Critique: A verb meaning to express your opinion about something after examining and judging it carefully and in detail.
There’s a reason I began this post with the definition of the word “critique” and it isn’t because I think that any of you need any assistance developing your vocabulary. I wrote that definition for me. For those of you that don’t know, my formal education consists of a Journalism bachelors degree at university and during this time I never learned how to write an album review, even though I really wanted to try my hand at it, so I adopted the model of my favourite artist, Michael Jackson, “study the greats and become greater”. I studied the reviews of the biggest publications (Rolling Stone, The Guardian and Pitchfork), reading them cover to cover to gain an understanding of how the best did it (the structure, the content, the literary flair, etc) before developing my own style.
These publications and their judgements on music have never served as gospel or been the determining factor in whether I think an album is good or not, but I do like to read them occasionally just to hear some different perspectives on the music and get a sense of what other people think – “we all hear the same sounds, but the they don’t sound the same…”. I read a recent Pitchfork review of Big Sean’s “Detroit 2” album and I was so taken aback that it prompted to me to look up the definition of the word “critique”, everything about it seemed to go against what the core of what I believed album reviews to be, it was like they were going off of a completely definition.
It was clear from the offset that the reviewer had a pre-conceived perception of Big Sean, and it wasn’t a good one. Within the first three paragraph he says the following about Big Sean; “struggles to deliver anything that isn’t fundamentally embarrassing”… “a squeaky-voiced goofball, a fast-rapping Fabolous soundalike”… “every time Big Sean attempts to reveal a deeper side of himself, he can’t help but come across as a woefully unpleasant person”. It goes on like this for the rest of the review and that my friends is the fundamental problem with album reviews of this ilk. I don’t believe that we’re working off of different definitions, but different intentions.
I go into every album with the intention of enjoying the music, and this informs my reviewing process; specifically targeting albums by artists I like, artists I’ve been told I’ll like and artists I’m curious about. It doesn’t mean that I like every project that I listen to, far from it, but I do go in with that intention, the intention to enjoy. The man assigned to review Big Sean’s album seems to have followed his whole career and just not been a fan of his work, which is fine. The issue I have here isn’t with his preference in music or his 5.2 rating (to be honest, Detroit 2 wasn’t my favourite Big Sean album either) my issue is with the fact that a person with such an obvious dislike for Big Sean was given such a large platform to tear him down. If a review of this kind was written about a lesser known artist on a smaller publication, benefit of the doubt could be given and it could be believed that this critique was a genuine opinion but because of the scale of the audience and the potential traction it could get screams attention seeking.
I’ve come across a few album reviews like this in the past and as of late, not exclusively limited to Pitchfork, but on other publications platforms too. They often come across as people trying their hardest to sh*t on artists but in the most sophisticated and pretentious ways. For example, I learned the words “vapidity” and “incongruous” from the Detroit 2 review, neither of them are good things. This “toxic” album review culture that takes all the fun out of craft.
Everyone has the right to an opinion and that opinion shouldn’t be dictated by the sacred truth that “artists are sensitive about their shit”. If you don’t like something, you don’t like something and that’s alright. As harsh of a reality as it may be, once you put an offering out into the world you surrender control of it and it’s no longer yours anymore, people can say and do what they want with it from that moment onwards. However, this situation goes beyond just having an opinion, it’s more like a food critic entering a seafood restaurant to offer a critique on the scallops when he/she is allergic to everything on the menu; it goes without saying that someone with this predisposition should not have a seat at this particular table.
This opens up a wider conversation about the people in positions to make judgement calls on offerings from our culture and the platforms that they are given to do it on. I can’t help but callback to Jay Z’s verse on Meek Mill’s 2018 song “What’s Free” where he raps “We was praisin’ Billboard but we was young/Now we look at Billboard like is you dumb?!” The organisation may be different but the sentiment is the same.
I generally enjoy reading Pitchfork and all of the other big album review sites, but reviews like the one on Detroit 2 (nothing more than personal digs at a man’s character and beliefs) lose the essence of what album reviewing should be about, well at least by the definition and intentions that I go off of anyway….
Pitchfork Detroit 2 Album Review: https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/big-sean-detroit-2/
What Did You Think Of The Pitchfork Review Of Detroit 2? Should Anyone Be Able To Critique An Album? Are Album Reviews Even Relevant Anymore?
As Usual Comments Are Encouraged!