Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino on the Highs and Lows of Crazy For You

Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino on the Highs and Lows of Crazy For You

Last month was the ten-year anniversary of Best Coast’s indie-pop classic Crazy For You, the debut album from Bethany Cosentino’s band that propelled her to the front lines of indie stardom practically overnight. Time moves a little funkier than usual these days, so Best Coast are celebrating this anniversary tomorrow, August 14, with a virtual show in which they’ll play the album front-to-back for the first time ever—along with interviews with peers and confidants that look back at Crazy For You’s genesis and legacy. (Tips from the event will go towards The Loveland Foundation, and any subscriptions and recurring payments from this newsletter today will be split between donations to that organization as well as CHIRLA.)

“Obviously, we wanted to play this thing live—in real life,” Cosentino sighs during a phone conversation last week, citing the pandemic scuttling initial plans for a West Coast-specific show to celebrate the album’s anniversary. “I really wanted to do something, but I have a difficult time with the typical livestreams. I’m always like, ‘This feels so weird.’ So I wanted to do something that was a mix of a concert and a mini-documentary.”

Talking to Cosentino about Crazy For You—especially how it and her band were received at the time of its release—has been on my mind for a minute now. I reviewed the album for Pitchfork at the time, right when I was in the early years of my own career as a music writer. It was interesting and, on a deeper level, dismaying to witness what I perceived as highly gendered criticism of Cosentino’s lyrical and musical approach, as well as the increasing focus on indie artists’ personal lives—a phenomenon that occurred just as social media was taking true hold in popular culture, creating an always-online necessity for emerging artists that has since and often overshadowed the art itself.

So talking about Cosentino about this great album, the hubbub surrounding its release, and her own reflections of that time was a fascinating and enjoyable conversation, especially if you’ve ever looked at the endless scroll surrounding modern-day music writing and found yourself asking out loud, “How did we get here?”

Before Crazy For You, you were in the noise band Pocahaunted.

I was involved in the punk DIY scene in L.A., just like most of us—we get a start in what’s happening in our community. I’d been playing punk since I was a kid, but I always gravitated towards pop and singer-songwriter stuff. I had a boyfriend at the time who was involved with Not Not Fun, and he introduced me to them. I was going to college and I wasn’t really playing music at all, so I wanted to get back into that.

[Pocahaunted member Amanda Brown] and I created this style of music that I never thought I’d be doing. It was a way for me to be creative and musical—to get stoned, make weird music with my friends and their apartments, play shows in basements, and open for Sonic Youth [Laughs]. All these weird things I never thought I’d be doing. When I moved to New York City, I decided I wasn’t going to be doing music anymore, because I wanted to be a writer. But that was short-lived, and soon enough I was back here starting Best Coast.

You were an intern at The FADER when you lived in New York City—working close to the music press just before they really took an interest in you.

I was mostly transcribing interviews, and then they gave me my own column where I’d go to thrift stores and write about clothes. I wasn’t doing a whole lot of music writing, but I was very much involved in that world. I’ve only just become conscious about the fact that I was so sensitive about critics writing about me. And it wasn’t just writing about my music—it was writing about my personal life.

It was really hard for me, because it wasn’t something that I ever expected. I never really thought about it, but it’s possible that being behind the scenes of [the music press] was part of why I was so focused on reading stuff [about me]. I was coming from the point of, “I’ve worked in this industry, so I want to see what people are saying.” But if I ever saw anything negative, I would be like, “Oh fuck, my life is over.”

Crazy For You had a considerably high chart debut on Billboard—which was surprising for an indie album released on Mexican Summer, a label more well-known at the time for left-field sounds.

[Best Coast member Bobb Bruno] and I were in an airport when the label called with the news. Apparently we were one notch below a massive Miley Cyrus record? I remember Bobb, [ex-Best Coast drummer Ali Koehler], and I looking at each other and being like, “What the fuck?” I could not comprehend that it was happening. To be on Mexican Summer and be a part of this indie world that felt so personal to everyone involved…I was like, “How did this happen?” That was the moment where I was like, “Okay, I’m in a band now.”

As you mentioned earlier, a lot of the media coverage that resulted from Crazy For You was quite tabloid-like and, more often than not, gendered when covering your personal life.

It really sucked. My expectations for Best Coast were non-existent. I wasn’t happy in New York, and I wanted to play music. I was 22 years old, and we all know that feeling of being 22. “Who gives a fuck, I’m gonna go do this thing now.” I didn’t have a care in the world. I worked at a fucking soap store and I was selling clothes on eBay to pay my rent.

