By Elorm Nutakor
I’m done hedging with my musical opinions, or at least I’d like to be. And that can mean a lot of things, but I’m more specifically talking about those moments when you feel a need to be critical about music, so you qualify a positive comment with an ambiguous statement that takes something away from the evaluation. I see it on the internet, in other people’s conversations and even in my own. I’ve had to catch myself when I say things like:
“Yeah I liked the album. It wasn’t particularly groundbreaking, but it was solid.”
“It was good. They could have cut some tracks off, though.”
“It’s not all that ambitious, pretty safe, didn’t really take any risks, but I like it.”
It’s basically how most music reviews written by your homie with a blog go. There’s not much to say, so we just go for the easy/superficial stuff which is a lil problematic. And these are valid comments in their place, but they’re kind of played out at this point, often coming off as an attempt at pretension. I’m not talking about times when someone absolutely doesn’t like a song or a project. I’m talking about the moments when we moreso like something, or when we don’t really have opinions but give some form of critique as if we need to acknowledge that imperfections can exist in an album or song. And of course imperfections exist. We’re living at a time of immense music saturation. It’s easy to admit that too much of the music released now is not very good quality; people remind us of this it all the time. But I think we also have to admit that too much of it is also pretty good — to an overwhelming extent. So why is it that people feel the need to qualify their musical opinions?
I’m sure the reasons are different from person to person, but I’ll propose one that makes sense to me from a purely observational standpoint. Truth be told, most of us aren’t that great at talking about music critically. Beyond affective emotional responses, we don’t have that much more to say. And It’s difficult to compartmentalize musical moments into words beyond analyzing lyrics themselves. It’s frustrating especially when you’ve only listened to an album once or didn’t really pay attention while it was playing but also want to give commentary. And people want their opinions to hold some kind of weight. Our credibility is important, so we’re prone to stunt a little, especially those of us who really value music. Maybe a person will take a concept from a review they just read, maybe they’ll regurgitate some trite buzzwords or maybe they’ll just give several very vague remarks. No matter what, this response shows how inept we can be when discussing music.
Even professional music critics can fall into this kind of hedging because credibility factors greatly into the choices they make. When they put too much stock into their credibility, this is when you see them split hairs on marginal aspects of musical creations. Reviews that do this are often the sames ones subverted by retrospection. Retrospection can do the same thing with people who merely like something because people with opinions they respect like it, or those who hold dissenting opinions just for the sake of dissention. The latter group is prone to abstractly qualify their music opinions. As people that care about music, we may go through phases like this. It’s not abnormal, but we should definitely check ourselves once in awhile.
When a person says something along the lines of “it’s not amazing or anything…,” they take something away from a song, artist or album that did not need to be taken away. That kind of comment is laden with abstraction, and it’s not substantive in most cases. When thinking critically about music, it’s a good tactic to make relevant comparisons. If there’s some particular criteria that you use to evaluate music, that’s awesome. Even if you want to throw around words like “GOAT” or “trash,” that’s cool too. There is something pure about these expressions to an extent because they have so much effect and are often slightly sarcastic. I know I often hyperbolize about music. But if our intention is to give commentary for the sake of giving commentary, there’s something sus going on there.
During the course of this piece, I haven’t made specific references to any song, album or artist that this may apply to because it would unavoidably lead to some sort of opinion hedging. Which, like I said, I’m not tryna do. I am trying to push us to think about the reasons why we make certain comments about music, and that’s an ongoing conversation. There was an editorial on KCOU last year about music shaming that bears some semblance to this one that I’d encourage reading. It contributes the notion that we need to be conscious of the way we discuss music and much more discourse is necessary on that broad topic, much more discourse. But considering my own specific argument, I’ll end on this note: Discussing music with others in regular conversation should be fun and informative, but the kind of hedging that I’ve described above acts as an inhibitor.
Edited by Owen Brock and Elena Cruz