MTV's Jessica Hopper jets in for keynote speech at Women's Work festival in Belfast
Jessica Hopper is editorial director for music at MTV and comes to Belfast this weekend to speak at the Women's Work festival. The Chicago-based music writer talks to Brian Campbell
AS one of the most influential music writers in the US, Chicago-based Jessica Hopper has reviewed and interviewed all manner of singers and bands, spanning countless genres.
She has written extensively about prominent female artists including Bjork, Lady Gaga, Grimes, Lana Del Rey, St Vincent, Taylor Swift, Cat Power, M.I.A. and Miley Cyrus.
Yet when you read her anthology book The First Collection of Criticism By a Living Female Rock Critic (2015), she mentions one well-known male artist on many occasions – Van Morrison.
“The last time I was in Ireland, people talked about Lana Del Rey and Miley Cyrus as the pop stars that show up most in the book, but I think the person I mention most is Van Morrison,” she says.
She notes, with a laugh, that the Belfast singer did “kind of dress like a woman in the mid-70s” and says her introduction to his music happened by accident.
“When I was 19 and moved to Los Angeles, I asked my mom to send me my box of records from the garage. But the box she sent me was hers,” she recalls.
“So I was stuck with records by Quincy Jones and Neil Young and Van Morrison. At the time I was a discerning punk-obsessed teenager, so I was like 'What is this s**t?’
“But you start with one Van Morrison song and I’d recognise it from when I was growing up and kept listening, so in a lot of ways getting my mom’s records was a real blessing.
“Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns was in that box and that’s my favourite record. And the copy of Astral Weeks has my own crayon scribbles on it, because my mom’s Van Morrison and Neil Young records seemed to be what I liked to practise writing my name on when I was about four.”
Brought up in Minneapolis but now long based in Chicago, where she lives with her husband and two young sons, Jessica has an encyclopaedic knowledge of music.
She has written for publications including Rolling Stone, Spin, The Village Voice and The Chicago Reader. Previously senior editor at Pitchfork, her current full-time job is editorial director for music at MTV.
Jessica is the keynote speaker at the Women’s Work festival – which sets out to highlight, celebrate and showcase women in music – in Belfast this weekend.
She says she’ll talk about sexism in the music industry, the discouragement and obstacles that women routinely face and how people can work towards “a just and equitable music industry”. She says the music industry in the US “is not exactly a friendly industry to be in once women have kids”.
“I think that once women get to a certain age or a certain level of power, there become fewer and fewer opportunities. I went to Dublin for the Hard Working Class Heroes festival last year and I had an incredible few days. I met so many passionate strong women in the music industry there and felt such a sense of kinship that I don’t often get in the US.”
In terms of female musicians on the scene at the moment, she holds up Bjork and Grimes (aka Claire Boucher) as two of the best.
“Bjork has never stopped pushing things forward. 'Genius’ is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but I do really think she’s a genius. And I love watching Grimes succeed. She really asserts the idea of 'I’m an auteur and everything I do is an extension of my vision’. It shows that there’s not always some svengali behind the woman.”
Hopper has written about being into the likes of B-52’s, Deee-Lite and Tracy Chapman in her teenage years, before becoming more of a grunge/rock/post-punk fan in her late teens and early 20s – getting into bands such as Mudhoney, Nirvana, Soundgarden, L7 and The Dismemberment Plan.
In the intro to her book, she writes that, “there is a void in my guts which can only be filled by songs”.
So can she go a day without listening to music?
“Well my two boys are still young – they’re both under six – but when they were babies the only time that I could write was when they were asleep, so I got used to working in silence and now it’s harder for me to write with music on.
“But just yesterday I was listening to Trevor Horn and then John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town – so I do still listen to music all day.”
Jessica Hopper will give a talk at the Oh Yeah Centre in Belfast at 3pm on Sunday, as part of the Women’s Work festival (womensworkni.com)