So as you all know, we go on philosophical rants seemingly every damn day about music, and today’s no different. This time is special though, because instead of hearing mostly from me, we’re going to be hearing from someone else as well.
For those who don’t know The Needle Drop, a.k.a Anthony Fantano, is a Youtube critic who specializes in music mainly outside of country (with exceptions of course such as Southern Family, Sturgill Simpson, Whitey Morgan, and Lucinda Williams). Anyway, I’ve been a casual fan of his for awhile, but one of his newest videos really has connected with me over the past couple days. To give a brief overview (which is stupid since we’ll be talking about it anyway), he basically gave an entire speech on how all music is subjective. Sound familiar? Today, I just want to dig into what he said as well as give some extra points to branch off of that.
ALSO: GIVING FAIR WARNING NOW ABOUT THE LANGUAGE USED
00:32 – So the video really begins here…what he basically does is respond to another video of a guy who was influenced by Anthony’s review of Drake’s new album, More Life. Yeah, I get it, Drake has nothing to do with this blog at all. Well, just listen, the message is what’s important here. Anyway, the guy exclaimed that he wasn’t sure how he felt about the album, however he was leaning more towards liking it. However, after he watched Anthony’s (negative) review, lo and behold…the guy wasn’t sure again.
Now, before we really dive into this piece, I just want to state, I’m not trying to state this is a larger reflection of CMM because I’m not arrogant enough to think my opinion could actually carry that much influence. However, I do think this is something happens with music criticism, and I would know because I’ve been that guy who’s conflicted about Drake’s album.
We’ll talk more about that later, but let’s get back to the main discussion…
So from here on out, I’ll be posting direct quotes from Mr. Fantano or pulling bits and pieces that I feel are important to highlight. Anyway…
1:52 – “I get people hating, disagreeing, understanding and respecting my opinions, but one thing I don’t get is that you cannot enjoy an album because I put out a negative opinion of it. I’d rather influence people to like things”.
Yes, while I feel negative criticism is also important, this is what I also want to do here at CMM.
2:56 – “I’d much rather you spend time digging through my love list and checking out my recommendations”.
We actually just added that with our favorites page recently!
3:10 – “I tell you all the time that these reviews are just my opinion”
You might have to fight me for that honor Mr. Fantano.
3:10 – Branching off that last quote… “I don’t say that so you can’t get mad at me. People are going to be mad at me either way. I’m saying take my lead here, form your own opinion, have your own point of view. If I want to influence you to do anything, it’s to take the music you listen to the forefront a little bit, think about why you like it”.
EXCELLENT point. We explore this later actually!
3:40ish – So around this point, the guy who Mr. Fantano is responding to comes back into play, and in this part, we see that another album that Anthony didn’t like (Future’s self-titled) affect this guy. He loved it, for him it was a “10/10”, but of course, there’s that confliction because of course….follow the critic. Really, it’s a lot like what we do with Country Confessional, tell you all something that maybe we shouldn’t.
4:07 – “Let me give myself a little bit of hypothetical credit here and say that maybe I’m influencing you all to dislike records you like because I made some good points…even if that’s true, it doesn’t mean I’m 100% right and you’re 100% wrong or that I’m even 80% right and you’re 20% wrong”
Another excellent point. I KNOW that I don’t always get it right, and when it comes to giving reasons as to why we like stuff, who knows sometimes? Maybe you have a good reason for liking it, or maybe it just connects with you “just because”. That’s fine! I think another good point that he brings up later on in this section is that he’s looking for something different from what this other guy is looking for in his music. I won’t give the details since there was some explicit language but the point is, we do kind of all have biases when it comes to what we want out of music. Maybe you’re hoping for that twin fiddle to come barging in like it’s nobody’s business. Maybe you prefer to lose yourself in some story. I don’t know. Personally, I like it when music goes “dark” in terms of its lyricism and production, and that’s just me. Sometimes there’s music that does the opposite of that, and while there are exceptions, sometimes it’s just not for me. It’s kind of like judging someone’s vocals. It’s always awkward not being to able to like something more because you don’t think someone sings well, but screw it, sometimes that happens. Ultimately our biases are unfair, but again, we’re humans. Much vocals or things we like in music, we can’t help it. It’s why it’s so important to note that opinions are incredibly individualistic.
5:28 – “If you like it, keep on liking it! Try to understand where I’m coming from and just reframe what you’re listening to from where you’re coming from and try to understand why you like it.”
Because after all, we’re all critics in a way…we all like and dislike stuff. It doesn’t take a degree in rocket science to at least figure out why (even if it’s as simple as “I just do”)
5:50ish – It’s at this point that Mr. Fantano noted his criticism for that Drake album in particular. He noted that it felt very unfinished and mostly felt like background music. However, he quickly noted that the type of style is most likely what Drake’s core fan base or mainstream audience in general may want out of their music. “I don’t care for it, but it’s not what I’m looking for in music”.
And we can easily bring in mainstream country artists as good examples for this. I mean shit, background music? Does Luke Bryan even need music at his concerts? I mean, come on… and that’s the point, I don’t want to see Luke shake his ass and sing to me about well…that. But I’m also not in his core fan base. Although I think it’s important to note that that doesn’t automatically means someone like me is exempt from covering his music or someone else I don’t typically like. There is an argument for that, and I think it’s a stupid argument, but again, the whole thing to keep in mind is, it’s all just opinions anyway. And with that in mind…
5:50 ish – “So you can make the argument this album succeeds at what it’s trying to do. Still though, I don’t think it’s good, and I’m going to tell you that”.
As will I.
6:56 – “I feel like that’s my job, telling you guys my straightforward and honest opinion about new music”.
Now, I have a little bit of a problem with the “job” title. This legitimately is Anthony’s job, but for other critics…come on, you all aren’t the friggin’ Messiah. It’s not your job to do this, you’re not a professional at this just because you took five minutes to make a blog or a Youtube channel. I think that strong sense of arrogance is prevalent in the critical scene, but I digress. I do think we have a “duty” to be honest about music, and again, honesty doesn’t boil down to “telling it like it is”, it’s about being true to yourself.
7:10 – “Even the stuff I don’t care for I think has a time, a place, and an audience and if you just happen to be in that audience then…fuck it, the album is for you. It’s meant to appeal to you, and doing what it’s supposed to do”.
Exactly. Don’t be scared. Music is a good thing. Embrace it when it embraces you! I think it’s important to note that he’s not saying negative criticism needs to disappear, but rather we should all as listeners and readers understand where the opinion is coming from.
7:22 – “I’m obviously not the person Future (rapper) has in mind when he makes his music, nor do I think I should be, and I don’t want to tell you what you should dislike”
Just as I’m not the person a lot of artists have in mind when they make their music, nor do I want to be. It doesn’t mean I’ll stop talking about them.
7:56 – “Don’t come away from the review feeling you gotta feel the way I feel. If I ask you to do anything other than watch (or read) my reviews, try to check out the artists I review that you’re not familiar with, especially the artists who do get positive reviews”.
I think there’s something else here, because you do have to wonder, where are the negative Americana or indie country reviews on blogs like….well, ours? It’s always been my mindset that you all wouldn’t care anyway even if I disliked an artist’s music, but who knows? I’m not the one with the final say, nor should I be. Even if I don’t like it, maybe you will, and that’s perfectly fine. I am trying to cut down the number of albums I cover, but you never know what might get covered here someday…Anyway, you all should also pay attention to the obscure acts who DO get positive reviews here such as The Royal Hounds, Jim and Lynna Woolsey, Chris King, Tony Jackson, Taylor Alexander, Joey McGee….etc.
8:31 – “I’d rather influence the way you listen to music rather than what music you listen to…maybe I made a good point about an album you love, but don’t shrug your shoulders saying “I don’t know, I guess he’s right”. No! Don’t do that. Like, stand there and really think about why it is you like it this thing in the first place. DEFEND YOUR SHIT!!!
As you can tell, I like that last line A LOT. I mean, it’s true. It’s not the critics fault that this shit happens, and believe me, as a reader who’s fallen into this trap, I can say that. Ultimately you all have to realize that bloggers/critics/whatever are not Rhode Scholars telling you right and wrong ways to like music. We’re passionate music fans JUST LIKE YOU. So DEFEND YOUR SHIT, YOU MAY HAVE A GOOD POINT!!!
9:06 – “If it comes down to liking it because you just do, that’s fine. Not every album has to be super complex”.
See, that’s the criticism a lot of people threw around when bro-country was getting bashed in every day back in 2013/2014. It’s true, not everything does have to be super deep, and fuck it, I still jam out to Jake Owen’s song “Days Of Gold” on occasion because it’s a hell of a lot of fun. On my end, I failed to take that into account back in the day. However, what those other people didn’t take into account on our end was that it doesn’t mean we have to stay quiet about what we think about the music at hand, good or bad”.
9:40 – “Please understand there’s a difference in the way we listen to a record. It’s my job to listen to the album. I have to be analytical and focused and at attention and engaged with everything going on. Sure, I may overlook or misinterpret things, but I’m not taking a casual listen to an album. While there may be things that really matter to me, maybe they don’t rank as high for you.”
I disagree with everything except for the last line. I get the whole analytical thing, and I used to do it too. One of my biggest influences was Spectrum Pulse (another Youtube critic), and starting last August I’d sit with a notebook scribbling down a ton of notes and try to write a book for y’all. It was a miserable experience looking back, and I also think that type of review style is an incredibly draining one as well. I don’t believe you need to be analytical with this thing at all. My past reviews have just been me going off the cuff after a lot of thorough listens, and it’s worked out much better for me if I do say so myself. However, that last line about ranking…yeah, I agree with that. Maybe you value lyricism over engaging production and instrumentation, or maybe it’s the opposite. That’s cool. You always have to come at something with your own viewpoint, even if the record may ultimately not be for you.
10:32 – “In closing, my opinion influences what you’re doing only as much as you allow it too.”
And I think that all goes back to it not being the critic’s fault. We could all use a boost of confidence in our opinion, and to stress out over something as small as music…it’s preposterous. Now again, I’m not saying we’ve done that here (I hope we haven’t and that we never will), but I get it as a reader. I read other’s opinions all the time, and especially last year I almost always ended up second guessing my opinion once I heard another. That’s not the way to go. Nobody told me to stop since it wasn’t their job, and I had to figure it out myself. Well, if I ever were to have a duty here at CMM, this is it – be yourselves people. Even if nobody ends up agreeing with you after all, there’s one person who will that matters more than anyone else – you.
And I get it, “shut up, this is all you seemingly ever talk about”. Fair enough, but since somebody else took the floor for this discussion, I wanted to first of all share it because it’s a really damn good video, and two, branch off of it with some minor key points. It was worth revisiting for this instance.
Now you may say, “this is a fixable problem, just review the music you like or that’s good”. Ah but see, the exact opposite problem can happen just as easily. I mean shit, how many people out there probably felt pressured to love Metamodern Sounds? Yeah, exactly. It’s frustrating either way, and that is one of the bedrocks for an argument of mine that supports why it’s important to cover bad music as well. But that’s not for today, that’s for another day. The key point is – balance is key.
Anyway, that’s all I have to say. Watch the video and let me know what you think I guess.