It’s hard to find any other aussie act who had as much success as Courtney Barnett did last year. Between the critical success of her debut album ‘Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit’ alongside ARIA wins, Grammy noms and a damn ‘Sunday Night’ feature Barnett has been shot to the forefront of the Aussie Indie scene. With this emergence of mainstream exposure, Barnett can no longer hide among Pitchfork think pieces and Triple J playlists, no she has managed to wretch the spotlight in ways many of her Melbourne based musician peers could only dream of. While this has been mostly a good thing for Barnett it has also exposed her slacker Indie-Rock tunes to an audience which they are simply not for. To begin our analysis of why so many Australians have nothing but vitriolic hatred for our media-crowned queen of the Aussie Rock scene, let’s begin with the most bottom of the barrel arguments I’ve encountered.
• “She Can’t Sing” – one of the more common and pretty ridiculous arguments thrown Barnett’s way. Her delivery skirts on the edges of spoken word on many of her most popular tracks which leads to well-informed comments like “It’s not a song if you are just talking like a yobbo to music”. While her occasionally deadpan delivery is off-putting to some, one must realise how it fits into the narrative-based songwriting style she implements and that she is perfectly capable of hitting pretty melodies anyway.
• “Isn’t she a Chris Lilley character?” – while the idea of Chris Lilley parodying the ever pretentious Melbourne music scene with a character in the same vein of Barnett is entertaining, usually this is just some petty schoolyard bullshit comment aimed at her appearance to which I say, where’s your ARIA mate?
Now to something I can take a bit more seriously.
• “She is monotone and boring” – a fair argument to a degree, to people who are familiar with more decorated songwriters such as Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, Barnett’s observations may seem pretty pedestrian in comparison. But that’s just it isn’t it? Leave it to those songwriters to write the hard-hitting songs about pressing societal issue, Barnett’s strength is being a reflection of the world around her and expressing how she feels it in a witty and straightforward way. As long as day to day life in Australian remains dull, I’m sure Barnett’s songs will remain the same as well.
• “Her lyricism is complacent” – this is the most understandable criticism I’ve heard about Barnett and one I mostly share. While my paragraph above still stands and I do believe she is a product of her own drab environment, a lot of the time Barnett’s songs don’t have a clear purpose or statement. While sometimes there’s meaning between the lines, Barnett has a frustrating tendency to write in circles, never getting to a point.
The source of this hatred in my eyes is different to all of those listed but is also the reason many of these arguments have been established. I believe the issue is all related to media, more specifically how the bigger Australian music media outlets have framed Courtney Barnett. For one, relating any artist to the word “Rock” in this day and age is a death sentence. The genre is so synonymous with people’s antiquated perception of what it means to be a “Rock” artist and for many people that means ripper guitars, hooks galore and a general sense of grandiosity, all things that Barnett does not equate to. I have no doubt that her simple, self-deprecating little ditties have disappointed many a Classic Rock fan who has been fooled into expecting the next Joan Jett. The media have also brought down the wrath of Australia’s crippling Tall Poppy Syndrome on Barnett with their relentless coverage of her every move and success. Hell, she doesn’t even have to be doing anything to get incessant coverage.
The fact is, whether you like it or not, Courtney Barnett is geared to lead the Aussie Indie scene and is equipped with all the talent she needs to stay on top for years to come. I encourage you to look at her from a different perspective instead of the rather inaccurate perspective she has been presented in by the media. You might find she’s really not so bad after all, and if you don’t just remember, nobody really cares if you don’t go to the party.