A whole lot of words have been spilled since Lorde posted a 72-word-long Tumblr post this Sunday. In the short rant, the young New Zealand pop star criticised Complex and music journalism in general after the publication gave a bad review to Iggy Azalea's new album, The New Classic, despite profiling the rapper last year in their October/November issue. Lorde goes on to compares this to her own experience with music features and criticism:
"bugs me how publications like complex will profile interesting artists in order to sell copies/get clicks and then shit on their records? it happens to me all the time- pitchfork and that ilk being like "can we interview you?" after totally taking the piss out of me in a review. have a stance on an artist and stick to it. don't act like you respect them then throw them under the bus."
While Azalea herself, Grimes, and others were quick to support her, Lorde's comments obviously have a ton of detractors too, and they've inspired a lot discussion into the nature of modern music coverage. It seems clear that while her post highlights certain problems, it completely fails to acknowledge the fluid nature of taste, and the unavoidable hypocrisy you'll encounter when presenting the collective work of individuals as a united, faceless publication. But then again, her post was probably never meant to be taken so seriously, after all, she didn't ever capitalise it.
So where do our writers stand? Should publications always present a clear, unwavering opinion throughout their features and reviews, and if yes how is that possible? Does Lorde have a point?
The key thing to remember here is that a review is just one person's opinion, and just because that person has been critical of a record, doesn't mean that this represents the publication's readers, or even its editorial staff. The problem with writing about music (and you can honestly chalk this up as one of those first-world problems) is that it is entirely a subjective affair. The solution of course is to assign reviewers to albums they are going to like. To an extent that already happens here, and I imagine at many other sites. But at the same time there is a separate issue around reviewers being able to pick albums by bands they love and heap unwarranted levels of praise on said record.
This is why writing about music requires careful consideration. I'm not a critic to be negative, or write hatchet job pieces about young artists, I do this because I love music and want to write about it in the most balanced way possible. I understand Lorde's frustration, but unless there was an editorial decision to attack an artist, then Complex, Pitchfork, anyone can post both a mediocre review, whilst at the same time devoting more space to the artist in feature articles. Their readers want to know about these artists, and just because the specific reviewer didn't connect with the album doesn't mean they won't - plus who really reads reviews other than to validate their own opinions?
The important thing is that reviewers discuss the album honestly, allowing the reader to still make up their own mind about the score. It is after all just an arbitrary number the reviewer has come up with, there are no complex mathematics behind it. Meanwhile the editorial team must ensure that their writing staff meet a consistent standard and avoid publishing obvious attacks and assigning albums to the wrong writers. I warn you though, this will never be a perfect system. - Robert Whitfield
I think Complex's piece was pretty spot-on. Lorde especially, though I like her music, can be a stone-cold toddler sometimes, launching into full-on tantrums on a whim, in the name of seemingly nothing. At best she bears a casual, cynical disdain for nigh-on everything, at worst, she's a liberal bully pandering to Tumblr's famously fickle hordes and Twitter's 'let's disagree with everything' legions (and I say that as someone who's pretty liberal themselves). Her crusades are self-serving, but she's a pretty phenomenal artist, which I know isn't a view shared by everyone. I'd be inclined to not believe her tirades her as genuine qualms, and more like looking for someone/something to pick on. But maybe she does care, who knows.
Lorde's feeling jilted by a bad review or two that she's taken way too much to heart, and publicly railed against a broad range of outlets. It's pretty terrible media etiquette and the PR equivalent of shooting yourself in the dong. Clearly, as an institution of professional writers, Pitchfork and Complex aren't going to be bested by someone bearing a grudge in a glorified comments section. Maybe they shouldn't be so sensitive either, but where Complex are trying to make specific, well presented points, Lorde whitewashes an industry that's now pretty irked, and holds her career in their hands. If she wants a boycott, that can surely be arranged.
I've perhaps got more sympathy for Azalea, who in my interview recently was still riled up over critics who hated one minute and loved the next, in that overnight period when she blew up fame-wise. That's not really the same. That, I feel, is bandwagonning. Different topic, really. Related, but different. I think maybe Azalea hitched herself to a Lordemobile that isn't necessarily going in the same direction. But again, who knows.
The best point Complex make is that opinions change. Does she really want people who gave her a bad review to do so for every further release? If Lorde's so keen to only be covered by devoted fans, we'll see her stagnate as an artist. We'll see her grow fat creatively as challenges are replaced by yes-men. However, if she wants the genuine adulation of outlets more respected than TMZ and MTV, try harder.
I'll leave this quote by Lorde herself here: "I think there's a funny culture in music that's only happened over the last 15 years, that if you have an opinion about something in music that isn't 100 per cent good, you're a 'hater'. Even if you have perfectly reasonable grounds for that critique." - Larry Day
They have a point, but "spineless" is the absolute wrong word for the phenomenon they're describing. I actually think it takes guts to put in print a contrary opinion of something that everyone else seems to be fawning over, i.e. Iggy Azalea, Lorde, Grimes, et al. As a music critic, you do not owe an artist nice words just because they gave you free tickets in exchange for publicity, good or bad. Call it utopian, but I think the beauty of the whole thing is that there is room for every kind of opinion, and to accuse a journalist of flip-flopping, as if it has to be forever static, misunderstands the nature of opinion. On the flip side, pretending to be really into something just to get preferential access, then publicly slam them is duplicitous and somewhat ugly, yes. But on a most basic level, I take issue with an artist and wordsmith using the word "spineless" to describe an act that does take a certain amount of spine. - Stephanie Vance
Yes, that's it, you must decide. You must decide now. Are you for, or against? Will you like everything this artist does forever and ever amen, or will you dislike it? You must decide now. You've heard the first single, you've read the press blurb, you know some of the facts, you must make your choice.
I would hate to live in a world where you could like an artist but dislike some of the things that they have done. I like to choose one or the other and stick to my guns. Me and my big spine, my giant vertebrae, they render me completely immobile but I made a commitment to them a while back so now I'm stuck. Although once you've made the decision it's easy, praise or be negative, we all know where we stand, and we all know where I will stand, whatever happens. Me and my massive backbone. It's impossible to move at all.
It's not like the old days you see. Now you have to make these decisions based on almost nothing. Sometimes you even have to listen to the music and judge for yourself. There's not enough money left in the big pot marked "advertising spend" you see, it's all being spent on middle management and social media strategists, dreaming up ways to "go viral", to generate some buzz. You need to spend your money making enough noise to get your "news" cut and paste into every blog in the western world. You can spend the rest on Youtube views, on followers, likes, and listens - enough to seem popular, to seem legit, enough to get that ball rolling, to keep building on whatever viral momentum you've already mustered.
These days the labels just can't afford much opinion on top of all that. So you roll with the punches, you take a few negative reviews on the chin, you must stick to the strategy. The online impact you bought gets you playlisted on national radio thanks to their flawed algorithms. Thankfully you remembered to buy a couple of half page adverts, in the tabloids still using the old model, so you get your positive press quotes, it used to cost a full page advert for a good review but times have changed, I did mention that. So we've all chosen our sides, and you're a big star now, a big star with lots of smoke and a few mirrors, people listen to you, they cover your songs to try and build their own momentum. You can say whatever you like, it'll make the big news go-round, it all generates advertising revenue, so it's all included. So you hit out at the publications who take part to generate advertising money, but don't like your music, it seems like a valid thing to do. It doesn't seem right that these journalists can like you as a person but not like your creative output. You're a big star, people retweet you, the statistics validate you, everything is great. The publications get to publish the news story, and the think piece, perhaps even a reaction to that think piece if it gets enough hits. Everyone is interested because you're a big star now, you are reaching saturation point, you're all over the television and the radio so plenty of advertising revenue is generated. The whole thing covers everybody's costs for another month.
We go home at the end of the day after taking part, we put the door key into the lock and realise we didn’t even pick a side, so we wait a while and pick from the next batch. - Wil Cook
At a base level, it seems that Lorde is confused as to what "criticism" actually is, or entails. We could argue all day about that particular question, but surely what it isn'tis a free pass to any and every artist deemed interesting enough to feature in the first place. Lots of new acts - of all genres, genders, and types - talk a good game and make all the right noises before failing to deliver on their initial promise. Shouldn't this be pointed out? Is there something morally wrong in saying, as a critic, "actually, this isn't all that good, and here's why"? Far from being thrown "under a bus" as Lorde so eloquently puts it, such honesty - if that is genuinely what it is, as opposed to some vindictive hatchet job - is the only thing parts of the music press have left to champion, drowning as it is in a sea of listicles, hype, and PR nonsense masquerading as #content. If Lorde thinks we should abandon that, we might as well close our laptops, snap our pens in half, and hurl our listening notes into the abyss of blissful ignorance. - Derek Robertson
Publications and websites should generally aim to present a coherent, consistent voice but at the same time it has to be acknowledged that they are also, essentially, the make-up of their various contributors and those contributors are bound to (and should be encouraged to) have their own views and tastes. They must not be expected to toe a certain 'party-line'.
It is, therefore, not uncommon that the general feel of a feature on an artist, which the publication or website is - on the whole - supportive of (for example, because of their historical discography), may well be different from the critique in a review of their latest record. First of all, the person doing the album review might be a different writer to the one who interviews the artist and they may have legitimate, contrasting views. Both views should stand as valid.
Second, there have been one or two occasions recently, where I have had the opportunity to interview a musician whom I love but whose latest record disappointed me. In the spirit of full and frank disclosure, I must admit that when I was asked to also review their albums, I was a bit of a coward and preferred not to have my name appear, on the one hand, on top of a feature which celebrates the artist in general and, on the other, shits on their new album, within the space of a few days and on the same website. The reality is: (i) I should actually man up and do both, if that happens to be the situation; and (ii) the publication should be allowed to publish both contrasting pieces without the artist crying about it. So long as we're talking about real, honest criticism and not taking the piss out of an artist for the sake of taking the piss, which - I think - is what Lorde is actually referring to. - Doron Davidson-Vidavski
I would say that it's quite a seedy thing to do - putting someone on the cover to sell copies/draw attention, and then dismissing their work. Perhaps I'm being a bit sensitive, but I just don't think it's a very nice thing to do. Although, I guess it also depends on how the magazine justifies it, as it must have been a conscious choice at some point. One could easily re-phrase the statement by saying that it would have been more spineless to give Iggy Azalea a good review simply because she was on the cover? On the other hand, if it wasn't a conscious choice then it's just embarrassing for the publication. However, no matter how well a PR team justifies it, it still doesn't mean it's very nice and respectful. Perhaps I'm too sensitive/idealistic/naive for the music industry! - Jimmy Chadda