In Defense of Ultragrrrl

Sarah Lewitinn has become New York’s premier tastemaker—and that's what makes the haterati squirm

"She's directly responsible for the bad magazine I used to work for getting interested in covering bands that had Web buzz on them," says Spitz, who wrote a longtime gossip column for the magazine until he was fired last year after a publishing takeover. "SoundScans would materialize Tuesday and Wednesday morning, and those were the bands we'd consider— Matchbox, Creed, Sugar Ray. Bands like Interpol, the Killers, My Chems, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs—way before they got big, this girl was talking them up. Suddenly, a switch flicked. We were like, 'Sarah, what are you listening to?' She's the most gifted, natural, organic listening machine that probably ever existed. She's just scary good at what she does. I'm sort of in awe of her."

She left Spin in April 2005 to start Stolen Transmission, where she's "Top Banana" (as her e-mail signature proclaims) along with her partner, longtime a&r star Rob Stevenson, who signed the Killers, Fall Out Boy, and the Bravery. At work, she regularly sits beside Jay-Z at label meetings. L.A. Reid, the iconic Island/Def Jam chairman, calls her his "rock star" and once even jokingly bowed down to her in the hallway, chanting, "I am not worthy!"

"They love her because she speaks her mind at Def Jam meetings," Stevenson says. "She has no filter."

Ultragrrrrl: Photograph by Howard Huang; styling by Curtis Davis for Ken Barboza Associates; hair by Hair Q Hardy for Illusions; makeup by Brandon Zimoiyer for Williams Image Group; dress by Bonaparte NY
Ultragrrrrl: Photograph by Howard Huang; styling by Curtis Davis for Ken Barboza Associates; hair by Hair Q Hardy for Illusions; makeup by Brandon Zimoiyer for Williams Image Group; dress by Bonaparte NY


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But convincing magazine editors to cover buzz bands is different from creating that buzz herself. The question remains: Can lightning strike again? "A lot of people are watching her and watching her label to see what it does, to see if she can continue her streak," Spitz says. "People are counting her out, saying that she lost it or signed bands that aren't making the same dent on the culture as My Chems. I'm sure they'll be listening to at least one of her bands in the next 18 months. Maybe not all of them."

Lewitinn can't afford to fail. Too many critics—most of them anonymously trolling message boards and blogs—are rooting for her downfall. People love to hate Ultragrrrl—or at least the persona she's created, a character so grating to some that the New York Press, naming her to their "Loathsome" list, wrote: "Once confined to her ultra-vapid sycophantic hipster blog Ultragrrrl, Sarah Lewitinn has somehow parlayed her love for wimpy bands and kitsch into a career as a record promoter and talking head about—two guesses—wimpy bands and kitsch."

People hate her 'cause she's raving about bands they already blogged about. They hate her because they think she has no business writing and is a step away from being a groupie. They hate her because they think she's just a lucky girl who was in the right place at the right time, earning a spot at Spin coveted by thousands of aspiring writers. They hate her because she writes about her dog, Monkey, a funny-looking Brussels Griffon that's inspired its own cult of fandom. For those and many other reasons, she is roundly and endlessly dissed on blogs and public discussion groups, where anonymous commenters run wild, writing things they would never say to her in person, from mean-spirited patter—calling her "carb face" or dismissing her as "frumpy" and "dumb"—to more misogynist and hateful remarks that no male writer or executive would ever have to endure.

On the popular music-discussion board I Love Music, one anti-Ultragrrrl thread, originally titled "I Want to Shoot Ultragrrrl in the Face," goes on for an astounding 15 pages. Another thread, deriding her appearance on VH1 where she proclaimed Eminem's "Lose Yourself" one of the greatest pop songs ever, was 22 pages long—with detractors bravely making fun of her "chunky troll legs." People who are ostensibly her peers—the ones she is writing for and hoping to reach with her label—rip her up at every chance.

"How did this woman—I mean, grrrl— become the music scene's Paris Hilton?" wrote one detractor in a comment on the music news/gossip site Idolator. "So much praise and adulation, such little talent."

"Let's see . . . three bands I cannot stand: Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, and the Killers," read a similar post on Gawker. "And you're telling me this girl is responsible for all of them? Is she also responsible for Fergie? I hope I never run into this bitch on the street."

"I fuckin' hate Ultragrrrl," concluded a Brooklyn Vegan commenter. "You stupid hipsters."

But if people dislike her as vehemently in the industry, they don't show it. Attempts to get on-the-record criticism about Ultragrrrl came up mostly empty. Those who wanted to talk trash wanted to do so anonymously, including a few who'd been up for an a&r job she eventually got. One of the only people willing to comment on the record was freelance writer (and occasional Voice contributor) Jason Gross, who said he lobbied to keep her off a panel last year at South by Southwest because he didn't think "she'd have anything constructive to add and would just pat herself on the back the whole time. The one thing she's definitely good at is self-promotion. People in the industry know who she is, but that's because she makes such a spectacle of herself."

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