Lindsay Zoladz ordered a large iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts in preparation for an all-nighter. At 3:30 a.m., she turned in her finished product.
She wasn’t polishing an academic essay or pulling together a group presentation, though. Instead, she was listening to the new U2 album for work.
“I do like writing under a tight deadline, actually, even though I often complain about it until it's done,” Zoladz said. “But I do think that kind of pressure brings out the best in me.”
“Bono-related all-nighters” are just one of the unexpected quirks of Zoladz’s new job, which started on Aug. 11. Zoladz, who graduated from AU in 2009 with a double-major in literature and visual media and a minor in cinema studies, serves as pop music critic for New York Magazine. She reviews albums and songs for shorter pieces on the magazine’s Vulture blog and contributes longer features to the print publication.
Two months in, she’s already reviewed new albums from Ariana Grande (“one of the best and smartest pop albums of the year”), Thom Yorke (“pleasant, intermittently lovely but inarguably minor”) and Chris Brown (“a joyless, purgatorially long slog”). New albums from Nicki Minaj, Kanye West and Taylor Swift have her excited for the rest of 2014.
Criticism is more valuable than ever before in the age of the Internet, Zoladz said.
“There’s so much to listen to that you really need a writer cutting through everything and not only telling you what’s good, but making sense of why something is good,” Zoladz said.
Writing has been on Zoladz’s radar since childhood. She spent much of her fifth-grade year producing a fake newspaper for her classmates, drawing small pictures and using symbols for words she didn’t know how to use.
She arrived at AU with the goal of becoming a screenwriter for film, but after working on a few film projects, she decided the idea of filmmaking trumped the experience of being on a set. Instead, she turned her attention to writing about the arts.
“I realized that can be as much of an art as the arts that we’re writing about,” Zoladz said.
AU professor Jeffrey Middents’ Honors colloquium in Film Writing and Film Culture marked this turning point.
The course proved unexpectedly fruitful during Zoladz’s interview at New York Magazine. She briefly brought up Middents’ unusual final exam assignment, in which Zoladz and her classmates had to go see the critically reviled 2007 Nicolas Cage thriller “Next” and write a review in the voice of a famous film critic.
To this day, students from Middents’ class contact him to jokingly chastise him for this assignment, but the editors at New York Magazine perked up when Zoladz told the story.
Zoladz has kept in touch with Middents since she left AU, and he’s happy to see that his teaching paid off.
“I think it’s a dream for her,” Middents said. “She was always working really hard. I’m not surprised that, of all the people to become a pop culture writer, that she’s the one achieving it, so quickly and in such a big way.”
"There’s so much to listen to that you really need a writer cutting through everything and not only telling you what’s good, but making sense of why something is good."
Another critical moment in Zoladz’s writing education came during a class exercise with her senior thesis instructor, AU literature professor Jonathan Loesberg. One by one, each student read the first page of his essay. When the other students found the piece interesting, they raised their hands. When they were bored, they put their hands down.
“It was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Zoladz said. “But I also think that taught me how to write a lede.”
Loesberg expected Zoladz would continue her academic career after she won the Literature department’s annual award for distinguished thesis writing. Nonetheless, he’s impressed with her progress and happy to have played a role in it.
“I’m ecstatic to hear it,” Loesberg said.
Beyond the classroom, Zoladz’s work as general manager and online contributor at WVAU helped her connect to fellow music enthusiasts on campus, setting her on a path to write about the medium professionally.
> Zoladz poses with her fellow WVAU executive board in 2008. CREDIT: LINDSAY ZOLADZ
Upon graduating from AU, though, Zoladz briefly set aside her newfound literary and artistic knowledge for a job at the newly opened Georgetown Cupcakes. Graduate school didn’t feel like the right move and financial burdens beckoned. But the urge to write quickly returned.
“I missed talking to people about music,” Zoladz said. “I was used to having that community.”
So she did what so many aspiring writers in the digital age are tempted to do: she started a blog. She used some of her posts to apply for her first writing job as a contributor at Cokemachineglow, where she learned the ropes of working on deadline.
“I would spend my time at the job when I was bored thinking about what I was going to write when I got home.”
The opportunities kept coming. She worked at AARP, specializing in stories about people who made dramatic career changes midway through life, like a lawyer who opened a chocolate shop. Later, she moved on to Washington City Paper, and eventually Pitchfork came calling. When New York Magazine’s previous pop critic Jody Rosen left to serve as critic-at-large for the New York Times’ T Magazine in June, Zoladz jumped at the opportunity to apply.
“I never thought when I graduated that this is what I wanted to be doing,” Zoladz said. “All of the components of this kind of a job were there, but they hadn’t really congealed yet.”
> Zoladz covers Bruce Springsteen's concert at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark for Pitchfork in July 2012. CREDIT: LINDSAY ZOLADZ
Even now that she’s at New York Magazine, Zoladz is still in the process of finding herself, even dabbling as a DJ in her spare time. She thinks current college students would benefit from embracing the variety of possibilities that lie ahead of them.
Setting hard deadlines for career progress sounds productive on paper but leads to stress down the road, Zoladz said.
“Being comfortable with a certain amount of uncertainty is a really valuable thing throughout your entire 20s,” Zoladz said. “I’m still working on it myself.”