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Lorde’s Views on Journalism Aren’t Just Wrong, They’re Dangerous

Over the weekend, Lorde published a short post on her Tumblr, condemning Complex for the perceived sin of putting Iggy Azalea on their cover and then running a negative review of her album. “It happens to me all the time,” she wrote, “Pitchfork and that ilk being like ‘Can we interview you?’ after totally taking the piss out of me in a review. Have a stance on an artist and stick to it. Don’t act like you respect them then throw them under the bus.” Complex editor Insanul Ahmed responded here, and the Internet has been arguing about it since.

I don’t know that there’s a great deal to add to what Complex had to say in regard to this particular case, because they’re pretty much 100% right, and I say that as someone who is no fan at all of their publication:

If Complex — or the media at large — operated the way Lorde wished, it would do away with journalistic integrity all together. Lorde — as well as Iggy — seem to confuse press as “respect” and criticism as being thrown “under the bus.”

I think Lorde’s smart enough to realize — if she took the time to think about this a bit more — that criticism doesn’t necessarily equal “disrespect,” and that she’s essentially proposing that the press act as de facto publicists, where publications have immutable “stances” on artists, cheerleading for the ones they like and shitting on the ones they don’t. In which case, shit, you might as well just have publicists send out press releases straight to fans and be done with it.

More generally, though, Lorde’s post is representative of a more pervasive view: that criticism is an inherently negative thing. This is something I see more and more these days, especially on the Internet, and one that’s worth examining in more detail, because the idea of critics as “haters,” motivated by some sort of personal vendetta or petty jealousy — as opposed to the desire to examine an artist’s work on its merits and/or evaluate its cultural significance — is simplistic and silly and needs to be put to bed. And more than that, it’s dangerous.

The first thing to say is that this is largely an Internet phenomenon. The democratization of opinion that the web has enabled has largely had positive results, but it does have at least one negative side-effect: the lines between the press and the public are far blurrier than they ever used to be. In the past, journalists were journalists and laymen were laymen; the former published in newspapers and magazines, and the latter got to see their names in print if they wrote a letter to the editor. These days, the ubiquity of the web means that anyone and everyone has a ready-made outlet for their opinion: you start a blog, you start publishing, and hey, you’re a critic. The result is a very porous border between the world of professional criticism and opinions in general.

I say “criticism” there because there’s one other important distinction that was a lot clearer in the past than it is now: the fact that reporting and criticism are two entirely different things. This is something that people seem to appreciate far less these days than they used to do back in the days where the news was at the front of the paper and the criticism was at the back. I’ve lost count of the amount of times someone has left a comment saying “Well, so much for impartiality in journalism!” on an opinion piece here on Flavorwire, which apart from being generally obnoxious shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the difference between someone saying, “Hey, here is a thing that happened,” and “Hey, here is my opinion on a thing that happened.”

The other point here is the Internet and online discourse has a general tendency to be polarizing, as anyone who’s ever spent any time on a forum/comment section/listserv/etc. will be able to attest. It’s no accident, I think, that the two people Complex identifies as co-signing Lorde’s opinion — Iggy Azalea, unsurprisingly, and Grimes — are also members of the generation who grew up with the Internet. Again, when you see the amount of shit people throw at Grimes, for instance, online, you can understand why she might be skeptical of any negative opinion — and, indeed, the great lie of Web 2.0 was the idea that everyone has a valid opinion that’s worth expressing.

A visit to the YouTube comment section should be enough to disabuse anyone of such utopian ideals, but even aside from the worst of the worst, one unexpected result of Internet democratization of opinion has been a creeping shift in perception toward a view that dictates that the evaluation of someone who’s been studying their subject for years or decades has no more or less validity than a dude who decided to publish something on Tumblr in his lunch break.

This, in turn, is indicative of a more pervasive problem, which is the idea that everyone’s opinion is equally valid, regardless of its premises or coherency. It’s not. You either know what the fuck you’re talking about or you don’t.

This isn’t really such a problem in the world of music, of course — at the end of the day, you either like a song or you don’t, and either way, the world isn’t going to stop turning. But it’s a definite problem in other areas. You’re on a slippery slope if you’re ready to dismiss any opinion that dissents from your own on the basis of its perceived motivation rather than its merit. This is a tactic much beloved of demagogues throughout history, and also of various modern day equivalents.

