April 24, 2014 Leave a comment
To be honest, I haven’t worked as a music journalist for quite a while and have not really kept up with that world. But for some time I’ve heard the term “poptimism” creep up. It initially sounded like something that was spawned from a SNL routine, so I paid it little attention. Then a few weeks ago I came across an article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine written by Saul Austerlitz titled, “The Pernicious Rise of Poptimism.”
To quote: “The reigning style of music criticism today is called “poptimism,” or “popism,” and it comes complete with a series of trap doors through which the unsuspecting skeptic may tumble.” The article continues: “Poptimism now not only demands devotion to pop idols; it has instigated an increasingly shrill shouting match with those who might not be equally enamored of pop music. Disliking Taylor Swift or Beyoncé is not just to proffer a musical opinion, but to reveal potential proof of bias.”
This sounds like some kind of Orwellian mind control technique devised by the music industry to insure that Katy Perry or Lady Gaga or whomever is popular at any given time be showered with praise. Yes, I know about the arguments about music critics being “rockists”, but seriously, let’s take a quick trip back to reality. If a rock critic prefers the new offering by say, The Black Keys to Beyoncé is his or her role simply to keep silent, or worse yet, write reviews overflowing with feigned praise?
There is PR and there is journalism. I’ve worked in both arenas and it’s best to keep them separate. The two can and often do work in unison, but they should not meld to the point where it becomes impossible to distinguish one from the other.
As Austerlitz states in his New York Times piece: “In the guise of open-mindedness and inclusivity, poptimism gives critics — and by extension, fans — carte blanche to be less adventurous. If we are all talking about Miley Cyrus, then we do not need to wrestle with knottier music that might require some effort to appreciate. And so jazz and world music and regional American genres are shunted off to specialized reviewers, or entirely ignored.”
There will always be music journalists who champion the status quo. That’s fine. Popular artists are successful for a reason. But, and many might not like to hear it, but it is possible for an artist to be very successful and not necessarily be all that talented. Yes. Shocking as that sounds, that has been known to happen. And when that does happen, journalists need to write about it.
All journalism is subjective, but when journalism has a mandate to reflect a particular point of view, we run into problems. Granted, we’ve been running into an avalanche of problems over the past few years, but that’s a whole other issue. Right now my focus is extremely narrow, music journalism. If we start from the point that all journalism is subjective, there is no more subjective form of journalism than criticism. All journalists have tastes and biases and those might or might not coincide with those of the masses? What if journalists use their forum to make their case about a particular band, singer, or music genre? Are they biased? Sure they are. But then every reader can agree, disagree or ignore what was written. From my perspective, the writing need not be optimistic nor pessimistic, it simply needs to be genuine.
Copyright © Anthony Mora Communications 2014
Gauld, Tom. “The Pernicious Rise of Poptimism.” Illustration. The New York Times. 04 Apr 2014. 24 Apr 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/06/magazine/the-pernicious-rise-of-poptimism.html?_r=0>