This past Sunday, columnist Nitsuh Abebe published a piece for Pitchfork entitled “Embarrassment Rock,” about ‘rockism.’
He described the term as “a variety of close-mindedness.” To be a rockist is to reject all music which does not conform to a certain rock n’ roll aesthetic. Rockists hate hip-hop, pop and rap; they despise challenging and innovative music. They haunt YouTube videos of the Black Eyed Peas, for example, so that they can complain about how bad the Black Eyed Peas are.
Side-effects of rockism include eye-rolling and friendlessness. If your smirk lasts more than four hours, call your doctor.
Hey Pitchfork, now that we’re on the subject of close-mindedness—I have been meaning to talk to you about your reviews. I happen to like many of them. But at the same time you have to admit that your reviews cater to a specific set of preferences, i.e., each individual reviewer’s personal preferences, and that hoisting these preferences above everybody else’s (via a hokey hundred-point scoring system) as an objective good-music-o-meter is, like rockism, just glorifying an aesthetic.
For example: in her 5.5 review of Lana Del Rey’s recent Born to Die, reviewer Lindsay Zoladz complained centrally that some of the lyrics “feel limp and pointless.” But every person feels differently; really the lyrics feel limp and pointless to Lindsay Zoladz.
In a more recent review of Islands’ A Sleep & a Forgetting, Larry Fitzmaurice celebrated the album as “emotionally devastating” and “unassumingly, unabashedly pretty.” Really, Larry Fitzmaurice’s emotions were devastated, and Larry Fitzmaurice thought the music was pretty. Does that mean, as Larry Fitzmaurice claims, that this album deserves precisely 7.9 out of 10 on the scale of absolute quality?
Maybe it’s not fair to bully you, Pitchfork. Countless other publications (including this one!) assign numerical scores to the unquantifiable. Music is not a math problem. If you listen to a piece of music with a scoring mentality you are letting fractions distract you—you are distancing yourself from the artist; you are reviewing, not revering.
Abebe’s column about rockists is arguing, essentially, Stop thinking that only your music is good—look at how good this other music can be, too. But we ought to stop worrying altogether about ‘good,’ and listen.