Sunday, 20 June 2004

The pretentiousness of music critics

I hate to directly contradict Ryan of the Dead Parrots, but if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s the widespread condescension displayed by the self-annointed music cognoscenti toward popular music. It’s the same order of pretentious twaddle advanced by NPR listeners, independent bookstore owners, peddlers of concern about low levels of political knowledge among the American public, and film-school graduates—faux bourgeois superiority, nothing more, nothing less.

You know what? I couldn’t care less that every Nickelback song sounds alike, that Jewel’s music is now the soundtrack for marketing womens’ razors, or that record companies—in their efforts to produce sufficient content consistent with Canadian domestic artist quota rules—have foisted a succession of Alanis Morrissette-wannabes on the North American listening audience. I refuse to care what poor, long-suffering garage band has been pushed aside for Linkin Park, or what nameless-but-nonetheless-vastly-superior Little Rock bands toil in obscurity while Evanescence’s Amy Lee rockets up the charts, or how Kenny G killed the market for Herbie Hancock CDs.

So, if you don’t mind, I’ll get back to listening to Avril while the bourgeois piety police go back to diving into the remainder bins full of obscure, but doubtless vastly more “artistic,” artists in their endless search for art that meets their own exacting standards.


Any views expressed in these comments are solely those of their authors; they do not reflect the views of the authors of Signifying Nothing, unless attributed to one of us.

Ha! Apparently I came off a lot more condescending than I meant to. Actually, I listen to plenty of pop music, and like an awful lot of it.

In most cases, I believe there’s a reason it gets popular—record companies know how to produce a catchy single. I don’t mind Avril, and I like Evanescence’s sound, although I’ve really only heard the songs that have gotten radio play. I have a big-time soft spot for Def Leppard, and 80s butt rock in general. I never bought into the line that Bush was nothing more than a cheap Pearl Jam knockoff; I actually like Bush quite a bit. I like American Hi-Fi, the All-American Rejects, Jimmy Eat World, and plenty of other packaged emo-punk bands that have been popular recently. I could name plenty more pop that I like, but you get the point.

I think the same way about Hollywood movies. Formulaic is just fine if it’s done well, and if it at least tries to be interesting. Part of the beauty is, even when you know what to expect at most every turn, there are little bits of the unexpected to enjoy, little flourishes.

But when you’re an artist who doesn’t even try to do something different than you did the last time around, that’s lame. There are authors who have been writing the same book under different titles over and over again, because they sell. Calling that for what it is doesn’t mean I can’t—or don’t—enjoy the rest of the best-seller list.

That’s probably the best analogy for my reaction to the Nickelback mp3. I enjoy the majority of pop music that I listen to, but like anyone else, I don’t like everything. And one of the things I don’t like is when a band puts out a “new” song that’s so similar to their last single that you can play them at the same time and everything —timing, tone, music, everything—blends perfectly. I don’t think it’s pretentious to point that out.


What sort of pretentious twaddle is advanced by us NPR listeners?


And shouldn’t we (meaning, people in general) be concerned “about low levels of political knowledge”?

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