Three Imaginary Girls

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As any dilligent music writer will tell you, style is a thorny issue to deal with. That's what makes this recent article from The Columbia Journalism Review so interesting. The CJR calls out The New York Times for being inconsistent when referring to rappers and other performers by their given and stage names. Quoteth the CJR at length:

The New York Times rarely refers to rock stars such as Alice Cooper, Moby, and Elton John by their birth names. With few exceptions, Vincent Furnier, Richard Melville Hall, and Reginald Dwight get free passes on their alter egos, as do the likes of American Idol icon Clay Aiken (Clayton Grissom) and anti-Christ
superstar Marilyn Manson (Brian Warner). For some reason, though, the unofficial guideline that once compelled former Times critic Donal Henahan to make subsequent reference to Iggy Pop and Sid Vicious as Mr. Pop and Mr. Vicious (instead of Mr. [James] Osterberg and Mr. [Simon John] Beverly, or even Pop and Vicious) does not apply, apparently, to hip-hop artists. At the Times, the penalty for being a rapper is twofold: you are routinely called out on your birth name (no matter how nerdy and ironic it might be), and you rarely are addressed as “Mr.” This nominal double standard surfaces from time to time in hip-hop articles throughout the mainstream press, but due to the Times’s extensive urban-music coverage and its eternal struggle with honorific conformity, rap handles seem to inspire more copy dilemmas there.


Even more confusing are articles that seem to follow no logic whatsoever: a December 3, 2006, Times profile on celebrity Sirius Radio hosts refers to rap personality Ludacris as Christopher Bridges (and as “Mr. Bridges” in subsequent references), but allows Eminem (Marshall Mathers), Snoop Dogg (Calvin Broadus), and Bob Dylan (Robert Zimmerman) to use their stage names. On second reference, though, Bob Dylan is “Mr. Dylan,” while Eminem remains Eminem; Snoop is only mentioned once, but judging by former Times treatments he would have been called “Snoop” or “Snoop Dogg” had his name come up again.

“If you look in our archives, which we famously refer to as our compendium of past errors, you’ll see plenty of examples of us looking ridiculous,” [culture editor Sam] Sifton says. “One of the difficulties that the Times has in addressing contemporary culture, and certainly hip-hop culture, is that we risk looking stupid all the time.”

Since it doesn’t look like it will be abandoning honorifics any time soon, blanket uniformity might be the best bet for the Times to look less foolish, or at least more consistent. After all, if they can call Brian Warner “Mr. Manson,” then surely America’s finest newsrooms can honor Calvin Broadus as Mr. Dogg.

I'm not aware of the New York Times making any clarification on how they address hip-hop stars, or any changes to their style guide, but it does appear that there is an enormous double standard – even if the Ludacris example cited above is not the strongest case (in films he's billed as "Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges").

I'm interested in this case because I'm currently working on a review of a Scream Club record (really enjoying it, by the way) and I'm having a hard time not sounding (too) awkward when referring to Sarah Adorable and Cindy Wonderful.

The NYT may be trying to avoid it but who wouldn't love to pick up the "newspaper of record" with "all the news that's fit to print" and read about the Wu Tang Clan and have their members referred to as Mr. Killah, Mr. Deck, Mr. Man and the late Mr. Bastard?

(via Gawker)