliner
Veronica j. Vansk [CC BY-ND 2.0] via Flickr

Today: Writer and editor Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, who is currently a contributing writer at Pitchfork; and John Saward, a writer based in Chicago.

Issue No. 50

You a Female
Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

Pasta Sauce
John Saward

You a Female

by Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

In 2009, to promote his album 808s and Heartbreaks, I orchestrated a Kanye West cover for a music and culture magazine, where I was executive editor. The photo shoot, like all our photo shoots, was conducted documentary-style, in order to avoid studio costs; after the shoot, the label tried to charge me $250 for haircutting services, despite never having agreed on or even discussed the expense beforehand. I found the bill especially absurd in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, which had forced layoffs at our publication and slashed our budgets, and I declined to be stuck with such a fee from a multimillionaire artist backed by one of the biggest labels in music. 

That same year, I wrote about the lack of girl groups in contemporary R&B, after the breakup of Destiny's Child and in the wake of the golden era of SWV, TLC, Xscape, Allure, Blaque, 4LW and the like. A parallel conversation back then held that there could only be one famous woman rapper at a time, amid a seemingly unending supply of male rappers—not just because of industry misogyny, but because the beautification process that these women ostensibly required (to please those industry misogynists) was simply too expensive. 

My story was centered around an exciting new quartet called Electrik Red, which was composed of four art school friends from New York and Toronto. You may have heard of them, but you likely haven't, despite being the concept of the newly ascendant musician The-Dream, who had become famous by writing songs like Beyoncé's “Single Ladies” and Rihanna's “Umbrella.” Electrik Red released a single album, How to Be a Lady, Vol. 1, which I still consider a terrific pop romp in the lineage of Prince and Vanity 6. In their mid-twenties, all four members of Electrik Red had been well-known professional dancers—they'd performed as Ciara's posse in the “Like a Boy” video, for one—and were thus versed in the pitfalls of the industry. Their look, like their songs, was cute, sexy, mature; they made music about their own agency and desires. Volume 2 would never come to pass

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