I was invited to write a little something for the Evening Standard this week on PJH's Mercury win. Here's the original draft, which they tweaked a little:
Let England Shake is an utterly worthy record, and recognizing Harvey’s continuing ability to break ground is important, but its difficult not to feel a twinge of regret for some of the younger, equally deserving debuts who were eclipsed, perhaps unfairly, by PJ’s established legend. Her undeniably innovative repertoire has had the downside of creating a unwitting, token female icon, the kind of one-in one-out role the male-dominated, white indie music world reserves for a handful of talented women in each rock generation (Janis, Patti, Chrissie). She’s been elevated by the music press as the ultimate measure and go-to comparison for many a fledgling female artist with a guitar - an incredibly reductive situation that also serves to undermine some of her own success as feminist role model - and this rather complex privilege makes Harvey’s win a complicated one, even more so given the serious and ongoing lack of female Mercury Prize winners and nominees (4 out of 12 this year), an issue we’re addressing at Wears The Trousers with our all-female Venus Prize.
I'm a huge fan of PJH, despite her shaky non/feminist stance (repetoire rich with feminist discourse whilst publicly distancing herself from the F word - whether as an ultimately failed attempt at preserving herself from pigeonholing/stigma in the boyindierockworld or through what she once described as a genuine ignorance about the radical *sigh* notion of gender equality) but I know a bunch of successful female artists - women I've interviewed in some cases - who had to fight off PJ comparisons early on in their careers. Harvey's contributions to music and feminism are redoubtable, but the fact remains that boy rockers are regularly cast as gifted son-and-heirs of their hallowed male predecessors (Dylan, Page, Cobain et al), whilst a whole generation of women who have arrived after Harvey's archetype, even ones who sounds NOTHING LIKE HER, are held up to her legend and denounced as wanting.
This kind of strategy maintains the hegemony; it supports the fallacy that talented males outnumber talented females in indie rock's sphere of influence, and further. Its not about PJ's ineffectiveness as an artist and/or role model (plenty of girls picked up Fenders after Dry) - its about how the old boy network position her as a do-not-pass-go measure, a bad-girl Eve who ate the apple and did something that no other rocker girl to come will ever surpass.