A Different Voice in Music Journalism

An interview with Larisha Paul by Kiarah Pierre-Louis.

When doing an interview, it is almost impossible to capture everything that is needed for a good story in the 30 minutes to an hour for the “appropriate” interview time. On a Zoom call in April of 2023, Larisha and I spoke for almost four hours. That is four hours of everything that two fans of many the same artist can get into while also covering the needed information about her start in music journalism.  In early September 2020, I ran across this article on small fan-based business owners that created unique merchandise for Harry Styles. After doing further research, I discovered that a young black journalist, by the name of Larisha Paul, wrote it.  

Larisha Paul was born in New York, NY but raised in Virginia. As a native of the big apple, she always dreamed of attending New York University. This goal came about after riding the train when she was about ten years old with her family member one day and she witnessed the beautiful sight of students in their well-known purple graduation gowns heading toward their future. After making that dream happen, she moved back to New York to begin her journey into journalism. While attending NYU, she started to freelance for many companies like MTV, Billboard, and The Fader. She is an entertainment and culture journalist writing about, interviewing artists, and reviewing pop music, fan culture, and the way the music industry changes impact artists and fans (Paul, 2022) She currently works for Rolling Stone as a full-time Staff Writer covering current topics in music, attending and reporting on live events. Rolling Stone is a monthly magazine that covers everything from music to popular culture and politics.

From Fan to Professional 

Before all of her incredible work for these great companies, Paul reflected on a time when she was a teen skipping school and going to see a band with her best friend that inspired her love for interviewing. Before this concert, she got the opportunity to attend a Question-and-Answer session with other fans. She recalled sitting in silence with these fans because no one had a great question that could spark conversation with the band. She remembered asking one question that changed the way the conversation went, and it sparked a passion inside of her to look into how she can inspire that feeling in artists and herself every day. Being a fan of many popular artists growing up, consuming negative media reviews and reports on those artists made her very aware of the kind of journalist she wanted to be. She was adamant about setting the narrative for fellow fans who love the same artists. Another point that she would like to correct while being a journalist is the stigma of young fans being looked at as crazy or not respected for their passionate ways.

The Secret to Starting

She spoke on how being a fan and running a fan page when she was younger allowed her to have transferable skills in the job place when it came to her niche reporting. Skills like creating news from popular trends, networking, written and verbal communication, and pitching to media outlets and editors, have been extremely important to her work today. If there was any advice that she could give to the upcoming journalist, it would be to focus on her skill before jumping on the internship wagon. Freelance pitching and writing helped her as a beginner get her name out there and her skill developed.

“Start pitching yourself and your ideas to editors who will listen or may be interested in what you may have to say.”

 Freelancing opened the door to many interview opportunities that she may have never been able to do if someone had not taken the chance on her story about a different take on a particular artist. Another skill she focused on was networking. During her undergrad, whenever she was tasked to interview someone, she usually chose a journalist who worked on stories that she would one day be working on.

The Reality of it All

“There is one thing I wish someone would have told me about this industry. It is that there are so many talented people {women of color} including myself with terrible imposter syndrome. It’s like going to work every day and feeling like you do not belong in your position because there is an average {white} man who didn’t have to do nearly as much or isn’t as qualified but still gets the opportunities that should be available to you as well.”  

We spoke on the proverbial topic of the “Black Writers Box”. This is when black writers are placed in a box and everything that is stereotypically known to be a black thing is given to them but when it comes to general everyday articles, they are given to other writers.

She remembered during the pandemic when the protest of Black Lives Matter was happening and the need for freelance black journalists to cover protests and profiles was at an all-time high. However, the question remained, why aren’t black journalists already on the staff to cover these issues?

“Why are there only calls for our work as people of color when we as a minority are in crisis? Why are we not in demand every day?”

As a journalist, she has made it a point to pass on stereotypical pieces offered to her if she cannot cover what she loves as well. She wants to be able to have the duality of covering pop culture as well as pieces that matter to her community.

In the end….

When I joined Twitter as a major fan of Harry Styles, Shawn Mendes, Justin Bieber, and so many others, I often realized how little the fan base consisted of people of color. Her work caught my eye because I was not used to seeing someone who looked like me, a young African American woman, cover pop-related culture in the way she did. When allowed to interview someone who has been working in the journalism and media field, I immediately thought of her.

In our almost four-hour-long conversation, we talked about her upbringing, how she got into pop culture, why and how she got to the institution of New York University, what it means as a black fan in today’s predominately white fan culture, and so much more. We shared the same values on the lack of representation that we see in an industry we love.  Music journalism for her has helped her be expressive about what she is passionate about. Having this conversation gave me a bigger insight into the journalism and public relations section I want to explore. In our interview, she made it very clear that her goal is to break the barriers that have been set up for minorities such as us but to also give advice on the downsides and downfalls of what this profession has to offer. Covid-19 affected her work in ways that she did not see coming. Previously working at the world-famous Madison Square Garden, she had to turn to freelance for different publications to keep afloat. She has written for places like MTV, Billboard, Paper Magazine, etc. Our interview has given me hope for our future as women of color striving to be and do better than the ones who opened the doors for us. Larisha Paul will be an active voice for black fans and will always be an inspiration to me.