Jesse Jarnow

quick thoughts on the failure of @SPINReviews to kill music criticism

It seems absurd to me that anybody who wasn’t just making link-bait would question the vitality or importance of music criticism. The magazines and websites that carry writing and sell advertising, sure, maybe they’re going to die, and especially the notion of consumer guide-style record reviews, which are now as ubiquitous as spam and will surely soon be composed like it. Those have been in peril for a while. The addition of Spin’s new Twitter feed, edited by Chris @1000TimesYes Weingarten, might seem to threaten somebody somewhere. But probably not. Sure, the bon mots are pithier, but Twitter makes thoughts only as “short” as a reader might perceive them, part of a much vaster conversation containing thousands, maybe millions, of threads — the real-life real-time conversation of music itself. And for those who care to participate, it’s a conversation that isn’t restricted to 140 characters or even a click-through.

In addition to the longer columns they will continue to publish (though, yikes, please don’t call 1000 words “longform”) @SPINReviews adds yet another voice to the jabber, albeit one shaped by some great writers with deep perspective on music. The latter is more important than ever, not necessarily to advise people on what is and isn’t worth listening to, but to illuminate bigger topics, to draw connections in the present, to participate, to sort through noise, to fight the ahistorical, to find musicians who don’t have publicists, to be curious, and to be amazed or infuriated by music and figure out why and how. Anybody can rate a record. Certainly, as a music writer, the fun has well been sucked out of having public opinions on things like Bon Iver or Animal Collective or any other artist that’s been covered by everybody with a social media feed. In that way, maybe we don’t need reviews, but that’s only because the conversation about music has moved to a deeper level with an infinite number of participants where hopefully “criticism” means something beyond saying if something was good or bad.

Looked at more clearly, I think it’s totally liberating. Music writers and fans are no longer forced to have opinions about music they find banal, but encouraged by the system (however passive-aggressively) to find the music that connects with them most, that creates the most narrative, the deepest portal to the hyperreal life around them, the most sustained meaning worth spending time reflecting on and writing about and listening to. Something that might last a while. Or maybe you have something awesome to say about Jay-Z and Beyonce’s baby or the imminent death of music criticism. That’s totally cool, too.


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