I think it’s important to be critical of the things that you consume, for a plethora of reasons. At the very least, I think a nuanced understanding of something only serves to reinforce your love for it, and it opens the door for all kinds of interesting discussions with others. But the more I examine a lot of the critical examinations of music, the more it seems to miss any productive goal and just reads as boring, unnecessary cynicism.
I started reflecting on this a bit in my review of Linkin Park’s latest album, but this is a theme I’ve noticed in many places. One of the most obvious examples is the widespread criticism that Linkin Park’s shift to pop (and the same conversion of many artists before them) means they’ve sold out and are no longer expressing genuine emotions. I’ve also heard talk that Halsey is a “Millennial created in a lab,” that what she claims to be and what she writes music about is just a corporate ploy to attract Millennials. This week, I’ve seen it said that Lorde’s Melodrama has her still pretending to feel like an outsider to maintain her image.
All of these could well be true. I don’t know any of these artists personally, and my knowledge of the music industry tells me that unless you’ve transcended a certain degree of stardom (or are far enough down the food chain that nobody cares), you’re generally subject to a lot of artistic restrictions and impositions because you need to sell music.
Still, I can’t help but look at how so many people—primarily critics—examine music and feel that it’s incredibly cynical, in the process boiling music down to a mechanical and unemotional experience, which is entirely the opposite of what it should be.
Maybe I sound naïve; I am well aware that, regardless of the artistry and emotion that you can find in it, music is still a job like any other. But I actually think that this fact makes this endeavor of dissecting every song down to what it was ”supposed” to be in order to sell even more pointless. It makes reviews start to become a contest of attempting to identify some “marketable” aspect to the music, and if such an aspect can be found, then it’s no longer good enough.
We romanticize the idea of artists who create purely to create, who don’t care how much money they make, but they need to provide for themselves (and for potential families) just like anyone else. There may be some artists who have acquired enough money to afford to make music exactly as they please, or some who create music alongside something else that they make money off of, but otherwise, all music is being sold to you in some way. Intent, in the end, only goes so far; it’s about whether or not the person or people listening personally get something from it, and since I have only to gain from there being more music in the world that I love, I fail to see the point in examining music so cynically.
At the end of the day, music, like any art form, is what you make of it. I do bristle at the knowledge that corporate oversight mangled a work of music that the original artist did not want altered purely because they thought it wasn’t “marketable” enough, but music is music. Something could be mass-produced pop “trash,” it could be a soulless, corporate attempt to appeal to a demographic, but the moment it’s in my hands (or ears, as it were), if I can find something in the music, then it means something, even if it’s not something the original creator(s) could ever have fathomed. It doesn’t matter how real or fake the creation process was, as long as it means something real to you.