Friday, June 25, 2010

Don't Be THAT Music Fan

I love music. Some of the music I love is great and some of it is cheerfully terrible. Some of it is better than you think it is (seriously, Miley Cyrus does have some redeeming musical qualities, and I know you think Hanson are just those weird kids from "MmmBop," but they're actually fantastic musicians - and hilarious, it turns out), and some of it is just as mindless and bad as it seems (Ke$ha, anyone?). I'm not hard to please, though, and when someone puts out music that I like, I tend to stick with them and see what comes next. I figure if they've gotten my attention, I can trust them enough to hang around for a bit.

This has paid off in dividends for me. I've gotten to get to know some wonderful artists and have been able to be genuinely surprised and pleased by the way that creativity evolves over the course of people's careers. Even someone like Cyndi Lauper, who I've been listening to since I was about four, managed to surprise me this month by putting out a blues album.

Am I weird? Am I the only one who appreciates change in the musicians that I listen to? Because the last few weeks, I've heard a lot of bitching about the new Christina Aguilera album, which is just the most recent example of this. Lots of, "But I LOOOOOOVED Back To Basics! She should have stuck with that!" I mean, y'all. That was four years ago. Four years ago, Christina was a newly-married 25-year-old. She's now been married almost five years and has a toddler. Her life has changed - why is it not okay that her music has changed? Were people this pissy when Back To Basics came out, four years and lightning years away from Stripped? I don't think so, and I'm not quite sure why. Is it because her Back To Basics "image" was so much less threatening? Are we burned out on blondes with great voices making electro-dance pop? Or do we just want to keep her in a nice little easy compartment where she makes sense and isn't challenging? Because I don't think we have a lot of room to say, "But it's so NOT HER." How on earth do we know that?

Is this a female thing? People complain all the time about how much Muse sucks now that they've gotten popular - without mentioning the fact that they've made the exact same album five times. (As Daisy says, "I mean, I like that album, but it's not like the quality can go down when it's the same thing every time.") Matt Nathanson makes the same album over and over, and I'm pretty sure that the last Dave Matthews Band studio album sounds just like their studio albums from the late 90s.

I just finished reading (for the second time) the book Girls Like Us, which chronicles the lives and careers of Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon (it's fascinating and I highly recommend it). Even Carole King, who had a much more brilliant songwriting career than most of us realize, has spent the forty years following the release of Tapestry dealing with the fact that she's apparently supposed make...another one. Isn't that boring? Wouldn't we be BORED by another Tapestry? I'll take the Really Rosie soundtrack over a warmed-over Tapestry attempt any day, and stick with the original Tapestry, thank you very much.

(And yes, I realize that I'm leaving out the most obvious example of them all - Her Madgesty, Madonna. But there is so much to be said about her, and so many ways her career can be analyzed, that that's a post all by itself.)

So the next time you decide to throw a fit when a musician that you like makes a new album that sounds different than her last one? Just stop, think about how even-more-awesome Ani DiFranco got when she started writing about falling in love...with a dude (Dilate, anyone?), and don't forget to give them the benefit of the doubt.

1 comment:

  1. I think, for the most part, a lot of ire that female musicians receive really just IS because they're women and society at large gets uncomfortable when they can't put them in neat little boxes and forget about them. Though I wonder if the... stereotype? that female musicians aren't responsible for the music they make is also at play here. For the longest time in popular music women were just the window dressing in a song that a man wrote/composed, and it wasn't until Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon came along that people started to view women as legitimate musicians instead of a pretty lady singing pretty songs. Maybe people feel more comfortable being assholes because they think they're criticizing the "machine" more than the woman herself? I don't know.

    But that's not to say that women who are known for their songwriting aren't hung out to dry on a regular basis; there's Ani DiFranco, as you mentioned, and another contemporary example is Tori Amos - no matter what she does anymore her fanbase has A Problem with it because she's (seriously) "too happy" now and they joke that she won't make another good album until she gets divorced or somebody ABDUCTS HER DAUGHTER. I don't even know what to do with that kind of attitude.

    Over the top criticism of change DOES exist for male musicians but it's mostly limited to the groups that fit the Pitchfork Media aesthetic - the most obvious example being Arcade Fire and how they won't make more music like their first album, an album inspired by the grief of losing several family members in a short period of time. I can't imagine why they wouldn't want to revisit that.

    What I find so obnoxious is how quick people are to dismiss and drop a musician/group who puts out a couple of bad albums in an otherwise long and great career. I mean, it's just an inevitability that eventually Your Favorite Band is going to put out something that you're not into. It doesn't mean that everything they put out now is going to be crap or that their old stuff is now ruined forever. The earth is still spinning on its axis, guys!