Pulse Explainer: How judging and rating music struggles with the internet, extremes and superlatives
These days, the average music lover constantly gets it wrong while judging music.
It has given us a platform of interconnectivity, jobs, and aggregated discussions from like-minded individuals as well as access to an unlimited amount of music that comes in thick and fast. We are grateful, humbled and honored to be a generation that has enjoyed the beautiful offerings of the internet. But then…
The curse of the internet to music
Have you ever gotten weary of the number of albums you had to listen to within a time, as more pile up? You must have. You must have also gotten weary of the noise – positive or negative - in the wake of an album, so much that you couldn’t bring yourself to listen to an album.
Even worse, the internet has introduced us to so many incredible types of subgenres, and allowed anybody can say nonsense, and lazily back it up with the very efficient armor of, “It’s my choice and my list,” that you wouldn’t be able to contend with.
It’s like being a Police superintendent on a prowl to solve a gruesome murder in town, determined to chew the lead suspect on the other side of the table to bits with grueling questions, until he plays the ultimate buzzkill card, and asks for his Lawyer ‘with a smug smile on his face.
The internet makes it harder for most music lovers to truly live with albums as the old guys did. Instead, with the insane amounts of content to consume littered across the internet from the niche and then to the mainstream, most music lovers now have to battle the infamous ‘Fear of Missing Out,’ so they don’t fall out of conversations they should ordinarily be a part of.
The shoe-horn culture of listening to music has thrown the art off balance that even Journalists now have to keep up and drop album reviews as much as possible, so their content doesn’t become stale in the contemporary ‘one-listen review’ world of judgement by traffic and numbers of views on your article. The attachment of substance continues to dwindle by the demand for living up to the modern pace.
In the old days as Jay Z told The Breakfast Club, artists would send music to Journalists months in advance so the review forms the final leg of a roll-out that might make or break the album.
The reason is simple; back then, there was no internet and only a few media companies could afford to run publications with even a regional - nigh National - impact. Thus, respected music Journalists had their words trusted and dissected as much as the global rap stars'.
These days, there as much media platforms as there are seemingly self-churning music albums. Thus, while artistes still send albums weeks in advance, the substance has continued to dwindle because of the internet.
Just as the journalist has not sufficient time to truly live with and digest or even truly understand an album, the fans then take on the same speed of digestion and never truly live with albums.
That’s why in this trigger happy times of emotional people, who can reach thousands or even millions at a go, the confluence of this ongoing discussion is that most albums fall victim to malformed opinions.
But then, while conversing with the man who made this article come together, Daniel, a Teacher, he says, “I think music is very subjective. I've seen people cheer stuff I absolutely cannot stand.
“So yes, I personally can say an album is terrible, average, good, great & brilliant, but there isn't fair enough probability that another will feel the same way, especially before he / she is influenced by other opinions.”
Unfair creative pressure on, and unfair criticism of the artist
In consequence, the artist has to bear the entire brunt of impressing a very opinionated audience that nobody can satisfy. In a conversation with a colleague on Monday, February 25, 2019, while discussing how Kanye West might be about to truly drop fire music with the release of that beautiful choir session, I opined that Ye didn’t truly measure up to standards.
While he agreed, he said, “Modern music listeners are entitled. We’re so drunk on ourselves that music that does not cater to us or our sentiments, we diss it.” He then said, “Artists make music that speak to different parts of their lives. When you have a conversation with them, you will discover that you will enjoy the album better.” He was right.
Understandably, my colleague’s opinion gives the artist an excessive room and excuse for when he messes up.
And mostly, you should not always have to have conversations with an artist to truly understand them. If the artist does properly project and execute his thoughts and opinions on an album, it wouldn’t be the fan’s fault for calling the album ‘harebrained,’ ‘scatterbrained,’ or ‘shallow.’
But then, most modern music listeners do not even listen well enough to these albums to truly understand them. A lot of us expect albums to appeal to us the first time, and if it does not, it’s definitely, ‘trash,’ and when it even remotely appeals to us, it’s ‘excellent,’ ‘a masterpiece’ or ‘a classic.’
No middle ground or moderation - a tale of extremes and superlatives.
We are all guilty of this and none of us is exempt
My colleague went further to say, “Have you ever listened to an album that didn’t make sense initially, but made sense a few years later? Sometimes, music is not meant to make sense the first time. Sometimes, what you have been listening to before listening to that album might determine whether you will like it or not.”
That might explain why most people react terribly to albums that offer a different sound to the norm.
That is why a lot of people reacted terribly to Ruggedman not sounding like the archetypal American rapper that all our rappers when Rugged launched wanted to imitate so bad. It’s why most people critically ripped Kanye West’s “808 and Heartbreaks” album before understanding it years later.
It’s why this particular writer hated Kanye West’s “Yeezy” album when it dropped in 2013, only to fall in love with it in 2017.
Extremes and superlatives
An extreme could either be positive or negative and for this context, a superlative is simply an extremely positive qualification for something with a word. In essence, and for the purpose of this conversation, an extreme would be the following words, ‘trash,’ ‘masterpiece,’ ‘great,’ or ‘classic,’ that the average music lover usually uses.
There is no middle ground, only two extremes. There is even no space for moderation as no album can be moderate; moderately good, moderately bad, or even average
When M.I Abaga dropped his albums, “Illegal Music III” and “Chairman,” we destroyed those albums because we did not understand what he was doing on the former, and the latter felt lightweight. Reasonably, the former is a good body of work, and the latter is average, but the average music lover unknowingly calls them ‘trash.’ Here is the problem…
With the music coming in thick and fast, and the internet loading us, we then find it hard to truly judge albums, but the average music lover has an ego that never permits him to see the errors of his ways, especially when he always finds that one or two albums that he truly loves.
So, he thinks the albums he doesn’t like after he listened to that one or two times – like the ones he liked – must definitely be trash.
Thus, that average modern music lover conflates the love he has for those albums he likes after the first few listens as definitely being more than they are. He then elevates those albums to levels they ordinarily shouldn’t be, especially when there is also a universal likeness for that album, or at least, a love from a large or niche fanbase even when these albums are only moderately good.
In consequence, we critically describe albums as typically ‘trash,’ or with superlatives like ‘a masterpiece/classic.’
Not the music lover’s fault, but he can do better if he understands his shortcoming
But then, it’s not entirely the music lover’s fault either. You cannot see beyond what you cannot see beyond and it’s not going to get better. It’s only going to get worse, as the music expands and the internet gets more fast-paced.
This is why we will continue to get an overkill of words like ‘masterpiece’ ‘OG’ or ‘classic’ till they become a cliché – especially when they get backed up by similarly minded people ‘Lawyering up’ with ‘it’s my opinion.'
These days, it gets hard to even have a reasonable conversation about music ranking because as provided by the internet, we never spend enough time with albums, and the few we like, probably because the artist appeals to our sentiment, we elevate to unreal heights, and back up our superlative claims with ‘my opinion’ and ‘a lot of people also think so.’ It’s only going get worse.
What the average music over can, however, do is;
- Listen well to albums.
- Don’t be quick to judge; there’s something beautiful about every album – though, some albums are just simply terrible.
- Understand the difference between ‘average’ and ‘terrible’
- Understand the difference between, a ‘good album,’ ‘a great album’ and ‘a classic album.’
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