Recently I’ve been doing something kinda strange (for me, at least). I’ve been surfing Metacritic a lot, going through reviews for things that don’t really interest me. The latest focus of this un-interest has been David Guetta’s new album, ‘Listen’. Personally, I can’t stand David Guetta or any of the music he touches, but I must say that I got a lot more respect for the genre as I read the reviews for this album (and the one before). The reviews were all overwhelmingly negative – surprise, surprise – but the way they were written indicated a love for the genre, and involved a deeper discourse than I’d expected. (My bad, I suppose)
I’ve been called elitist many times, when it comes to both music, video games, movies and books. Sometimes it’s deserved, sometimes it’s completely unwarranted and most times it’s because the other part really don’t understand what elitism is. I think the problem is that I talk passionately about these things, and in my affection – or lack thereof – I get swept up in large words and sweeping gestures. I suppose, in the end, I can come off as a little condescending. This happens to reviewers a lot to, I’d imagine. In order to describe something as subjective as art, you’ll have to take some liberties; but that doesn’t necessarily make that person elitist.
Do I believe the music I listen to / movies I watch / books I read, are somehow better than what others consume?No, I do not!Do I think other people are somehow ‘beneath’ me, for not liking the same things I do?No, I do not!
So if I’m not elitist, then what the hell am I?
I am simply a man with taste!
(Please allow me to elaborate before you bring out the pitchforks!)
There’s no neutral, right-sounding way of expressing this – well, there might be, I just lack the skill and conviction – so you’ll have to bear with me. What I mean to say is that I have a musical taste and preference, unlike so many, many people. Now, this next part is very important: Not having a musical taste is not the same as being ‘tasteless’ or tone deaf! Far from it. Not having a musical taste means you don’t particularly care about what you’re listening to. This can, of course, happen periodically as well. When I’m in my car, I sometimes just let the radio do its thing, so I won’t have to listen to all the ‘car noises’ such as they are.
So, you have those who really listen to music, and those who don’t. Let’s call them the listeners and the non-listeners. Among the former, there’s been a lot of ‘genre wars’ throughout the years, with some genres claiming to be superior to others. Rock and heavy metal are thought by many of its patrons to be far more intelligent and challenging than the more straightforward refrains of, say, Britney Spears and The Spice Girls. (Yes, I am beginning to feel old – thank you for asking.) The good news is that, apparently – as my foray into reviews of electronic dance music (EDM) and R&B proved – the ‘listeners’ exist across every genre, all with various expertise and sub-genre preferences. Among the more prevalent comments I read today, was the one stating David Guetta is moving away from ‘true’ EDM, and towards a watered-down copy/paste version, aimed towards, “a demographic that likes the sonic equivalent of being struck in the face with a rake handle over and over and over again.” – Slant Magazine. On the surface, this can be attributed to elitism on the reviewer’s part – but I think the picture is a little more complicated than that. From what I saw, people who listen to EDM – (or rap, punk, metal, pop, rock, R&B and dubstep) – care about that particular genre. Their genre. Who am I to argue with that? Why should I feel the need to say that EDM is a ‘piece of shit genre’, when actual fans of it can discuss the various nuances instead? That would indeed make me sound elitist, when in fact I’m just the same as they are, only with a different preference.
With that said, there’s definitely a mismatch somewhere along the line here, though. For instance, how can all the club ‘bangers’ and the most ubiquitous radio hits so often receive harrowing reviews? From what I’ve gathered from my radio-filled drives, David Guetta is really hot right now. I can’t seem to leave my driveway before ‘Lovers on the Sun’ or ‘Dangerous’ starts smacking me in the face. Surely, someone out there must like this music?
And this is where we begin to spiral. This music mostly targets the non-listeners. The music fills a function, and that function is to drown out other noise. If you snatch their iPod from them (people still use those, right?), it’ll probably be playing the same thing any of the thousand ‘hit’ radio stations are. The music isn’t meant to have any higher function or specific depth. It’ll make your feet twitch when you’re at the club, and it’ll keep you from hearing the holes in your exhaust pipe as you drive. You can, of course, chose to really listen to this music as well, but if we’re to believe the reviews for Mr. Guetta’s last two albums, there isn’t much to be gained from this. I think the same phenomenon applies to movies, games and books. Some of them aren’t meant to invoke deeper thought, and many of these include blockbuster hits, like Transformers. Here, as well, you have those who care, and those who don’t. I’ve studied film, and I am, obviously, a fan of good narrative and cinematography, but this does not give me the right to judge fans of the Transformer movies.
The truth is, you can’t discuss something on a deeper level with someone who’s not interested. This has nothing to do with intelligence or status; it hinges on interest and interest alone. My brother listens to club music, rap, R&B and rock – while I prefer much, much heavier stuff. We could talk about music all day without killing each other. Because we’re both invested listeners. We both talk about our genre and what we like about it. We can describe the music and define its meaning. Not everyone can, or wants to do that – and that’s perfectly okay.
Probably coming off as elitist,