The Arty Semite

Vampire Weekend Called Out for Being WASPy

By Mordechai Shinefield

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When is a Jewish kid from the Upper West Side actually an Ivy League White Anglo-Saxon Protestant? Apparently when the Chicago Reader decides that they don’t like the band Vampire Weekend. Music critic Jessica Hopper called out the band, fronted by the very Jewish Ezra Koenig, last week in an article that accused the band of being a bunch of privileged white kids.

He bandies about the ethnic heritage of Vampire Weekend’s members (he’s Jewish, Rostam Batmanglij is Iranian), but ‘One of my bandmates is Iranian-American’ has got to be the Pitchfork-nation equivalent of ‘Some of my best friends are black.’

Music critic and sometime writer for Pitchfork, Nitsuh Abebe wrote a series of posts (here, here, and here) on his tumblr blog that found a wide audience in the blogosphere and were linked to by Koenig himself on his twitter page.

In his first post, titled, “Jessica Hopper Should Be Sort of Ashamed of Herself, In My Opinion,” he writes that Hopper was being disingenuous and that, “what we are looking at here is a (so far as I know) white woman selectively misquoting/mischaracterizing a statement of two people’s identity so that she can cast it as some kind of bragging, or some kind of defensiveness which the clever white critic is here to debunk.”

The Chicago Reader, in response, changed some of Hopper’s article, including a new section that reads:

A mostly white American band without any black members that dips into traditionally black sounds from the Congo, South Africa, Jamaica, and the Caribbean isn’t something most people bother being offended about. [Editor’s note: This sentence has been changed to better reflect the author’s original intent, which was simply to point out that no one in Vampire Weekend shares a culture with the African and Caribbean musicians who have inspired the group.]

This week I wrote about Jewish artists and afropop and I argue that the relationship between Jewish artists and African music is a fertile trend going back to Paul Simon’s trip to South Africa in the 1980s and beyond.


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