The Decline of Music Critics
Music journalism is a declining profession, as music culture changes, so do the professions within it. Editor Peter Robinson wrote for the magazine Music Business UK, and broke down the slow decline of music critics. While critical reviews could once make or break an up-and-coming musician’s career, this is no longer the case.
Robinson writes that music critics should own the equation. In a lot of musician situations, artists churn out less-than-stellar songs, the label considers them “good enough,” and the critic fails to impart the blandness of the music to the listening public. When a critic honestly discusses a song, it can raise the bar for future song productions.
Social media platforms are part of the problem, as well. With the rise of social media marketing, a song can get more attention before it releases that may warp the popularity statistics. Social media can also play up the appeal of music that stands no chance of standing the test of time.
As an example, Robinson offers the Pitbull cover of Toto’s ’80s pop tune “Africa” that appears on the Aquaman soundtrack. He writes of the lazy rhymes, unconventional musical structure, and abrupt ending of the less-than-two-minute song. Robinson opens by saying that the song’s nature is to be so forgettable, Mr. Worldwide would need “regression therapy” to recall recording it. He makes a similar case for Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP album, which the star tweeted she didn’t remember recording.
Robinson’s writings give an incredible glimpse into how music criticism should work. A critic should try to remain unbiased, without selling out to big names or companies. A critic should not be afraid to criticize those with more prominent names in media or songwriting.
Such is the nature of music in 2020, according to Robinson. The phrase he uses when hearing forgettable and perhaps regrettable music dashed off in a rush is “Everyone’s Doing Their Best.” He first thought of the phrase when, as a music journalist, he took to Twitter to compare a Jordin Sparks release unfavorably to her previous album Battlefield. Sparks replied to the tweet, “I can’t please everyone.”
Robinson read into this statement that Sparks was pleased with the track. He presumed she’d done her best, after all. In fact, he supposed that all artists and everyone in the industry are trying their best. Pitbull, his backing musicians, and the engineer in the studio with them never set out to make a throwaway track, nor did Robinson assume that was their intent. Lady Gaga presumably did her best on ARTPOP.
The issue for music critics, Robinson thinks, is that too often, music journalists are willing to take “everyone’s trying their best” for an answer, passing along lukewarm praise for mediocre songs with limited appeal. In the Instagram age, the visual appeal of a social media post may have more impact than a music critic’s in-depth review.
As music moves forward, and opinions are more prevalent and easily accessible than ever. It’s crucial to analyze the purpose and importance of music critics.