In an interview with GQ entitled "Quincy Jones Has a Story About That," the legendary producer slammed one legendary pop star: Taylor Swift. In the interview — which is bonkers in just about every way — Jones expresses distaste for Swift's music, which isn't a unique opinion, per se, but he also accuses her of only writing "hooks," not songs. Coming from a music producer, this is quite the insult. He might as well have accused her of writing commercial jingles. When the interviewer suggests that Taylor Swift is a good songwriter for the era, Jones "laughs" and says, "Whatever crumbles your cookie."
This unfortunate, though not entirely unexpected, criticism smells a bit like industry sexism. Swift's music is controversial for sure, but she has undeniable songwriting power. In addition, women in music often get reduced by more powerful men in music.
"There’s a skepticism behind female artists in general. From when I first started, I wrote [my music]," Halsey said in a 2017 interview with Billboard. In the same interview, Charli XCX pointed out, "People were like, 'Oh, who wrote your songs?' There’s so much doubt, especially with being a pop star and being a female."
Swift has produced six studio albums, as well as a number of song she didn't even record herself. (She wrote the 2016 summer anthem "This Is What You Came For.") Sunday night, the song she wrote for Little Big Town, "Better Man," won a Grammy award.
Jones is a revered music producer, but he's also a man who, in an interview in 2018, said he has technology at his house that "keep fat and old away" from him. (He scoffed at the idea that he would date a woman his own age. He's 84.)
His comment salted the wound in part because we are emerging from a very male-heavy Grammy awards. Following the ceremony, Recording Academy president Neil Portnow said that the music industry is open to including women, but that they needed to "step up." This invited rightful rage from women musicians, who insisted that women aren't responsible for a lack of diversity.
"Women in music don’t need to 'step up,'" the pop star P!nk wrote on Twitter. "Women have been stepping since the beginning of time. Stepping up, and also stepping aside. Women OWNED music this year. They’ve been KILLING IT. And every year before this."
Men in the music industry — men like Jones — have to understand that they've earned their spot at least in part via their privilege. It's easy for Jones to gaze upon Swift's work and call it just "hooks" when he's never had to be a woman making pop music. It's a lose-lose situation for Swift: She stepped up, just like the Recording Academy asked, but she's still being written off as unworthy.
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