MAMA, DON'T LET YOUR BABIES BECOME MUSIC CRITICS
Elvis Costello famously once said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture, which is a lyricist's way of saying something that years later has even more relevance; Music criticism is redundant.
I used to write album reviews all the time. And I hated it. It always felt to me both patronizing and egocentric, and that was during a time in which albums didn't leak early. The reader, more often than not, hadn't heard what I heard. Hadn't formulated an opinion yet.
And no matter how long I did it for, I never felt like I gained anything from it. Never felt fulfilled. I would even consider it for myself to be the lowest form of a creative outlet. Assessing an art form based on personal preferences and taste? Knowing not enough about the process? Trying to condense someone's soul into 150 words? It's a daunting task. It's also a pointless one.
I've never felt more positive about my conscious decision to not write music reviews than I did this past weekend. Because there were three different music criticism-related links shared on social than reinforced my belief in the futility of it all. Not like everything in the world-all. Just the writing about an album aspect of things.
The first instance of my irk monster being roused from its slumber was an article titled "Here Are 41 Reviews of Kanye West's The Life of Pablo So You Don't Have To Read Any Others." The implication here is that you're already going to be online looking for reviews because you need help formulating your own thoughts. Because you're a dummy and you can't process a record with your feeble non-critic brain.
But Vice never does anything conventionally, so it does it in such a way that irreverently mocks itself for posting a review by not delivering one review.
Because everyone has an opinion of all cultural contributions hours after it's reached sunlight, here are forty-one "informed" cultural opinions.
But then again is it also mocking reviews based on, say, one submission titled "A Quick Review Written On a Phone While Out of the Office and Barely Hearing The Record, by Eric Sundermann?" Probably? Possibly? Who the hell knows? Because some of those contributions are written by real music critcis...or maybe I've thought too much about this already? All I do know is that nearly every single review, if not every single one (I couldn't get through all the millenial cuteness) shared one identical thought; that whatever Kanye does, it's probably great. And that's what you get when you ask forty-one goddamn critics to weigh in on an album. Good thing we did that.
We are all individuals. I'm not.
The second instance is also Yeezy-related--I mean, was anyone talking about anything else this weekend? Ironically this one also kinda proves my point which is weird because a music critic shouldn't be highlighting the redundancy of her job. I like Lindsey Zoladz's writing normally, but her article this weekend left me scratching my Jew-fro. In "Reviewing Yeezus in 2016 To Better Understand Kanye West and the Life of Pablo" is exactly that. It's an album review of an album that came out in 2013.
"A couple of nights ago, at a party, I was trying to explain to someone the very odd thing that I do for a living," Zoladz writes. “I am a pop-music critic,” I said. That title means something a little different than it did a few years, or even months ago. A lot of the time, especially in the current era of the “surprise album,” a critic is hearing the music at the exact same time as the general public." She then proceeds to talk about the Life of Pablo and how her article would be better served reviewing his previous album Yeezus with the hindsight and perspective one can only get from living with an album for three years.
But that's not the job. Sadly. And I admire the effort, but the article just amplifies the pointlessness of writing a music review.
The final example is a perfect example of why music criticism is at a bad juncture. Tom Breihan's "Macklemore's "Spoons" Is The Worst Song Ever Recorded" isn't really a criticism, per se. It's a clickbait piece of narsty. And I feel like at this point in the game, that's the only way you can get people to truly care about what you're saying about music. Which is something I want nothing to do with.
I am by no means a Macklemore fan. Let me just clarify that. I don't even care enough to write a whole article to defend the guy. He's an easy target. A white guy rapper who takes himself very seriously. Hilarious, right? Here's the thing: I admire Macklemore's efforts to rap about something substantive unlike, say, almost anything Kanye says on Life of Pablo. He cares about gay marriage within an art form where "no homo" is really the only instance in which you address homosexuality. He recorded the divisive track "White Privilege II" which I have listened to twice and each time I have found it affecting. The dude who makes rap music for white people made a lot of white people a little uncomfortable for listening to a dude who makes rap music for white people.
Anyway, about Tom's article. "Spoons" isn't genius. I know. Understatement. But here's the thing: Breihan attacks the lyrics. Again, see anything Kanye says on Kanye's new album. So let's just say lyrics and hip-hop should not be a uniform qualifier for what's good and what's not.
But that music. It's dorky, yes. Tho the song is not the worst song recorded in history. You can't make that qualification. It makes anything written by you from that point on therein ridiculous. Say it's awful. Say you don't like it. Say it fails, but kudos for the effort. Say anything starring John Cusack. [BTW side note: if Rivers Cuomo had recorded this song with these exact lyrics, it would have been "hilarious."]
The thing is when you're a music critic in 2016, a) you're saying the same thing everyone else is already thinking, b) you're questioning your role in the world of art, or c) you're making angry hyperbolic statements to get "people" "talking" about your blog posts. I don't blame any of the people above for what they're doing, and again, for the most part (at least the latter two), most critics are strong writers with great ability.
But if I could give any advice to anyone, or if I could be presumptuous enough to offer advice and assume people will listen to it, my thoughts are you're wasting your talents. In 2016, there's more merit in talking to the artist and get a deeper understanding of who they are before you judge their very being. Which is why I will only take on music journalism related assignments that involve direct involvement with the artist, like a profile or a collaborative piece. This is also why Genius is so popular--people want to understand the songs more than they want to know about a overinformed critic's take.
I don't know what the alternatives are. I get it. It's a job. I'm just saying that some guy sold fax machines awhile back. And I'm sure he figured out what else he could do next.