Book Review: “The First Collection of Criticism…” by Jessica Hopper

This is a book that gets me. Hopper articulates that deep-in-your-soul feeling of joy and possibility that happens when you find a song or artist that you connect with. She also speaks meaningfully to what it’s like to be a music lover and a girl, and the sometimes uncomfortable places that those identities intersect. One of her essays describes a crush she’d had in high school. He was so into grunge, and so teenage Jessica became so into grunge, too. The crush ended when she got humiliated for being a “poser.” Yet something important came out of that experience: she discovered riot grrrl. Here’s punk by women, for women.

Some elements of the book serve as a great time capsule on a reread: there are essays about the rise of Chance the Rapper, Lady Gaga, and Lana del Rey. I’m looking forward to the expanded and updated edition, due out in July.

Another thing I love about this book is Hopper’s honesty. She’s relatively unfiltered, especially with the essays that come straight from her now-defunct Tumblr blog. Those essays feature lots of exclamation points, copious usage of caps lock, and unbridled joy about experiencing music. Sure, they might not be polished like an interview from Spin, but their inclusion is important. They illustrate the complexity of being a music critic and how you have to hold the personal back from the professional.

Despite the title and the essays about womanhood and music, Hopper also widens her scope to music and culture at large. In her commentary about Lady Gaga, for example, she describes the singer’s conscious exploitation of stardom by walking through the airport barely clothed. In Hopper’s essay on Kendrick Lamar, she dives deep into the rapper’s roots in Compton and how they shape (but don’t fully define) his lyrical themes.

The collection is short, only 200 pages or so, but the brevity showcases both the depth and breadth of Hopper’s skills as a writer. She is an inspiration for me as a fellow female music critic, and the book is a wonderful read.

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