Phoebe Bridgers has recently been at the heart of a controversy that tells all about the music industry and about Twitter. In the wake of Bridgers’ SNL debut, her Twitter page became rife with tweets attacking her actions or defending and praising her Rockstar credentials. In this case, the latter is certainly true and the way she dealt with the sexist onslaught is both an iconic Gen-Z moment and a lesson in how to fight toxic fans and trolls.
On the night in question, the 7th of February, Bridgers ended her debut SNL performance with a pre-planned smashing of her Danelectro guitar at the end of the song ‘I Know The End’. The Tweets began shortly after with people in their thousands expressing their opinions. Twitter storms are a phenomenon that provide a nuance and social commentary that regular media cannot with intense humour as well as stark realism. They also allow people to dig some serious holes for themselves and are usually plagued by the ignorant, the misinformed, and the bigoted.
By far one of the most vocal and outspoken critics was David Crosby, founder of The Byrds. Crosby is already a critic of the smashing of guitars, but he really went to town on Bridgers, not just insulting the act itself but also criticising her songwriting capability. “It’s what you do if you can’t write” he tweeted, despite Bridgers’ four Grammy nominations for her 2020 album Punisher.
There is no doubt that Crosby’s experience of female artists and women in music is worlds away from the contemporary scene
Bridgers’ amazing reaction to this ‘controversy’ and to Crosby was apt, original, and hilarious and her ability to deal with the issue has only raised her up in her fans’ eyes:
“my tiny little baby arms are so tired from tweeting”
It says a lot about people nowadays that this merited something to complain about. Guitarists have been smashing their instruments for decades, notably The Who and The Clash. Even Jimi Hendrix did it! There is no doubt that Crosby’s experience of female artists and women in music is worlds away from the contemporary scene.
There is a deep irony that many of these bitter anti guitar-smashing activists would not complain if a male artist did it, this was apparent as Bridgers’ move was criticised for being ‘extra’ and Machine Gun Kelly’s SNL performance of the 31st of January, where he threw a guitar off the stage, received no complaint. This not only speaks of the hypocrisy of the internet but also of the nature of music and the music industry. Bob Dylan was booed by fans when he first used an electric guitar.
Change, experimentation, and originality are an intrinsic part of music, it would be nothing without these. To criticise artists for daring to do the unconventional (in Bridgers’ case the conventional but as a woman) is self-destructive and foolish.
The meme value and the sheer comedy of this situation in revealing the hypocrisy of the music industry has done more for women in music than any protest
Guitar smashing is an act of performance and expression, it’s part of the mood that is created during a song, it is a release of emotion and tension. In lighter terms, as Dave Grohl said when coming to Bridgers’ defence, “it feels fucking good to do it”. In criticising it, Crosby is not only trying to dictate the lines within which art should be produced and performed but also trying to stifle an emerging artist. Put simply, it is not his or anyone’s place to criticise what Bridgers has done in her own performance. Would we fault a painter for smashing up their brush, a sculptor for smashing their chisel? No. The simple and obvious fact is that if Bridgers had not been a female artist there would have been no ‘controversy’.
As a moment, this is definitive of Generation Z. The use of humour in the face of adversity or controversy and the thousands who came to Bridgers’ defence. The meme value and the sheer comedy of this situation in revealing the hypocrisy of the music industry has done more for women in music than any protest.
Somewhat ironically, this episode is only boosting her career. Punisher has gone back into the US charts. As the saying goes, any publicity is good publicity. At a time when the scandal of Marilyn Manson is still unfolding, Bridgers has provided a beacon of hope that women do have a place in music, and a prime one at that.
Read some of my favourite Tweets from the ‘storm’ below: