So, let me get this straight…. Lemonade has a whole lot of bad indie rock samples and/or collaborations, plus “characters”? Honestly intrigued by the marital strife angle (though I have no real interest in Beyoncé’s personal life one way or the other), but the more I hear about it, the less I want to hear it. (Also, the NYTimes yesterday said the ’60s Kaleidoscope band she sampled is from Puerto Rico?? Which is either an embarrassing mistake or a disappointment or confusing, given how much I love the David Lindley Kaleidoscope from L.A.). Mainly, though, all the oppressive “Everybody has to listen to this NOW” stuff just makes me want to run the other way.
I will probably listen to it eventually. By the end of the year, if I can manage it. And not that I need an excuse, but I have a few — one major one being, there are so many other albums out there that seem like they’d be way more interesting, so I want to hear those first.
On facebook, University of Wisconsin-Madison Ethnic Studies professor Alexander Shashko responded that, “Much as I sympathize with resisting the ‘everyone must listen to this NOW’ cacophony because it give voice to the fastest and loudest responses, I’m not sure it’s any worse than the old, ‘everyone must endure six months of hype for an album before it’s released’ cacophony, which was numbing in its own way.”
To me, though, that seemed WAY easier to ignore. And facebook (and the Internet in general) has a lot to do with that But also, “spread over six months, competing with lots of other diffuse hype” would seem way more avoidable than “one album monopolizing all the talk for 48 or 72 hours, until the next fleeting story comes along.” Though to be honest, I really don’t remember the six-months-of-hype cycle at all. But then, I delete lots of publicity emails! And before email, where would I have even confronted it?
Really, though, what we’re seeing now is just an extension/ magnification of the obsession with reviewing every album the week it comes out and hence pretending that advertising that new product is now in stores is “news” (and also hence, conjuring an opinion REALLY FAST — just even faster now, hours instead of days), which I’ve always blamed on two events in the early ’90s: (1) the birth of SoundScan, which put a huge and unprecedented emphasis on first week sales á la Hollywood; and (2) the birth of Entertainment Weekly, first magazine I remember codifying this silly practice. I really miss the days when it was perfectly normal to run/write reviews of albums weeks or even months down the line, after you’ve lived with them. But those days have been dying for decades, dating before the Internet even.
“It would be interesting to talk to the artists about this transformation,” Shashko suggested. “Artists like Beyoncé and Kanye pretty clearly consider their music an extension of a broader narrative that they tell through other endeavors, social media and personal narrative. Do they expect or even want their music to be considered outside a fevered few days of communal debate?”
Would be interesting to hear their answers, I suppose. But I’m not sure why that should have any bearing on what critics (who don’t work for Beyoncé or Kanye, after all) actually do.
Shasko again, flattering me at first: “One of your great strengths as a critic is that you resist letting preordained expectations dictate your critical response. You insist upon the time and space to hear interesting music by otherwise ignored artists, for starters. But there is an argument that the expectations and process are part of the experience, too, and it does seem that wildly popular artists are releasing their music now under the assumption that it should be heard within the broader context of its creation. So it could matter to critics if those are the terms upon which they hope their music is judged, especially if that’s actually how most listeners are approaching it, too.”
There’s some validity to that last point, especially. I’m not denying it might be interesting to experience these albums like the audience does (though I’m guessing it’s a stretch to assume that that’s necessarily how most listeners do experience it — how would we even know?) Either way, though, I don’t see why it would be a requirement. This goes along with my belief that being outside the target demographic for music of whatever genre doesn’t make one ineligible to express an opinion about it; sometimes, it might be more interesting for writers to talk about the context they experience the music in, even if that’s not how most fans do. Like every album made ever, I’m sure Lemonade has many uses.
I don’t always write about metal like most metal fans would; why should I? And how is that different? Even when music has an identifiable target audience, the idea that only people within that marketing demographic have a right to express an opinion about it has always ranked with the dumbest, most defensive cliches in the book. (Though, especially from an ex-editor standpoint, I do see a value in greater diversity of music critics. But I have to interject here that if I only listened to music that was “made for me,” I probably wouldn’t be able to listen to any music, period.)