If you accept the idea that anyone criticizing you is a hater who’s out to get you, you end up with a view that’s like Lorde’s: the idea that any sort of criticism equals disrespect, and that “haters” can and should be dismissed out of hand. It doesn’t, and they shouldn’t. There are no doubt genuine haters on the Internet, but equating any dissenting opinion on your work with those people is facile and juvenile. Journalism is just as important these days as it has ever been in the past, and if Lorde or any other artist is going to perpetuate a fundamental misunderstanding of how it works, they should expect a deservedly negative reaction.

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23 comments
RyanCampbell
RyanCampbell

"...one unexpected result of Internet democratization of opinion has been a creeping shift in perception toward a view that dictates that the evaluation of someone who’s been studying their subject for years or decades has no more or less validity than a dude who decided to publish something on Tumblr in his lunch break."


but if the person on tumblr has a more widely-enjoyed opinion than the student of said subject, doesn't that mean that the student's study is irrelevant? this isn't a hard science; there aren't clearly-defined correct answers to the questions that critics answer, which means that if years of study haven't made a critic's opinion better or more nuanced, those years of study were for naught. the comparison to the vaccine debacle is unwarranted because there are clear, study-supported right and wrong answers there; those answers are not present when discussing music criticism. the internet has shattered the commonly used appeal to authority, and i'm not sure that's such a bad thing. now people have to back up their statements in order to be taken seriously. for that matter, it's up to the reader to determine whether the writer "know[s] what [they're] talking about or [doesn't]", not the writer himself, and certainly not the school that taught the writer.


other than that bit, great article. i agree 100% with everything else.

lilymcelhone
lilymcelhone

This argument is fundamentally flawed. Lorde's (and Iggy's) stance wasn't that criticism is a bad thing, they complained about a double standard in the journalism industry. Lorde voiced the issue of magazines using celebrity covers and interviews to get people to buy them, at first seeming to portray a positive view of the artist. Then, going on to contradict their original stance and bag the artist. It wasn't a matter of respect, it was a matter of consistency.

Steven Gomez
Steven Gomez

I have my various issues with the hypocritical and shallow relationship most artists choose to have with critics and criticism. If you're a critic, artists love you when you love them and hate you when you don't.

I think Complex could have easily diffused this issue had Insanul Ahmed simply and clearly stated the obvious caveat: The views of a given writer for the publication do not necessarily represent the views of the publication as a whole. In Ahmed's rebuttal there is a vague allusion to this caveat but Ahmed never puts it clearly.

That said, given the strongly judgmental tone of Ahmed's rebuttal towards Lorde, I'm not entirely convinced the two editorial decisions were just a coincidence of decisions made by an objectively editorialized journalist collective. I suspect what she suspects but did not itemize: That as a whole they don't particularly respect her as an artist and whatever she's created and see her as an artistically disposable novelty.

That's not to say I think all that highly of her work. I myself do think she's a pop novelty because of her age and the relative polish of her work, and that barring artistic development she won't be long for the mainstream. But while the general argument made here is sound food for thought, I think it's brushing aside a legitimate bias and lack of respect.

RebeccaWhite
RebeccaWhite

Pretty clear from the comments that nobody understood this article.  They are arguing with statements the author didn't make.  This is actually the best piece of writing I can remember ever seeing here.

TexSquid
TexSquid

well, well,well... a lot of rhetoric attacking a 17 year old's Twitter comment..

slow news day or jealousy?


Save your pontification for something more important..

JonnyCoelho
JonnyCoelho

This whole article painfully suffers black-and-white thinking. Consider this: "Why not both?" Both sides have something worth considering. Constructive criticism comes in positive constructive compliment sandwiches.

JeffDranetz
JeffDranetz

Journalist used to have the idea that there is no such thing as a dangerous view. Now, journalists, the media, etc, want to extinguish views they don't agree with. Think about this. 

