Last week, musician Amanda Palmer took to Twitter to lambast The Guardian for what she claimed was a publication-wide boycott of coverage of her music and upcoming tour. Palmer complained that she was not receiving enough press from major magazines and newspapers, tweeting, ‘WHERE IS MY NEW YORKER PROFILE? WHY IS THE ATLANTIC NOT BANGING ON MY DOOR TO WRITE A TWELVE-PAGE PIECE ABOUT MY INCREDIBLE COMMUNITY?’ Her response to this perceived slight was to hire a journalist to specifically report on her latest tour, a move she declared to be revolutionary for journalism (rather than being, as it is, pretty standard PR). Music writers for The Guardian later stepped in to point out the problems with her claims. Ben Beaumont-Thomas, the music editor for the newspaper, denied claims of a Palmer boycott and told her she was not entitled to coverage. It was also revealed that another Guardian music writer, Laura Snapes, had been part of a ‘bizarre situation’ involving Palmer for several months, wherein the musician tried to force her way into Snapes’s life in a way she described as harassment. Palmer later issued a semi-apology for her actions, but not before continuing to insist that her stridently feminist music and tour were being denied the mainstream focus she felt they deserved.
In recent months I have been dealing with a bizarre situation with Amanda Palmer. I blocked her years ago, I think we had a spat about that tour where she offered to pay musicians in hugs and beer. She recently became fixated by this and asked her 1m fans to find out why I had.— Laura Snapes (@laurasnapes) November 21, 2019
Anyone who is vaguely familiar with Amanda Palmer will know that this isn’t her first time at the rodeo of cringe. The former Dresden Dolls singer has spent most of the past several years delightfully drumming up controversies as she positions herself as a pioneer of sorts in the new age of crowdfunding and independent music. She currently has over 15,600 subscribers on Patreon, the platform that primarily finances her career, and is one of the most popular users on the site. A lot of people are described as ‘divisive’ when the term feels like an exaggeration to convey their true status with fandom at large, but Amanda Palmer can easily claim it for herself. You either worship at her feet or think she’s a ridiculous and exhausting waste of time. You never hear people say she’s just okay.
To put it bluntly, Amanda Palmer is a lot. She’s the sort of person who would commonly be described as just being ‘a bit too much.’ She’s loud and has no mental filter, her style is ostentatious and often defies the mainstream, and she has fostered a community of fans whose adoration for her has made her able to live as an independent artist. Honestly, many of the reasons people hate her are the same ones that explain her dedicated fandom. It’s something you simply have to be on her wavelength for a lot of the time and she seems utterly uninterested in widening her scope to encompass more people. That’s admirable in its own way, especially given how historically sh*tty the music industry has been (Palmer famously asked to be dropped from her record company over such concerns.)
The flipside of that is something that has become increasingly common in modern pop culture: The weaponization of fandom. A great way to accomplish that is to consistently position yourself as the trodden-down underdog of your chosen field, the outspoken social justice heroine who is just too real for The Man. Palmer’s work and image are easy to become attached to if you’re open to them. She writes achingly personal and often deeply moving songs about her life and experiences with rape, abortion, and depression. Lyrically, she can be cheeky and ironic without ever sacrificing the emotional bluntness of her personality. Half the time, her voice sounds like it’s completely given up, totally out of juice, but she keeps on going, whether it’s on an album full of ukulele covers of Radiohead songs or a song about Vegemite for an album dedicated to Australia. Her music isn’t for most people but if it’s for you, then she probably has you hooked for a long time, and that’s what gets people so amped up to defend her, even when she f*cks up time after time.
Most people’s complaints of Palmer have little to do with her music. Palmer herself is the problem. After all, this is the woman who seemingly has trouble in not saying the ‘N’ word (then sacking her manager, who is currently suing for unpaid wages, for having a problem with this) and said Donald Trump was going to make punk rock great again, akin to Weimar-era Germany’s cultural boom. One of her songs infamously includes audio of her ex-boyfriend responding to her having faked her suicide (he died by suicide several months after the song’s release.) A poem she wrote about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers, less than a week after that terrorist attack killed three people and injured hundreds of others, was a baffling ego trip that somehow managed to be more about herself than anyone else. One concept album she worked on involved donning disability drag to tell the story of conjoined twins who experienced child sexual assault, even though half the songs were mostly comedy ditties. For another tour, for which she raised over a million dollars on Kickstarter, she asked local musicians to perform with her in exchange for hugs and beer, not fair pay. Full lists of her actual and perceived misdemeanors are plentiful online, but Palmer also happily provides more reasons with each passing week to be, at the very least, deeply suspicious of her and her claims.
This combination of things is what brought her back into the harsh spotlight last week, and it was nobody’s fault but her own. She made a harsh and unfounded accusation against two journalists, one of whom she seems to have been fixated on for months, and did so at a time when hostility towards this profession and its workers is at an all-time high. Any legitimate concerns she may have had about feeling slighted by the media as an independent female musician went out the window the moment she began demanding coverage as part of someone’s feminist duty. It’s not impossible to be a feminist provocateur but when the latter begins the overtake the former, you can’t use the basic tenets of that philosophy to defend that which offends your target audience or puts legitimate dissenters in harm’s way.
Palmer demands attention of all kinds and seems to revel in it. She’s not unique in that regard, not even close, but seeking such confrontational responses online cannot help but remind people of her track record, one she doesn’t seem to learn from much, if at all. As this cycle continues, her vocal proclamations of feminist power feel more like marketing gimmicks, a one-way transaction to be employed whenever is commercially or societally beneficial to do so. It’s a brand that clearly works for many, as evidenced by that fanbase, but for others, it is something so unignorably superficial, even if the intentions were good. Not that you could blame anyone for doubting said intentions given how much of her reputation seems built on saying one thing and doing the exact opposite.
Her fans remain loyal, as fandom is prone to when their beloved comes under attack. When your image is resting on the foundations of your own self-styled perpetual underdog nature, being the true rebel in an age of sheeple, those people cannot help but want to fight in your corner. It’s the same melting pot of issues and stances that repels people from Amanda Palmer. For better or worse, she just won’t stop.
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