[Update, Tuesday, June 21: Last night Sky Ferreira published a series of tweets referencing L.A. Weekly's original piece, saying among other things, “I'm not a think piece. I'm not a fucking example. I'm glad that this is making people think & conversation is happening & I appreciate people speaking against it and being vocal.” You can find the full series of tweets here.]
There's a fine line between being provocative and being offensive, and every journalist should respect it. When Art Tavana wrote a column about his obsession with Sky Ferreira, and I edited it and published it yesterday under the headline “Sky Ferreira's Sex Appeal Is What Pop Music Needs Right Now,” I thought we were on the provocative side of that line. But it's clear that most of the people who read it feel pretty passionately that we crossed into offensive territory.
LAist's Carman Tse, in a piece headlined “L.A. Weekly Music Columnist Writes About Sky Ferreira in a Really Gross, Sexist Way,” said Tavana's meditation on Ferreira's image and attractiveness “reduces her down to the object of one's desire (and this whole piece makes it abundantly clear that it appears to be simply one man's desire).” Julianne Escobedo Shepherd wrote in Jezebel, “We’ve read this same piece a trillion times before, in ’80s magazines (and ’70s magazines, and ’60s magazines), wherein the writer wants us to feel shocked by his boner (so special) and that he is 'gritty' and 'frank' about it.” Flavorwire's Tom Hawking, in maybe the cleverest and most damning response of all, took the gender-reversal route and rewrote Tavana's entire essay as an examination of John Lennon, another artist who occasionally posed naked on his album covers.
Even Teen Vogue took us to task. And you know what? Teen Vogue is right. They're all right. Tavana's piece did cross the line. It was offensive, and on behalf of him and L.A. Weekly, I apologize for it.
You're probably wondering why I'm saying this now to all of you, instead of to my computer screen on Thursday night before I scheduled Tavana's article to publish the next morning. I am not here to make excuses; instead, I will say that, in this line of work, we make judgment calls on what to say and how to say it all the time, and sometimes we get it wrong. This time, Tavana and I got it wrong.
Tavana's intention, the way I saw it, was to write about an artist he admires in a way that didn't shy away from her use of her image and sexuality as a part of that artistry. I felt that, in doing this, he wasn't trying to objectify or degrade her. But some of his language was deliberately inflammatory and ultimately at odds with that underlying intention. As his editor, it was my job to catch that and fix it, or ask him to rethink it — and in that regard, I let down both Tavana and his subject, Sky Ferreira.
Many people have demanded that we take down Tavana's column. But once you publish something on the internet, it's out there forever in one form or another — so for us to attempt to erase it would be disingenuous. We'll leave it up as a topic of discussion, or outrage, or as a cautionary tale about how not to write about a female recording artist in 2016.
My biggest regret, in all of this, is that we may have made people feel that L.A. Weekly is a publication that doesn't take women or women's issues seriously, because that's not the case. We've written extensively about sexism in the film industry. We've lobbied for music festivals to book more women. And we are fortunate to include very talented female journalists among our staff and our contributors — many of whom reached out to me personally (and OK, maybe one or two of them flamed me on Twitter, too) to share their criticisms of the Sky Ferreira piece. I'm grateful that they did so, because although I (and most male journalists I know, including Tavana) approach the subject of gender politics with good intentions, I know I'm still capable of getting it wrong.
So to everyone who read the Sky Ferreira piece, and especially to Ferreira herself, and her fans: We apologize. And we'll do better next time.
Andy Hermann is L.A. Weekly’s music editor.