As for the broader context, music has always been part of a larger package. And while I’ve often written about, say, music videos or album covers or the drummer’s haircut (sometimes even making fun of them!), I don’t think very many people would have argued in that past that you have to deal with all that stuff if you’re reviewing the album they’re associated with. (Michael Jackson videos might be an exception, but not even necessarily then.) So yeah, all artists have marketing strategies, and they often might argue that those marketing strategies are part of their art. Which maybe they are. But once critics become beholden to those marketing strategies, once artists get to set the agenda of what has to be written about and how and when, I’d say criticism might as well just pack it in.
Alex McPherson, who lives in London and whose facebook cover photo shows a building painted with graffiti proclaiming ‘Liberté Egalité Beyoncé,” argues that “the didactic you MUST hear this album NOW’ thing long predates the Internet, what else were all those identical ‘100 greatest albums ever’ lists in ye olde rocke presse about? I’m enjoying that hivemind aligning with an amazing artist who I think deserves every bit of praise she gets. The 24-hour churn of immediate reactions and no time for the art to marinate is complete poison, though. Even the decent thinkpieces would have 100% been better in a week’s or a month’s time”
Virginia-born webmaster and former member of Medea Connection Daniel Brockman, to me: “In the olden days, it was all about sales– now, the bean counters can tell when people are actually listening to something, even and especially in the privacy of their own what-have-you. Thus the Lemonade experience — instead of getting people to line up at a record store at midnight, they can get people to watch TV at midnight, which is what is typically known as a ‘TV show’, which is essentially what the event album experience is now, for better/worse (it’s def. more inclusive)”
But but but what if you don’t have cable? Or Tidal? How inclusive is it then?? (Though to be honest I’m not entirely clear on what “having Tidal” entails. Plus, yeah yeah I know, MTV videos. And presidential debates. And midnight being way past my bedtime. Etc.) (Also, to address Alex’s point, personally I don’t think those rarely useful “100 greatest albums” lists emphasized the NOW — as in TODAY, RIGHT THIS MINUTE, or you’ve lost out!! — element nearly as much.)
“I guess i mean it this way,” Brockman responds. “To go to one of those midnight sales, you needed to live somewhere near one, and be there at midnight. whereas watching television, even some subscriber service, makes the whole thing available to more. it’s an arguably lamer experience, of course, but it is what it is in this world we live in etc.”
Ha ha I have never been to a midnight sale, either! I do like a ton of music videos, but not many hour-long ones I can remember, especially when I’m iffy on the artist in the first place.
Ann Powers, elsewhere on facebook: “I’m overwhelmed by the hyperbole surrounding Lemonade, yet I do think Beyoncé might be the one to have finally and fully defeated rockism.”
But think about it: This is a Significant Piece of Work by One Of The Most Important Artists of Our Time, and if you’re ignoring it, you’re out of the loop. If “rockism” ever meant anything (and I’m doubtful), there it is right there. (At least with rock’s old “classics” — the vast majority of which probably also involved collaborations with other humans — we weren’t oppressively required to hear them the night they came out. So with this one, does it make me “rockist” or “poptimist” that I plan to keep procrastinating for a while?)
I mean, in 2016, Lemonade is probably “rockist” simply by being an ALBUM…and a CONCEPT ALBUM no less, right? How prog is that? (By the way, whatever problems I’ve had with Beyoncé’s music in general, calling her “pretentious” or “prog” — the latter of which I’ve heard her as since Destiny days — is in no way an insult in and of itself. I like a ton of pretentious music, too. Hell, I wrote a book about metal.) Right now, I’m too busy trying to keep up with all the great norteño, country, dancehall, grime, Afrobeats, r&b, metal, Latin pop, K-pop, and, uh, just plain pop singles that have come out in the past few months but somehow haven’t been monopolizing 50% of my facebook feed (the other 50% being an auteur so rockist he often preferred not to collaborate on his albums with other humans at all). I plan to get around to your Respected Genius eventually, sure; just not the biggest priority right now, you know? How rockist of me! (Apparently the difference is that Beyoncé is not a white man. Which might matter? Otherwise, I see no difference at all.)
Facebook, 26 April – 10 May 2016