Potentially Problematic Opinions Month: This Robin Thicke Album Review is the Perfect Example of Why I Gave Up A Career in Music Journalism
Could this possibly be the second Potentially Problematic Opinions Month post in twenty-four hours?! Well, I was so behind in posting my article from last week [due to a combination of being incredibly busy and sheer laziness], that I figured this would be the best way to catch up.
Obligatory PPOM blurb: blah blah blah Alex Neill, blah blah blah Potentially Problematic Opinions Month. You’ll figure it out…
Ever since the first time I watched Almost Famous, I’ve wanted to be William Miller. There were the obvious problems: it was no longer the seventies, and my mother didn’t lie to me about my age. She also wasn’t played by Frances McDormand, and I didn’t have a cool older sister who looked like Zooey Deschanel. But still, I was going to be a young music writer. That’s what I was going to do.
This could have been me. [Image from a really interesting article in The Guardian].
My dreams have since changed. After spending years writing my own music blogs, reviewing albums for The Big Issue, as well as working on several music television and radio shows, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to write about music. Music is my first love, and I’m supposedly a writer, so surely this shouldn’t be so hard. But these days, it is. Because in this day and age, the music writing that people are getting excited about isn’t actually about the fucking music.
Take, for example, the following album review:
This pathetic excuse for music writing has been doing the rounds on tumblr/twitter/facebook/etc. ever since it was first published. Maybe on first look it appears to be clever, perhaps a little witty, but if you look a little closer, you’ll realise that this is not an album review at all.
Firstly, this review is not actually about the music. There are two phrases [at a stretch] that make reference to it: “10 tracks which amalgamate to the artistic creativity of a singing fish” [told you I was stretching it], and “over-produced and played-out rhyme scenes, unoriginal motifs”. That’s it. There is a little bit of lyrical discussion, which is fine, but even including that, only maybe a third of this album review is talking about the music. That’s not enough; it’s lazy reviewing.
To make matters worse, the reviewer only mentions one song: “Blurred Lines”. Even if we overlook the fact that this is the title track, and by the point this review had been written every single person on the planet has heard it, the song isn’t even discussed properly. The review mentions the lyrics and the video clip, but overlooks something very important: “Blurred Lines” is damn catchy. Musically, it doesn’t seem groundbreaking in any way, but there’s got to be some reason why it’s had so much chart success around the world. If you want to write about the song, why not look into that?
The responsibility of an album reviewer should be to give an overview of the recording as a whole, particularly with a release as controversial as Blurred Lines. The majority of readers would be familiar with the title track [and all of the apparent issues surrounding it], and they’d want this review to tell them whether the rest of the album sounds the same. Are their other earworms, or was the catchiness of “Blurred Lines” just a fluke? By only discussing one song – and the lead single, at that – this review implies that the author hasn’t listened to the rest of the album, and therefore does not have the right to state his opinion on it.
But, even if we do give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume that this piece of writing is just the reviewer’s way of conforming to the “shock” journalism trend that is so popular in music writing at the moment, that does not excuse the irrelevant stabs at Germaine Greer towards the end of the review. Unless she has said or written something about Thicke – which, as far as I’m aware, she hasn’t – there is no need to even mention the woman. Let’s leave her out of this.
When I first considered a career in music journalism, I mistakenly believed that it involved writing about music. In my naïve idealism, I thought it was better to use a knowledge of theory and pop music history, than to resort to name-calling and sensationalism.
But, I was wrong. And that’s why I’ve decided write about other things instead.