2019-04-26T13:05:11-04:00 2019-04-26T14:37:59-04:00

Not the Enemy: An Open Letter to Musicians From a Music Critic

Earlier this week, Lizzo made headlines with 67 characters: "PEOPLE WHO 'REVIEW' ALBUMS AND DONT MAKE MUSIC THEMSELVES SHOULD BE UNEMPLOYED." Twitter chaos ensued, as it does. The perhaps-not-entirely-unsuspecting culprit of such an unmitigated drag? A Pitchfork album review of the rapper/singer/flautist's atest album, Cuz I Love You. The review was by no means adulatory, but it wasn't unflattering, either. It was concise in its nuances and detailed examples that strengthened the writer's convictions. An expression that was poetically written by a seasoned scholar of music that expressed a personal perspective not viewed by many. Who knew art could be perceived or felt differently for everyone?

A couple of days later, in a series of since-deleted tweets, Ariana Grande defended Justin Bieber's apparent lip-sync at Coachella. "People are so lost," she tweeted. "One day everybody that works at all them blogs will realize how unfulfilled they are and purposeless what they’re doing is and hopefully shift their focus elsewhere. that’s gonna be a beautiful ass day for them! i can’t wait for them to feel lit inside. … i don’t like when people try to ruin beautiful moments for my friends that’s all.” 

I have some news for these two major record label signed, Coachella playing main stage acts: I do not get paid for what I do. Most arts and entertainment writers on the "blog" network get anywhere between twenty-five to three hundred dollars per piece, and that's if they can find a publication willing to pay them for their words. Another writer at EARMILK said of her first paid writing gig: "I would have done it for free, to be honest...[I paid] $200k for a journalism degree, and am wowed by three hundred bucks." (Yes, I had to outsource stories about writers getting paid for writing because I don't have one of my own). I would have done it for free.

Most music writers are simply chasing a dream of their own, and even that dream doesn't end with red carpet award shows and multi-million dollar contracts. I should rephrase, though. I do occasionally get paid for what I do. I'm also a waitress at an Italian restaurant, although that money will go toward paying off my crippling student debt rather than funding future writing. Another thing: Fifteen odd years of piano lessons and a four-year stint in the Canadian version of LaGuardia High School did nothing to improve my critical thinking skills. Attending a university for philosophy and comparative literature did. 

My point in saying all this is not to shame Ariana Grande and her millions, or to make Lizzo feel bad. The army of journalists on Twitter has done that well enough already. It's to illustrate that I write because I feel compelled to do it. We express our art without putting a price on it. Imagine Lizzo not taking a paycheck for her upcoming tour because she just loves the fact that she can perform for fans and then picks up waitressing hours in between shows so she can still make rent. 

My life would be pretty dull if I didn't have the opportunity to write about and discuss music. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that musicians make music for essentially the same reason. Much of the time, I can bang my head against the laptop to release a proper review and artists and their publicity teams do not deem my work important enough to share it themselves but even then, and I cannot stress this enough: I am one of the lucky ones. I have parents who are willing to lend me their roof until I can find financial stability and finish school. I have a team at a blog who really care about its writers and pushes their work to the forefront. We are our own worst critics and biggest supporters. But most of us write for free or underpaid because we just fucking love music. 

There seems to be a consensus among artists of late that journalism is a form of glorified PR. In the immortal words of Jeff Bebe: "Is it that hard to make us look cool?" Quite frankly, I do not exist to make an artist look good. Being complimentary of an artist is a courtesy I express to the few who have truly moved me. In the case of a magazine like Pitchfork, an artist's work would be ignored completely if they didn't think it was important to the cultural zeitgeist. What's that phrase, again? "There's no such thing as bad publicity?" I don't love resorting to clichés, and I also don't think this one is entirely accurate, but it seems apt at the moment. If we publish a negative review of Lizzo's album or Justin Bieber's performance, their fanbases won't exactly evaporate. But the writers who put an unpopular opinion on the Internet? They stand to lose a lot for their criticism. We are not your enemy, but out soul purpose as critics is not to laud pop stars with eternal praise: that is what your moms and fans are for. 

At this juncture, let's make something crystal clear: I'm not here to debate how deeply those tweets might have been misinterpreted, or whose feelings were most hurt and by what. Lizzo said what she said, and then Grande said what she said. Lizzo is no stranger to toxic, racist, misogynist, fat-phobic writing, I'm sure. I remember watching her performance at NXNE two years ago and thinking "I could never do what she does." Which is exactly why I'm not. Making music is brave. You bare your soul and spill your guts for the whole world to see and have opinions on. And to do that from Lizzo's position, as a marginalized member of society is admirable. But criticism is also brave.

Critics are the ones who carefully listen to the same album repeatedly throughout the day to catch the subtleties that most don't. We're the ones that come to shows early to see the openers in hopes of witnessing the next artist to change the world. We're trampled over in photo pits trying to grab that perfect shot of a performer shining bright in all their glory. I work hard at developing my work and sending my final piece to get published is something I take great pride in. We provide carefully thought out perspectives and put them into words a way that most fans can't. And that final piece of my own art makes me feel anything but "purposeless." 

Main Stage · Music Industry · Opinion · Pop


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