Not With The Band: The Difficulty In Being A Music Critic
When you write about music, you necessarily get to know some of the bands you are writing about. This is the old dilemma for writers, how do you stay honest and unmerciful as the famous Lester Bangs’ quote says? Two days ago, The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s frontman offered me a photo pass on Twitter when I said I would review the show. It was unexpected and quite thrilling, but I was already thinking, now how can I review the show,… honestly? I actually didn’t have any problem because it turned out I had no photo pass (Anton probably forgot?) and furthermore the show was good.
However, since I have been writing about local bands, a lot of musicians have asked to become my friends on Facebook, I always say yes, why not? I actually feel special, when they ask, and that’s the problem… they often invite me to their shows and sometimes propose to put my name on a guest list, what can I do? Is it possible to be objective? And if this is happening at a very very small level, my level, I can only imagine what is happening at any major scale. How can we be believe that reviews in any major publication have any integrity? My guess is they don’t, they are all bias.
If it is another story for independent little magazines and blogs, the culture has been established, and this is where the Iggy Azalea/Lordes/Grimes controversy started: these artists offered interviews or tickets and expected a nice review in return. Of course, it often works like this but it shouldn’t. Of course these three were young girls, so it was easier to criticize them than well established male artists… Has any major publication ever given Bruce Springsteen or U2 a bad review? These are the untouchable ones, they have an army of PR, a network of connections and interconnections and Rolling Stones follows.
A local band in Los Angeles, gave me a CD, it was cool and nice, and they expect a review I suppose; it’s a gift and we are wired to react positively to a nice gift, but there is always a conflict of interest in these situations. At the end, the real question is do my opinion and my little blurb on our tiny blog matter? Of course they do, otherwise bands would not invite us to shows and give us free download.
Pitchfork is still ranked as the most influential music blog in the world, and their opinion matters a lot for aspiring or established bands… last year, the famous blog gave a 1.0/10 to the Pixies’ EP-1, a 4.5/10 to Justin Timberlake’s ‘The 20/20 Experience’, a 4.5/10 to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ self titled, a 4.7/10 to Eminem’s ‘The Marshall Mathers’,… just to pick a few famous ones who received a bad grade. In contrast these albums received a 2.5/5, 3.5/5, 3/5 and 4/5 by Rolling Stone, which are much better grades. You can’t really accuse Pitchfork of brown nosing in these cases, but they have their indie darlings (the usual suspects who have received a perfect 10 like Wilco’s ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’, Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’, and ‘OK Computer’, The Flaming Lips’ ‘The Soft Bulletin’, Neutral Milk Hotel’s ‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’, Weezer’s ‘Pinkerton, Pavement’s ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’ to name just a few). The perfect hipsters’ list if there was one, although most of these albums are effectively great, and I doubt any of these artists will ever receive a bad grade on Pitchfork. While Rolling Stone kisses big heads’ asses, Pitchfork pushes the snobbery envelope and has always have.
Music critics will never be objective, it’s impossible, any music review is an opinion piece, and just an opinion at the end, but famous blogs and magazines all have an agenda. Time is the best critic, let’s read any review written today in 20 years and let’s have a good laugh.