It was so weird, because I’d only thought about tabloid culture as something that existed for superstars. But at that time, there was a tabloid culture for indie blog bands, so to be the weird poster child for that—to be scrutinized by Hipster Runoff and these blogs that were supposed to be a joke—really sucked. I was a real person who did not expect for any of this to happen to me, so it was really hard. I was so hypersensitive to any form of criticism. Beyond receiving negative reviews of the album, to have [the criticism] directed at me, my personality, my body…it wasn’t fair. I didn’t sign up for it, and I didn’t want it.

At the time, I was outspoken about the criticism, but in a way where I was like, “Go fuck yourself, you suck, I hate you.” But deep down, I was like, “Oh my God, this is awful and I feel terrible. I can’t believe people are saying these things about me.” Not that I wish I could go back and relive it, but if I had been more compassionate towards myself and how I was feeling, maybe people would’ve…I actually don’t know whether people would’ve laid off of me. That was the beginning of trolling, but people didn’t realize that at the center of those jokes were real people. But since I’ve grown up, I’ve learned to exist in a space where I just don’t care about that.

Lyrically, Crazy For You was very emotionally direct—which wasn’t always the case for indie rock around that time. But you received some criticism for the literalism of your lyrics and the emotions you were expressing.

Back then, I was inspired by the ‘60s pop and the Beach Boys—the type of music that inspired me to start the band. I really wanted to make a modern-day, punk-y, Ramones-esque spin on that style of music, and so many of those songs contained rhyming sequences of “lazy,” “crazy,” and “baby.” So I was trying to pay homage to that style of music—but also, I felt lazy, I felt crazy, and “baby” is a word that gets used a lot in songwriting. It didn’t even come from this place of, “Oh, I’m stupid, goo goo gah gah, this is how I write lyrics.” It was just on my mind, and something I was trying to pay tribute to.

The criticism of my lyrics over the years has annoyed me more than anything else. People don’t realize that I’ve always been in on the joke. I knew what I was doing! I was very smart! That always bothered me, and I wish that people could’ve looked away from it and been like, “Who cares.” For Best Coast, I’ve always wanted to just get to the point. I don’t believe in wrapping my lyrics in these crazy metaphors. “I’m singing about space, but it’s really a metaphor for love.” I just want to fucking talk about what’s on my mind, because that’s what I always gravitate towards the most. Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks, John Lennon, Paul McCartney—they all wrote very straightforward lyrics. I never felt that people understood that I was trying to do the same thing.

But to be really honest, I listen back to my old catalog and sometimes I’m like, “I really did write about the same shit over and over.” But also, that was how I felt. I was an angsty, confused 22-year-old girl who was lovesick and upset and had no idea what the fuck I was doing with my life, and that’s what I talked about. People really related to that shit, and that’s why this record still exists in the space that it does ten years later. People want to be able to relate to that stuff. Even at 33, I still feel crazy, annoyed, irritated, lazy—all that stuff. I just approach it differently now.

The online criticism of the album overshadowed that it was a very successful record in terms of its reach in popular culture, with a fair amount of critical acclaim. Was there a moment where that success hit you?

We toured behind Crazy For You until The Only Place came out in 2012, and there were so many moments where I felt like I had to pinch myself and ask, “Is this real?” But the biggest moment was when Drew Barrymore directed the music video for “Our Deal.”

We were on tour and my manager emailed me to say, “You need to call me as soon as possible.” I was like, “Oh no, what’s wrong?” And he said, “MTV is doing this thing where they partner with celebrities to direct music videos, and Drew Barrymore wants to do yours.” I started laughing and said, “This isn’t real.” He said, “No, she really wants to do this, and she wants to get on the phone with you.” She literally calls me a couple days later and is like, “Hi Bethany! This is Drew.” I was like, “What the fuck is happening?”

It didn’t make any sense to me, because this started out as two friends doing something fun in someone’s bedroom—we didn’t know it was going to become what it became. Fucking Donald Glover is in that music video, and Shailene Woodley—all these stars that went on to be hugely successful. It was a truly mind-blowing moment. But also, I’m pretty insecure and have a lot of issues with self-confidence, which kept me grounded. Nothing ever went to my head. To this day, I still have imposter syndrome where I’m like, “What? Why did this happen?” Having that headspace ultimately kind of sucks, but it also helped me stay in this space where I never went off the rails and became a massive egomaniac. My self-conscious shit saved me from my head inflating too big.

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Jamie Larson