talk like that

Intelligent music critic Nitsuh Abebe has a new column on Pitchfork, 'Why We Fight', that looks at discourses and conversations we have around pop. His first post begins to dive into the very thorny question of where the music ends and the discussion begins, and how the latter increasingly impacts the former with everything online:
Because on the web, there's no such thing as silent dismissal, the invisible shrug of this-is-not-for-me: everything's verbalized. Casual dismissal-- "this bugs me," "I can't stand that voice"-- starts to look more like active criticism. People snipe or worry about whatever seems to be at issue, even if what's at issue has more to do with our arguments than what's happening in the music.

Beyond that, it seems to me that Abebe is grappling with the very thorny issue of how exactly to
write about music. Clearly his notion of criticism transcends mere evaluation (criticism as consumer guide), but as soon as issues of representation are brought in, then with it comes the question of whether pop (I'll leave out indie for now) should even be amenable to intellectual discussion. Or, to put it more simply, isn't it just about the music maaaan? Of course not, but whether picking the eyes out of popular texts either by constant bitching - "simply locating what's different or notable about a given act and then chipping away at it, finding the most efficient way of mocking it, ferreting out the exact interpretation of what's happening that best allows us to critique it" - or by treating it as a given semiotic system just waiting to be unpacked, as academics do, really amount to anything different is another question. I cannot say in any way, shape or form that I'm not guilty of this exact thing, but I think criticism (mine included), needs to find a way to incorporate intellectualised discussion with appreciation for - and moreover, articulation of - the pure affective force of pop, and music more generally.

I was thinking about this when reading Robin Jame's wonderful post on 'Single Ladies' and the way she couched the discussion:
BeyoncĂ© is an amazingly talented artist who plays around in very subtle and nuanced ways with “serious ideas” – all while singing some damn catchy hooks. It’s REALLY HARD to make delectable pop that also problematizes ideas in ways that are interesting to academics.

And I wondered to myself, 'is that what pop music
should do? Make itself "interesting" to academics? Isn't this kind of depressing?'

Anyhow, I'm not sure if this whole issue is just one that anybody thinking about pop music in a theoretical or philosophical way inevitably comes up against, but I'd very much appreciate anyone's own experiences and take on the whole thing, please, to help clarify my own.

I'll leave the final word to Philip Brophy:
Time has well passed for the need to analyse pop culture, as if it were a frustrating closed system of signs proliferated through each wave of subcultural commodification. Pop culture is too pervasive, rampant, eclectic and polyglottal to unravelled and remade into an academic macramé pot holder.

1 riffs:

Andrew McMillen said...

I'm unsure how to respond, but I just wanted to thank you all the same for pointing me toward that Pitchfork column, Lawson. Cheers.