PJ Harvey – A 21st century icon?


If you haven’t listened to any PJ Harvey I hugely and wholeheartedly suggest you do, particularly her newest album, ‘Let England Shake’. In fact, stop reading this if you haven’t. Seriously, come back to it after you’ve listened to a few songs at least, this article should make more sense if you have. PJ Harvey has just become the first artist to win the Mercury award twice in its 19 year history. She certainly deserves it. ‘Let England Shake’ is sublime; it’s varied, hugely experimental and pulls together so many brilliant influences to create a completely unique and complex sound, one that the critics have been weeing themselves over.

PJ Harvey has been around for almost 25 years, releasing music as a solo artist for almost 20 of those. She’s collaborated with some of rock and alternative music’s most renowned artists (Nick Cave, Josh Homme) and the themes of her songs cover everything from female empowerment to loss to politics. And she does all this flawlessly. Never have I heard a mixture of such raw intensity, calm and originality at the same time. Every album is different, and be it musical or fashion, her style is in a constant state of flux, yet still manages to hold onto something that is quite clearly ‘PJ Harvey-esque’. So why the hell isn’t she held in a higher esteem by the public?

The most simple and probably overused answer would be the state of popular music today. Admittedly it is a very lazy answer at that, but it still holds a level of truth. All the different ways I have just used to describe PJ Harvey’s new album are constantly, flippantly and wrongly attributed to another artist’s music, music that is far more thrust into the public eye. Said artist? Lady Gaga. My main problem is she lacks originality. Even as someone who is not huge on ‘conventional’ pop music can tell she’s taken from Madonna to Britney to fucking Culture Club. And it’s not that she’s lifted ideas and influences from them, it’s that she’s done little to change them to make them her own, and it’s frustrating to see/hear/think about.

I’m not for a second here saying that Lady Gaga doesn’t or shouldn’t hold any stake in pop culture, nor am I saying that she is solely to blame for her influence or exposure to the public. I’m saying the exact opposite. Lady Gaga should have a role in pop culture, even if the role is at its most cynical showing aspiring artists how not to write a pop song. It also would be wrong of me to ignore the fact that at some point she wrote her own material. It could be likely that her producers created this persona and image, so who am I to judge? What does infuriate me however is that she holds such a monopoly of influence towards popular culture, and arguably more talented and potentially influential artists are sidelined in place of mediocrity. So many female artists these days, no matter what they do and no matter how long they have been releasing records, be it 2 months or 15 years, are almost immediately compared to Lady Gaga. This isn’t fair. She is not music Jesus.

I know may be being a bit unfair, and Lady Gaga is an easy target. People wouldn’t listen to Lady Gaga’s music for more than a week if they didn’t enjoy it. She’s also helped to raise support for the LGBT community in America and around Europe, which is important since that even in 2011, a whopping SEVENTY-SIX countries in the world still label homosexuality a criminal offence. I can’t and won’t fault her for that. Maybe it is just a case of taste, maybe I’m just rebelling against her dominance and influence over the charts, but the blunt truth is that I fucking hate her songs.

You guys seen that film Twilight? It’s got something to do with people covered in body glitter that get their kicks out of punching dogs, or something. There’s this character (the lead) who is completely devoid of a personality. She is uninteresting, overdramatic, helpless and rude. Because of all this, she is a startlingly awful role model for the demographic that she is being directed to. On the other hand, a friend of hers is the exact opposite. Yet for some reason she is shunned by the audience, and by the lead to a certain extent, despite her friendliness and obvious kindness. Replace all the character traits with (less nasty) musical equivalents and you have Lady Gaga as the musical lead of Twilight and PJ Harvey as the superior yet vastly ignored supporting character. This is how I feel whenever I watch a music channel and why I am currently taking out a loan for a few thousand pounds to replace my window, a neighbour’s car and a new telly.

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