“PEOPLE WHO ‘REVIEW’ ALBUMS AND DON’T MAKE MUSIC THEMSELVES SHOULD BE UNEMPLOYED.” That is, according to American singer and rapper Lizzo, who tweeted this (in all caps) last week in response to a somewhat lukewarm review by Pitchfork’s Rawiya Kameir of her otherwise very well-received third album Cuz I Love You.
She has since deleted the tweet after fans pointed out that very few freelance music journalists like Kameir are in it for the money (believe me) and that invalidating somebody’s criticism just because they wrote a less-than-glowing review of your album is more than a little bit petty. I guess, as the Lizzo song goes, the truth really does hurt.
Of course the artist chose to put her work out into the world knowing that it would be critiqued, and perhaps she and others in the public eye need to learn to take criticism a little better, particularly given the alarming frequency with which celebs have lashed out at critics in recent weeks. But while she definitely overreacted, I do find her response understandable.
In the current media landscape, where an endless stream of fresh content is demanded from consumers at all times, it’s hard to see a few-hundred-word album review as a serious form of criticism that demands proper respect and attention. In my experience most album reviews are written after a couple of listens at best.
Even the most meticulous of reviewers has likely only listened to an album for a fraction of the time that its creators have spent working on it, so I can understand the frustration of reading a commentary that you feel misunderstands what your work is trying to do. In fact, Lizzo later clarified her comments by stating that “some people get drunk on power and love bringing down artists who’ve spent so much love on their projects”.
And at times it’s hard not to agree with that assessment, especially when publishing a review that goes against the grain can be a good way to generate traffic for your website. This may have been what was happening with another controversial, viral review published this week.
On the third anniversary of its release, Beyoncé’s Lemonade was finally rolled out on to streaming services last week, with the once-respectable NME marking the momentous occasion with an article claiming that the album – generally considered to be a stone cold classic – “isn’t actually that good”. The piece was later removed from its website following a backlash, with a lot of criticism centring on the fact that its author is a white man and as such probably isn’t best placed to critique an album which interrogates black womanhood – not least when it has been widely lauded as a masterpiece by its intended audience.
With music journalism dominated by white people (and white men in particular) it must be incredibly frustrating but all too common for black women like Beyoncé and Lizzo to encounter critiques of their work from people who do not fully understand the context in which it is created.
All of which is to say that perhaps it’s time we stop seeing album reviews as the best format with which to critically engage with an artist’s work. Rather than relying on music criticism to help us make up our minds about which albums are worth making the pilgrimage into the village to trade our livestock for the latest vinyl LP in HMV – or whatever it was that my parents did back in the olden days – we can bypass the reviewer and go straight to streaming services and YouTube. We now have the tools to make our own minds up, and that is something we should embrace.
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