A critic and manager go head-to-head about music journalism in 2014
Music critic bashing is becoming a thing again, which either means: a) Music critics are doing their jobs pretty damn well; or b) There’s a disconnect between what music journalism is and what musicians think it should be. It’s more likely the latter though, given Lorde’s recent comments in regards to what she perceives as a double standard in the way Complex magazine covered Iggy Azalea’s The New Classic. Or Hayley Mary from The Jezabels telling critics to “”fucking get a real job””:http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/news/38696/The-Jezabels-Hayley-Mary-lashes-out-at-critics-Fucking-get-a-real-job – y’know, like playing an instrument or singing – because there’s already enough “hatred in the world”.
Lorde made her complaint in a Tumblr post highlighting the fact that Complex featured Azalea on their front cover despite running a negative review of her debut album. “It happens to me all the time,” she wrote, “Pitchfork and that ilk being like ‘Can we interview you?’ after totally taking the piss out of me in a review. Have a stance on an artist and stick to it. Don’t act like you respect them then throw them under the bus.”
The post was re-blogged by Grimes on her own Tumblr with the comment, “Hahaha yes – I agree with this”, and also prompted a response by Complex associate editor Insanul Ahmed. ”[A cover story] simply boils down to Complex thinking the artist is someone our audience is interested in,” he wrote. “Giving someone a bad review basically boils down to thinking someone our audience is interested in didn’t make a very good record. We can’t speak for all publications, but we imagine it works about the same way for them.”
It’s amazing something so obvious required even one thinkpiece – let alone another saying the exact same thing – but the fact we’re having this discussion again means there’s a lot of unresolved tension between artists and writers about the purpose of music criticism in 2014. While FL is loathe to contribute another op-ed to the noise, we thought we’d re-print (with permission) a very interesting conversation that played out on social media between Umbrella Music’s Joel Connolly (the manager of The Rubens, Cloud Control and Urthboy) and Caitlin Welsh, a Sydney-based writer who contributes to FL and our pop culture sister site Junkee, among others. If nothing else, it shows just how both sides perceive an increasingly complex (ahem) debate.
As a manager I can understand why a lot of artists have trouble accepting criticism. Lorde’s totally wrong about “sticking with” an opinion though. An artist can get a cover and then get a bad review, that’s totally legitimate. But to an artist it just tastes bitter being as big as Izzy is, giving a cover to a magazine and making them a lot of money, then getting a bad review from that same publication down the line. It just feels shit.
But putting this in context, there is a tonne of shitty criticism out there nowadays and artists generally feel hard done by when some kid, who can’t make art, asserts themselves in to some position of authority and tells them all about their own work. It’s a pretty audacious profession to take up. A lot of artists feel this way towards critics and so, although misguided, I understand where Lorde/Izzy/Naughty Rappers Collective are coming from.
Artists shouldn’t let petty or snarky or shit writers’ opinions hurt their little artist feelings – only the well-written, insightful negative reviews, the ones that get the album but still see its flaws, should give them pause. I know that’s not how it works and there’s also the nagging irritation of a hater having a platform. But the number of music listeners who care enough to read reviews yet not enough to listen to the music and make their own minds up is absolutely fucking tiny. I’m capable of recognising that most Aussie rappers are better than Kerser, so I don’t go around bitching about how Aussie rappers as a group are fucking terrible.
Also most journos are just doing their jobs, or trying to, and there’s this idea that we need to treat The Artists with unquestioning reverence and praise and know everything about their jobs, and they’re doing us a favour by even talking to us. Then if one of us does something they don’t like, they go out and shit on the profession at large, show zero respect or understanding of how the job works, and the whole adversarial narrative gets another chapter. Maybe aim that anger at the specific people or titles who shat you off, or do what good critics do (and what artists expect us to do) and try and understand the thing you’re discussing before you go telling everyone how shit it is?
It’s impossible to not care when someone says something shit about you, not least something you’ve spent potentially a year of your life on. Which is why Lorde writes two sentences on Tumblr and cops a full essay back from a cranky journo. And why Haley Mary spends two minutes of maybe a 30-minute interview criticising critics and within two days every music journo in the world jumps on her.
Don’t get me wrong, I value good criticism. But overwhelmingly it’s shit and drivel and it shouldn’t have a place outside the dickwad’s own brain. But it seems anyone willing to work for free can “contribute” and call themselves a critic. The net result is an industry that is dominated by terrible work, and if you’re an artist complaining, you can feel justified by colouring the whole industry in the same shade. I don’t agree with it necessarily, but I understand it.
“I value good criticism. But overwhelmingly it’s shit and drivel”
And this is going to sting, but artists don’t need to think about journos feelings, their jobs, their industries. If criticism didn’t exist, music still would. Criticism is dependent on the artist and what they create, not the other way around. The same goes for a large majority of professions servicing musicians. Management is one of them! The truth is, they are doing you a favour. You have a job because of them and they are contributing something new to world, not simply providing comment on someone else’s contribution.
That doesn’t mean you need to worship the ground they walk on, or even like what they are doing, but it does mean that you don’t really get to complain when an artist doesn’t like what you have to say. Before you think I’m getting personal, let me say that I am on the same side of things as you are. I spend my life being on the other side of someone who is actually making something and putting it in to the world. I help them put it there, but in the end, I’m not actually doing anything new.
I’m not suggesting musicians need critics, but most of them do need journos! And a good review is still a piece of writing, and at its best it should be something new and creative that adds to the world. Both parties need to remember that it’s a human at the other end of the line. And artists don’t have to have respect for writers, but the ones who don’t give off “Fuck you, bottom-feeder” vibes are probably going to have more writers on side, which is apparently what they want.
My personal opinion? If an artist gets a bad review, if it’s actually a decent review, they should try and learn from it. Or if they are unable to, just ignore it. If you complain you just come off sounding bitter, particularly when you have a giant amount of success already, like Lorde or Iggy. One shit review just doesn’t matter. It bites at your ankles. So much easier said than done though. In my ideal world, the standard of criticism is raised and then only the worst would have something to complain about.