I hate using that word “review”. It’s a word that’s so hard to define these days. At its core, when someone gives a review they’re just giving their opinion on something, but I’m not quite sure “opinion” is the extent of what a review is, at least in the music world. Actually, the word “review” is our main topic for discussion today.
Like I said, what a “review” means is so hard to define, and there are certainly many ways with which one could classify it. As such, I’m not trying to state what a review is or should be, I’m just stating what it is and what it should be for me. For starters, reviews seem to be pieces either written or communicated verbally that do more than just say “I like this” or “I don’t like this”. A review for me has always been about explaining why you do or don’t like something. Whether in a singular sentence, paragraph, page, or essay, an explanation is what I think of when I think of a review.
When I am about to say may sound controversial, but just indulge me for a second. When people who share similar opinions continuously interact with each other, it seems that it can (sometimes) result in an environment that fosters constant agreement rather than having an open mind and having a rational discussion. To take a quote I found online (with an unknown author), “Online forums aren’t town halls where free and spirited debate takes place. They’re musty corners in which the like-minded gather”. Take superfans for an example. Jason Scott of PopDust wrote an excellent article this last summer relating to this topic, and through it, he expressed the dangers of what can come with these fandoms. One of the biggest (and most present) dangers is a tendency to attack opposing viewpoints. Now, you may remember I talked quite a fair bit about keeping an open mind in my last special post. Really, I want to expand on that. Especially since this isn’t about fandoms. It’s about all of us.
First, I will say how this affects all of us. Then I will hone in on a specific group of people who this affects more heavily than normal. With that being said, I read somewhere that it is impossible to keep an open mind to something when you constantly surround yourself with people who share the same opinion as you (okay, so I read it on Twitter…). That is completely true in my opinion. Perhaps this is just me speaking from personal experience, but I have been in this situation where I constantly communicated with people who shared similar or even exact opinions as I did. Sure, we had fun as we bashed the artists we didn’t like and reveled in the acts we did, but there was always an emptiness to it. It was as if I was missing out on something else or even felt afraid to speak up when I felt differently about something. I am not saying this is how everyone operates however. I understand that people are perfectly capable of deciding for themselves what to think, but maybe you might find something to ponder with what I said as well. If not, that’s also fine. I will now start to move forward to people who this affects quite regularly.
Looking at the various social media platforms offered to us, it seems that none of them really allow for mature, intelligent discussions, at least none at length. That’s why some people like myself choose to create these wonderful little places where we can express our views. We call them blogs.
Now, at this point, our focus will shift back to the concept of “reviews”. Remember, I stated that I thought a review was an explanation of why one likes or dislikes something, and really, it seems to be so many different things to other bloggers. When looking at country bloggers (really, the only genre that I’m comfortable talking about at length), it seems as if the concept more or less holds somewhat true. I am an independent country blogger, meaning that while I cover a fair bit of the mainstream, I also like to cover artists in the realm of independent country. Whether that be Texas, Americana, or otherwise, I try to cover it. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that more often that not, you’re more likely to see more positive reviews for independent country artists than you are mainstream. Now, as someone who thinks that a decent chunk of the mainstream is still rather sub-par, I can agree somewhat. It’s not the mainstream that I want to dwell on however, it’s the independent side.
Tell me, how many independent country reviews have you read that have been anything less than great or glowing? My guess is, not a lot. Now, this begs the question, why don’t you see many less than stellar or even negative independent country reviews?
Part of it is most likely time. After all, the world of independent country is seemingly endless when unfortunately time isn’t. Why bother spending time covering something that nobody will care about seeing as how they most likely don’t know the artist, especially when you cover someone who’s more worth your time? It’s fair, but is it really a waste of time? Before we answer this, let’s take a look at something else.
One of the most popular insults thrown around for when someone dislikes something is the term, “hater”. Now, I see value in every opinion, and with that said I’m sure there are sometimes valid reasons for why people would choose to throw that term around. Forgive me though, since I find it be an absolutely asinine, vile word. No matter what you or I think about a piece of music, no, a piece of art, how can a “hater” be an appropriate term? For me, I talk about music because I love it, not because I hate it. If anything, music is the number one thing I’m passionate about in this entire planet. I can’t possibly talk out of hatred when it comes to music, even if I don’t like the song, album, or artist in question that I’m talking about in a given review.
So why does that term get thrown around? Well, there are multiple reasons, and once again, I’m only going to state what I think are the key ones. When looking specifically at negative reviews written by critics, a “fun”, popular method of dealing with bad songs is to go on the ever popular “rant”. You may have seen one or several. The author goes on a complete diatribe against the artist or the song (or both), and incorporates “humor” to get the point across that they aren’t a fan. Moreover, you see some critics who operate on a style that involves them being harsher than they need to be towards an artist, mostly because that artist knows better. In other words, failing to give even the slightest amount of credit. Now, that is perfectly fine, and I will state right upfront that while I may not agree with these methods, I can’t fault someone for using a style that works for them.
As you can tell by now, I don’t like rants because they ARE hateful and they DO inspire hatred, and that’s something that should never be a part of the review process, at least for me. That being said, is every single of piece of music in existence great? Well, it’s certainly all up to opinion, but for me, absolutely not. There is room for stating why you think something isn’t good, but there’s also room to express that in a respectful manner.
That brings me to my next point. I’ve already established the foundation for my definition of what a review is. First, it’s an opinion, and second, it’s an explanation of that opinion. Let’s take it a step further, shall we? Let’s walk away from looking at strictly negative reviews and focus on reviews as a whole. When explaining your thoughts within a review, no matter what stance you take, I believe that both sides have to be present. If you enjoy something, state why you like it, but state something that could be improved upon as well in order to give a possible course of direction for an artist. If you dislike something, explain why, but also state what you did like in order to once again provide a possible course of direction for the artist. To me, it can never be about just one side. Sure, I talked about a lot about negative reviews just recently, but it applies to positive reviews as well. After all, reviews can’t just be paragraph after paragraph of endless praise. No album, song, or artist is perfect, and to pretend like anyone is and that absolutely nothing can be improved is preposterous in my view.
Going back to our question about a lack of negative independent country reviews, I believe that we are now ready to answer that question. Time is still a factor, but as to whether writing a “negative” independent country review is a waste of time? I’d say no. When you’re offering constructive feedback, how it can be a waste of time?
You may think, well who are bloggers to think that their opinions are so much more special than anyone else’s? Hey, it’s a fair criticism, and I can understand why people might think of a blogger as elitist. Think about this though, what does it take to really express a thought about music? Yes, I know I’m writing an entire essay on this subject, but let’s at least look at the foundation, shall we? At the very least, we all can tell what music we do and don’t like, and we can probably explain why we like or dislike it as well if asked. That’s the whole point, it’s not elitist. Really, what a blogger does is connect with first of all, themselves (after all, each review is merely an individual opinion), but they might also connect with someone else who shares the same thoughts. You, the readers are just as important in voicing your opinion as we bloggers are. Who am I? A guy writing for a blog. I’m no better than you are.
That’s the overall point I’m driving at folks. Reviews shouldn’t be about just endless praise or endless ridicule. They should about embracing both sides and truly explaining why you do or don’t like something.
THAT is what I am trying to establish here as a writer for Country Music Minds, and THAT is why I care so much about all opinions. For readers, I appreciate you saying things like “great review!” or, “I totally agree!”, but never be afraid to call me out on something or even disagree with me. Remember, we’re the same at our core.
If you are an artist who reads this piece and also contacts me, fine. But know that I will always give my honest opinion, and no matter how much I love or dislike something, I will never endlessly praise or bash your work. I will also not back down from reviewing something if I don’t like the material present. I will be fair and respectful. I will give all of the credit where I can. At least I’ll try, after all, can we ever promise anything more than to at least try? I’m not saying you have to take my advice or anyone else’s for that matter. Again, we’re just people. However, maybe you’ll find something value within our words as well. You never know.
Perhaps you feel a different way about reviews, and bloggers. That is perfectly fine. Keep in mind, I realize this is heavily opinionated, but that’s why I also want to hear what you have to say. Whether you disagree or agree, I would love to hear your thoughts. As always, I hope you found something of value in this piece, and I thank you for reading.