Well, not quite. These are actually thoughts on certain fan and press responses to Joanna Newsom, and more particularly, to the fact that she is dating Andy Samberg of SNL.
Let me be clear: I am pretty much opposed to commenting on/dissecting any consensual relationship wherein the participants seem content (and frankly, I’d rather leave dealing with relationships where there are underlying problems to the people who trained to do that, also). I feel it is the business of the people participating in the relationship. The reason I am looking at responses to this particular one (and again, I stress, I am not examining the relationship itself) is because I think they tie together a number of…interesting tropes.
So let’s get started.
There is a certain thread that often comes up when Newsom’s personal life comes up among her fans. Not all of them do this, but enough. It goes like this: “I can’t believe she’s dating Andy Samberg…I mean, he wrote ‘Dick in a Box’. What does she see in him?”
And every time it does show up, I get really pissed off. Like, I don’t care about Samberg personally. I’m not interested in SNL. I barely know him from Adam. But, I mean…maybe she dates him because she likes him? Maybe he makes her laugh! His career would suggest he is good at doing that!
But why do people insist on dismissing him (and her agency in choosing to date him) in this way? The way I see it, there’s at least two major reasons. Which are kind of interrelated, mind.
1) Joanna Newsom is a Magical Pixie
This one is annoying because it’s an impression Newsom can’t seem to shake, and it’s one she’s made clear she dislikes. People continue to write about her this way, and it fosters this idea of her being “alien” or “other”, of only being interested in, I don’t know. High-minded pursuits and Medieval imagery. But you know what? She’s fucking human. She has sworn in interviews, she cops to watching bad TV and drinking beer, she’s a human being. And people’s insistent viewing of her as some kind of ethereal fairy-being means they can’t understand why she would date a guy who, you know, makes jokes for a living. Joanna Newsom doesn’t need jokes! She subsists on moonbeams and morning dew!
2) Joanna Newsom is an ARTIST.
And Samberg, in this equation, is not. The implications here are twofold; the first being that obviously, since Newsom is an ARTIST, she needs to date someone who is similarly ARTISTy. It plays into this weird idea of “dating at your level”, which is awkward and strange. People date outside of their field, profession, or skill level constantly, folks. The world does not end! The second implication is more insidious: it is the division of creative output into “high” and “low”, or “art” and “not-art” categories.
Look, I love what Newsom does. She writes gorgeous, complex, ambitious music. I am not a fan of what Samberg does. SNL is not my style. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Newsom’s work is any more “artistic” than his is! We can’t fucking make that call! It plays into this weird high/low culture divide and frankly, comes off as more than a little rooted in class signifiers. Samberg is for The Masses, so what he does doesn’t count, obviously. Ugh.
These narratives bother me, because of the implications above, but also more generally, because they propose that there is a set of “rules”. There really isn’t. Or at least, there shouldn’t be. The two of them seem by all appearances to be content together, which should be enough. We don’t need to be critiquing whether Samberg is a WORTHY SUBJECT for Newsom to write her heartbreakingly beautiful romantic songs about (yes. This is a question I saw someone raise. HEAD. MEET DESK). If she wants to write songs about him, she will. That’s the point. Everyone should just…let them be.