MUSIC JOURNALISTS: 10 Notes on a Summer’s Day
January 30, 2012
Dear music journalism, we’ve been seeing a lot of one another for a long time now, and there’s some stuff I’d like to get off my chest. I hope you’re listening, and I hope we can make this work.
1. No album is “great,” “brilliant,” or even “fantastic” until it’s five years old. There are occasional exceptions — Illmatic, five fucking mics — but exceptions should prove the rule, not constantly devalue it. An album is great if you can grow as a human being for five years, listen to it then, and still find something in there that speaks to you and informs your sensibilities. “Nostalgia” doesn’t count; that’s just you speaking to yourself while jerking off.
2. If you’re going to make your music criticism political, stick to it. If you’re going to call Odd Future out on homophobia (or whoever for whatever) and then turn around and praise an Eric Clapton guitar solo without also mentioning that he is or was pro-Enoch-Powell, you have damaged your own integrity. Picking and choosing comes off as whining. By the same token, repellent people can make beautiful artifacts, and beautiful artifacts themselves can sometimes be repellent. It’s a fact of life — not a pleasant one, but there you go.
3. There is no correlation between how obscure a record is, and its quality. None whatsoever. They are two entirely separate metrics, and only douchebags connect them.
4. Mining for intellectual depth in vapid pop music makes you look like a buffoon. Saying Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” is ‘beautiful in its simplicity’ or something ridiculous like that is like when Homer Simpson explained why he had his Mr. Smith Goes to Washington remake end with Mr. Smith killing everyone: “It was symbolism! He was angry!” It’s OK for music to be stupid, and if something’s stupid and fun, for God’s sake, just call a spade a spade. (Note: this may be bad advice when talking about black musicians.) ‘Beautifully simple’ lyrics don’t express how much someone loves big asses or partying, they take an outsize, unwieldy condition and convey its entire meaning in as compact a space as possible (see Cate Le Bon: “the dogs are dead and I’m getting older”).
5. Music journalism is not the German language. You cannot just take two functioning genre-descriptor nouns and smash them together, and expect people to know what the fuck you’re talking about. Related: “Band X meets Band Y” is done, and you are forbidden to continue using it. It might be acceptable when talking about, say, a band no one could ever have possibly heard of (or, in the more literal sense, an actual honest-to-God mash-up), but it still says next to nothing, and fails to give a meaningful context for a song or a record beyond your own stupid iPod.
6. “Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” is a hoary old cliche, yes. It’s also the order in which the human brain prioritizes those topics. If you’re trying to make a person give a shit about your lengthy profile of whoever, call it the hook, the line, and the sinker.
7. Keep everything at arm’s length, or at least fake it. If your article or review or whatever makes you sound like Fanboy #1, then all people will take away is that you’re Fanboy #1. If you want to be taken seriously as a critic, behave like a serious critic, and cover up your cultist shaved skull with a baseball cap or something.
8. Just because you can veer off-topic and ramble about stuff that is only tertially connected to your point does not make you David Foster Wallace. It makes you come off like you have fucking Attention Deficit Disorder and no ability to copy-edit yourself. David Foster Wallace was David Foster Wallace, and in any event, look where writing like David Foster Wallace got him.
9. Before you write a single word, just remember that any opinion you put out into the world is going to be out there for the rest of your life, and you’re just going to have to live with it — so only speak up if you’re really and truly okay with that.
10. If your role model isn’t Byron Coley, you should consider hanging it up. That’s not a joke.