Pablo Picasso is said to have once quipped, “When art critics get together they talk about form and structure and meaning. When artists get together they talk about where you can buy cheap turpentine.”
As it goes in art, so it goes in music. While critics of today try to ascertain where an artist’s work will place them in the pantheon, the musicians themselves would rather talk “turpentine.” And rightly so, because the creators are probably the last people who should analyze their own work.
The problem with critics, of all arts, is that there has never been a singular bar they can measure work against. The critical stance that one would view Radiohead through is not the same as Carly Rae Jepsen, although both are award-winning artists who’ve created music that has reached and enthralled mass audiences. The majority of music critics would agree that Radiohead is an important band and that “Call Me Maybe” is a classic pop song — that both are good, in their respective areas.
And so, with no uniform measure to compare apples like Radiohead to oranges like Carly Rae Jepsen most critics rely on crafting a story around an artist to give their music context. This new “critical” angle is often created by working with a narrative drafted by a band, their management and their publicity team, forming a melting pot of competing interests. So today, the ideas of criticism and narrative and publicity are very intertwined. But this was not always the case.
Foals, Jessie Ware and Airborne Toxic Event were posed the same question by Radio.com about the state of art criticism, through the lens of a particular scenario. These three acts, with very different backgrounds with a variety of musical ethos, have been press darlings and press derelicts. All three gave answers that started out the same, but ended up in entirely different places.