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Miranda Lambert: Hero
Be quiet woman, for I have paid for your muzzle
It even has a name: selfie-gate. And far be it from ME to miss an opportunity to weigh in on a hot-button trending topic! I, of course, have the correct take, so sit back and get ready for some old-school education.
For those who don’t know, Miranda Lambert is a somewhat edgy country singer who stopped a ballad she was singing in order to call out a few folks in the front row who were taking this selfie:
Now, Lambert has always had an abrasive style, she rose to prominence on the strength of songs about taking murderous revenge. She even covered one of my heroes, Fred Eaglesmith, whose song “Time to Get a Gun” is an absolute masterpiece. She tells dirty jokes, she’s pretty raunchy and honest in person. But now she’s really crossed the line, since she stopped a song to call out some fans for being self-absorbed during a show. And in 2023, we know what this means:
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“The sad part is,” this user opines, echoing endless angry commenters, “I can’t imagine how much money they paid for those tickets… I just think it’s sad… a lot of people struggle with social anxiety, and imagine how this might have made them feel… I just think that given how much influence you have within the female community, you would be more humble and just gracious that people would want to see you…”
So here, if you don’t have time to read all of that or watch the video let me translate it for you:
They’re paying you, so you can’t shame them. DOWN girl! They’re paying you, so you should be “humble and gracious”. DOWN girl. They’re fellow members of the “female community”, so you shouldn’t do this to them. DOWN. GIRL. Despite the fact that I am standing up and doing a selfie in front of 3,000 people I still might have social anxiety so you can’t do this to me: NO! BAD! DOWN! GIRL! NO TREAT FOR YOU TODAY!
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So the first issue here is obviously very straightforward. No-one thinks that artists have no right to call out fans at shows; obviously if someone wades into the crowd with a racial slur written on their shirt, or gets violent with others, we stop the show and call them out. So the debate is over where the line is: how disrespectful can an audience member get before they earn the right to a public shaming?
And this audience behaviour here is in fact disrespectful. Critics are talking as though the fact that someone has paid for this somehow nullifies the disrespect. It doesn’t. A song, particularly a folk ballad, is a often a deeply personal, vulnerable thing to sing, an invitation to walk into into a singer’s soul and hang out for a while. To stand up in a group in the front row and take the selfie is to loudly disconnect yourself from that. Imagine someone doing that during your wedding vows and you’ll get the idea.
But the more important issue here concerns Lambert’s right to authenticity and self-expression. Everyone thinks of famous singers as having all the power in the world, but like elected politicians, they are in fact deeply constrained, muzzled by the realities of the market and popular sentiment. They can only cross lines very carefully; for example, Lambert’s songs about violence are all about revenge against abusive exes, just as the Chicks’ famous “Goodbye Earl” was. She couldn’t just sing about hauling off and cold-cocking some creaky-beaked bitch in a bar after a few too much JD, even though one time apparently the beaky bitch was none other than Chad Kroeger from Nickelback. She has to morally sanitize the violence, dry-clean it by making it about feminist revenge. That’s the only way she’s going to sell her brand, even if it’s a watered-down version of who she is.
So this, apparently, is what we collectively want. We want artists to express themselves, to be real and to pen lyrics that reflect their experience. And when we hear them sing, we allow ourselves to bask in this feeling, of hearing something real and honest and true. But of course we don’t really want this, because real life and real lived experience very often threaten to offend the Sacred Boundaries of Morality. So actually, Miranda, if your True Authentic Lived Experience turns out to be that of a slightly abrasive and opinionated performer, then absolutely do not share that, and seriously absolutely do not share it if it is directed at people who have already given you money. Because my money means that I have paid for your muzzle, and there is nothing disturbing about that at all.
(It is telling that our finger-wagging tiktokker above co-opts and deploys two currently Morally Sacred ideas—that of a pseudo-feminist sisterhood and that of respect for those with social disability—like laser-guided missiles, using the tools of popular morality to slam home her DOWN GIRL.)
We make impossible demands on musical artists. We want them to be as real and human as possible, not to be ‘fakes’ or ‘sellouts’, but as soon as their humanity threatens to cause offense or any harm at all to their poor beleagured fans, we demand that they slam that door shut immediately. No allowances made for being exhausted. Or high on adrenaline. Or drunk because you miss your family. Just: be you, unless you is problematic, in which case be someone else.
And this is why 94% of artists do basically the same things on stage, say basically the same things, make the same social media posts, and generally produce a grey, boring landscape of repressed sameness, where band after band opens with that same, hideous, nightmare of an opening line: “How’s everybody doing tonight?”
Anyway, speaking of authentic self-expression, my three year-old has climbed up on my lap and is demanding to dictate the rest of this post, so I am going to let him have the last word here:
Me. Fly. Pppppplll. ha ha ha ha ha ha. Me. Fly. Scottie Pippen. ha ha ha. ha. pppppppp. pop. ha ha why did I laugh, that is so funny. I like you. pop. pop. ppppp. why does it say me fly? why does it say me fly? why does it say me fly? ha ha ha. ppppppppppppppp.