ThomasBrunton
ThomasBrunton

I feel like this guy likes the sound of his own voice. started strong lost sight in the end. keep it simple, make your point then move on and maybe resist the temptation to use an extravagant word at every chance you get as it doesn't validate your point of view. Also Tom you're a senior editor slightly bad form of you to drop your own opinion using a 17 year old artist to as a catalyst to your vent about all those on the web you think your better than. Especially considering you are well aware that her point isn't that inaccurate, sex and drama sell, a negative opinion is worth 10 positive. TMZ culture is here to stay and yes its sickening 

BrendonRoss
BrendonRoss

You expected a 17 year old to have a well thought-out argument? When Lorde first broke the record company did the smart thing of being really sparing with her media and interviews for this exact reason. 

cameldrags
cameldrags

Pitchfork rated her album highly, for what it's worth.  Not sure what her beef is with them.

lindasusername
lindasusername

I think someone needs to tell Lorde that just because a journalist wants to talk to you doesn't mean the journalist likes you. Don't confuse attention with affinity.

KhoiNguyen
KhoiNguyen

So.... journalism needs to be regulated in order to suppress dissenting criticism? Only "good" & "positive" publications are allowed? Sounds communist. I should be allowed to critique anyone I damn please regardless of my credentials, whether you are a politician or a musician

DanLeakes
DanLeakes

Most people take issue with what passes for modern criticism because its not insightful. Modern criticism, especially internet based, is more about snark, put downs and the critic patting himself on the back for being smarter than everyone. Flavorwire does this all the time, hence why a lot of people can't take the site seriously. Just look up the Arcade Fire and Beyonce pieces on this site and you'll have sterling examples of what's wrong with criticism in 2014. 

anto33
anto33

But she is right.If you don't like the music of a certain singer,putting her image in your cover to sell more is hypocrital.

genusenvy
genusenvy

I know I always look to 16/17 year olds for wisdom.

Sparky
Sparky

When you celebrate someone who is not a seasoned music industry hack - say, Lorde instead of Lady Gaga - that person may not fully understand the standard music industry tropes.  Such as, we'll kiss your ass to get you on the cover because we can sell lots of copies, but that doesn't mean we like you or your work.


Once Lorde has been around for awhile, she'll know how the cynical industry and its cynical media works, but she won't have the same fresh viewpoint that initially made her so attractive to fans.



JenniferWoodside
JenniferWoodside

I think it's more a matter of feeling kind of led on by the magazine.  

When the musician is being interviewed and photographed, people are sending out all these positive "we love you, we love your work" vibes, only to get the finished product and feel kind of stabbed in the back, that kind of review was not what you were led to expect.  

An artist might think, if my work is so terrible, why are you endorsing me as an artist on the front page? Why are YOU making money out of MY face on the cover, yet you costing ME money and fans by telling everyone my album sucks.  That's not a mutually advantageous arrangement.




RyanCampbell
RyanCampbell

@lilymcelhone  who's your favorite musical artist? is there an album by said artist that you don't enjoy as much as their other albums? then you're not being "consistent" either. opinions change as new information is created. complex didn't hear the album until months after iggy's cover. read the complex piece. for that matter, read this piece too; the author plainly states that opinion and news are fundamentally different. a publication caters to an audience, so it publishes news about things said audience is interested in, while also publishing its opinions on said things.

dariaeffe
dariaeffe

@anto33  Plus, journalists don't report what it's in their personal likes and dislikes, but what it's new going around, what is bound to be a "phenomenon" in the acception of something that is going to happen and have some sort of huge feedback through the audience. Lorde was (now, personally, I just think she's obnoxious and anything but modest) new and they reported a "fact": a new artist getting in the scene, here's her album.

gizzmo72
gizzmo72

@anto33  there are eight months between the cover and the review, the album was nowhere near finished. also, they put her on the cover because they thought she was INTERESTING, not because they expected her album was gonna be good. in fact, Complex still might think she is an interesting phenomenon, as an artist. 

dariaeffe
dariaeffe

@genusenvy  I think Lorde was just a pretext to talk about a wide spread conception of journalism and criticism nowadays

Guest163
Guest163

@JenniferWoodside  pls read the commentary again.  You hit the nail right on the head about making money, it's part of the machine of fame, also the artist is making money by having themselves listed in magazine covers, articles etc free rather to advertise themselves.  

Quid pro Quo but not necessarily always turning your way when someone solicits you to appear on their magazine or show.  

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