…I really don’t know what to think of them. Flashback to my sophomore year of high school: I’m 16 and dating a 20-year-old who, despite great taste in music and grand romantic gestures is kind of a manipulative asshole. One of his favorite bands was Interpol and I listened to them all the time. At first, it was true love. I loved the rhythmic bass-driven tracks, the chilled out, sexy vibe of it all. Then I started to listen to the lyrics and I couldn’t help but find them mildly sexist and offensive. “Is this what men really think of us?” I remember thinking. Suddenly my boyfriend’s immature, self-victimization was making a lot more sense.
Granted, this wasn’t my first run-in with misogyny in music. I spent a good chunk of high school devouring The Who’s and The Stones’ respective catalogues. Depeche Mode was a go-to. But for some reason Interpol stuck out as being the one that bothered me most. Maybe it was just the association with my ex, maybe it was that I felt by the 21st century we should have moved on from this kind of behavior. Or maybe it was just the blunt way in which Paul Banks would call women sleazes and talk about their cruelty in teasing and withholding sex. I broke up with my boyfriend after about six months and took a break from Interpol.
Until now that is. A recent binge session of The O.C. (it’s all legally online and free!) recently reminded me of them. I’ve been listening to them nonstop for the past few weeks and still don’t know where I stand.
The thing is, the lyrics still bother me. It’s rare that I listen to a song and don’t have a negative knee-jerk reaction to them. Which, is a pity since when they aren’t whining about how bitchy women are the lyrics can be quite beautiful, rife with rich and original metaphors. These metaphors are often lost, however, in a sea of medieval musings and generalizing comments about how women “have no self control” and are “known for insatiable needs.”
Unsurprisingly, my favorite track is an instrumental, because on the flip side the sound is simply phenomenal—stunningly, gorgeously brilliant and completely addicting. I’m a sucker for bass…this band was formed around it and it’s hooks are percussive and layered with incredible balance. And while, yes, at times it can be repetitive and formulaic, it’s a formula that WORKS, so I generally forgive them that. I like the sound of pretty much every track they’ve ever written. And as if to add insult to injury, the sound itself (to my ears) is undeniably sexy.
So what do we do with this? Chalk it all up to creative license and move on? Boycott a brilliant sound of work because the lyrics are offensive? I can’t ever decide. I suppose it would help if I had some sense of how sincere Interpol is regarding the messages they send. But I can’t help but think it’s a little detrimental to kids to hear these sorts of sweepingly sexist anecdotes hollered at them on repeat every time they listen to their albums.
At the same time, if I were to ditch every sexist piece of music from my iPod I would be listening to a pitiful number of good songs. So much of the greatest music written in the last 100 years is saturated in sexist culture—hell, I’d have to give up Etta James and Mozart operas if I was being really honest in my iPod cull. But I do think there is something particularly disappointing in finding this message so passionately dealt by one of the nation’s most popular indie rock groups. Moving beyond the fact that it encourages and glorifies sexism to angsty boys, I worry about the girls listening to it. The teenagers who, like me, love the sound so much and wonder if men see them as monstrous whores with voracious appetites. I don’t recognize the women of Interpol. They’re faceless (and often nameless) phantoms constructed to feed men’s most emo fantasies. And they are a one-way ticket to women feeling detrimental shame about their own sexuality.
So…will I keep listening? If I’m being honest, probably. But not without meaningful conversation regarding some of its underlying issues. And maybe some day I’ll arrange a sit down with Banks to get his insight. Because maybe he’s just tragically misunderstood and not the sexist pig he sings to be.