Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How Good Is It If It Has Nothing To Say?

I hated Eminem long before doing so was cool, though I had a friend who long tried to persuade me I was wrong to dismiss him so flippantly. He tried to convince me that Em had really great rhyming skills, and his flow was impressive, and all the other things that various music critics and fans have cited for liking him. But being a self-righteous college activist, I would tell him I simply couldn't sign off on any music that brazenly misogynistic and homophobic, and was frankly surprised he could. His defense was that you don't have to agree with everything someone says to like their music (which I agree with), but I would retort that if you really disagree with much of what someone says, then why are you listening to their music?

And while I'd like to think I've gotten a little less self-righteous over the years and have come to accept more music I might have once found questionable, I think the basic point still holds. At a certain point, someone's objectionable lyrics just override whatever else their music might have to offer. It reminds me of a review I read a couple years back of a Snoop album in which the reviewer wrote something to the effect of "Sure, Snoop has one of the best and most recognizable flows in all of rap, but he doesn't really have anything worthwhile to say with it."

And this sort of debate happens all the time in music, but it coming to the fore now as the indie world has fallen in love with flavor-of-the-moment rapper Tyler, The Creator, whose debut features music so violently misogynistic and homophobic it's become notable in a genre that's pretty much known for such things.

Sara of Tegan and Sara recently took to the interwebs to object to the uncritical praise Tyler's gotten from otherwise intelligent folks, writing in part:
As journalists and colleagues defend, excuse and congratulate 'Tyler, the Creator,' I find it impossible not to comment. In any other industry would I be expected to tolerate, overlook, and find deeper meaning in this kid's sickening rhetoric? Why should I care about this music or its 'brilliance' when the message is so repulsive and irresponsible?... The more I think about it, the more I think people don't actually want to go up against this particular bully because he's popular. Who sticks up for women and gay people now? It seems entirely uncool to do so in the indie rock world, and I'll argue that point with ANYONE.
It's a somewhat tired point, but still relevant. Even more telling about the state of gender relations in our time, though, is probably Tyler's response:

"If Tegan And Sara Need Some Hard Dick, Hit Me Up!"
For a guy who's supposed to be a lyrical genius, you'd think he might be able to come up with a bit more intelligent come back...

Update: Emma Carmichael has a much more intelligent take on this.

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