How reviewing albums can make you jaded towards music you actually like
When discussing our music tastes, the phrase “art is subjective” tends to come up a lot. I mean, why shouldn’t it? We all like what we like, and there is really nothing we can do to change that except open our minds to new types of art and let our tastes evolve.
Although art is subjective, when it comes to reviewing music, there is pressure to critique it from an objective perspective and explain why a piece is good or bad. However, your opinion of a song, album or artist will always differ from someone else’s. The sky is blue is an objective fact. Metallica being the best metal band of the 80s is not a fact, it’s just my opinion.
This idea of being objective brings me to how the pressure to “get it right” when reviewing albums has made me overly critical of songs and artists I actually enjoy. I realized this about myself while listening to Lil Uzi Vert’s album Luv Is Rage 2. I initially gave the album a 4/10 rating in a review I wrote for The Concordian.
At the time, I was stuck in the mindset of trying to use objective criteria to review albums. I would look at lyrical complexity, diversity of tracks and other factors that, for the most part, are actually subjective. Sure, some albums have more production value and took more time to create, but that doesn’t mean one is more enjoyable than the other—that really comes down to taste.
For example, I compared Lil Uzi Vert to Kendrick Lamar. These two artists operate in the same genre, but with completely different styles that can’t be compared. Yet, when I reviewed Luv Is Rage 2, I rated it in comparison to Lamar’s DAMN, an album I would easily give a 9/10. This method of reviewing is not only misguided, but can lead you to develop a bad first impression of an album.
As mentioned above, I recently revisited Luv Is Rage 2 because of a song Lil Uzi Vert did with The Weeknd called “Unfazed,” which I stumbled upon on YouTube. With my review of the album long gone from my memory, I thoroughly enjoyed the song and went back to the album. As I went through each track, it was as if I was listening to the album for the first time. Instead of trying to dissect it, I came away with a whole new opinion on the album. To be honest, it might be one of my top-five albums of the year.
In the last month or so, I have been making a more conscious effort to critique music on a subjective basis, something I should have been doing from the beginning. Ultimately, it has led me to enjoy more albums because I am less likely to make unwarranted criticisms. Not to mention there are a plethora of other albums I have changed my mind about.
One such example is this summer’s collaborative mixtape between Toronto producer-artist NAV and Metro Boomin’. Although I never wrote a formal review for the album, I remember hating it initially because I was looking at it as an album that just came out after DAMN. This ultimately made me critique the lyrics hardly and not appreciate it for what it was. Listening to it now, however, I like it a lot and have realized the album has a ton of content I relate to.
If it weren’t for giving the album a second chance and ridding myself of the pressure to look at music critically, I would have missed out on one of my favourite projects of the year.
The same thing can be said about DAMN, oddly enough. I loved the album when it came out. However, I was also looking at it from a critical perspective. I was trying to rate it based on criteria about what makes a “rap” album great, rather than determining whether or not I enjoyed it. While I did enjoy DAMN. and still think it’s a great piece of art, I just don’t like it as much as other albums. It’s almost as if I forced myself to give the album a good score because Lamar is such a respected artist.
I guess what I am trying to say is that, when critiquing a piece of music, just go with your gut and how it makes you feel. Don’t judge it based on some “good album” criteria that doesn’t exist. It’s cliché, but art really is subjective and, if you keep looking for objective reasons to like or dislike something, you’re taking away from your enjoyment of that art.
At the end of the day, it’s important not to be ashamed of your tastes. As listeners with individual preferences, we shouldn’t give in to the pressure of liking or disliking something just because critics do.
Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth