Kat Says: “Music Journalism Is Rotting From The Inside”
I open up about the fucked up modern practices of my industry, and share hot tunes.
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Music, entertainment and critical journalism of every kind is diseased. It’s sick and rotting from the inside out because artists, major labels, publicists, agents and suits of all kinds have won the battle for fairness, honesty and grit.
Even some editors have given up the fight in search of the budget-saving, click-baiting artist retweet that will bring maybe even just a few hundred eyes to a given feature interview or album review. It’s all a bunch of ball-gobbling, taint-tickling nonsense, and I’m tired.
My face when a publicist asks to “see the post before it goes live.”
“Wow, Kat,” you might say to yourself. “You seem pretty angry. What’s the issue?”
The problem is basic. In journalism, there are a few ethical boundaries that remain central to the whole First Amendment concept, mainly that the press should be free to question and poke and publish in the search of facts and decency.
Now, music and entertainment journalism is generally far from important. It’s not (usually) life-saving, geopolitical, socio-economic stuff. We’re talking about Beyonce making house records, and whether well-known producers write their own algorhythm-placating hits or not—but I maintain that there should be some semblance of professionalism here.
Some of the rights inherent in the First Amendment do still apply: Namely that there should be a difference between the person writing about the subject and the subject themselves.
Because if the subject is the one with the power, isn’t it all just mindless marketing drivel at best and cultural propaganda at worst?
Now, this is not a new problem, but I’m writing about it today because it’s come up for me and my colleagues quite a few times in the last couple of weeks. It’s not an entirely rampant problem, but it is at least worth ranting about in the comfort of my own, independent newsletter. That’s why I started this thing anyway, right? Right.
The funny thing is, I owe my career to being pretty caustically critical. I got my first post-graduate writing gig as a freelancer at the Miami New Times, an albeit ad-riddled but gloriously free alt-weekly here in the Magic City.
I was a young and feisty bloghouse veteran exploring the decadent exploits of EDM in its height, reporting live from the front lines of Miami megalcubs. It was ridiculous, and I said so over and over again in satirical headlines like “Ten Reasons EDM Is the Wimpiest Youth Culture Movement Ever” and “Five Signs You Might Be a Shitty DJ.” I got a lot of hate for it in the comments, but half the time I was making fun of myself and shit that I would do, so I didn’t really care that much.
Dance music is goofy. It’s fun. It’s silly. It’s asinine. It’s an art form, but it’s an art form about just letting the fuck go for a second, for an hour, for one night. The best songs of the genre are some of the dumbest ever made, and that’s why we love it.
The best producers all realize that they can take their craft seriously, and yet take themselves the farthest thing from serious at all, because it’s in that middle ground of fun and caring that you can be free enough to make greatness happen.
Some artists don’t feel that way. Some artists would like you to do nothing but worship at their feet and blow smoke up their asses like they’re some kind of sad parachute that needs the love of millions to prop up their saggy egos.
I know from experience what it’s like for someone to tell me to “eat a shit-filled quesadilla” because they didn’t like my work. You put your soul into something, you put your heart on the line, and then some critic comes along and is like “eh, it’s not their best.”
Why do we need critics at all? What’s the point of saying you don’t like someone’s stuff? It’s kind of rude. I beg to differ.
Critics, when we’re worth our salt, are just mega-uber-super fans who have dedicated nothing short of our entire lives to loving a thing. We love it so much that we want to protect it, we want to share it with the world, we want to scream from the rooftops about how Alive 2007 forever changed the direction, value and landscape of electronic dance music, for better and for worse, and how listening to it can drive you to tears if you listen in the right way (well, that’s my personal journey).
Art criticism exists to give cultural context to the films, music, paintings, books, NFTs, TV shows and any assortment of other mediums that are created, so that laymen consumers who aren’t insane with obsession can better digest, understand and therefore learn and culturally benefit from the art that is created.
Part of that is telling the world that they should listen to Pusher’s Stay-At-Home Popstar because it captures the cognitive dissonance of dancing through the end of the human era with verbal poise and infectious hooks.
Part of that also happens to be having the courage to say that most songs by The Chainsmokers are offensively simplistic, lab-grown radio jingles that serve to extend the hold late-stage capitalism has on our souls!
That right there is something some journalists are not allowed to say. I am some journalists. I have been told in no uncertain terms to not say mean things about The Chainsmokers because if The Chainsmokers decide that so-and-so outlet is making them feel bad, the outlet gets scared that they won’t grant an interview in the future or retweet the blog, and then maybe no one will click on it, and then the outlet will lose advertising dollars, and then maybe our budgets will get slashed and they won’t be able to pay freelancers like me.
Sidenote: That’s partially why me and so many other journalists are turning to independent newsletters, Patreon and other subscription services, because if you can’t get a major publication or outlet of any size to fund your work, maybe you can gather a few real and engaged fans of your work to support you.
Sidesidenote: I Totally plan to launch a paid subscription tier next week. These Friday newsletters will always be free, but if you wanna support insanity like this, soon you can give me some monies on a monthly basis, and I’ll give you exclusive lists and interviews and podcasts and eternal love in exchange.
Today’s newsletter was partially inspired by a recent article published in The Telegraph, which touched on this issue. An excerpt follows:
“This has tipped the power balance into the major label’s favour, according to John Woolf of entertainment company A-List Management. ‘Titles have to pander to big artists as they need their exclusives to survive,’ he explains. ‘They’re not going to come out and slate a huge artist because it will be detrimental to them as a publication and they’re less likely to be offered those interview opportunities in the future. It means critics feel more of a need to be a helper than to give a real opinion.’”
Further Reading: Why are critics not allowed to be rude about Beyoncé? (The Telegraph, 2022)
I get it. It’s a delicate balance, but it’s not a very good game to play, and it so often feels unwinnable from the journalist’s perspective. Most of the time, I and my colleagues get around it by just saying “fuck it” and keeping our opinions to stuff we actually like and want to share, because that stuff matters the most I guess, and it is safe and nice to people.
BUT THAT’S NOT WHERE THIS FUCKING WAR ENDS.
It. Gets. Worse. Because publicists and managers and bitchy artists go SO FAR as to DEMAND that they:
a) See a journalist’s questions before an interview so they can decide which ones to strike or not, because god forbid some DJ or lead singer or actress answer a question like “what is it like to juggle being an influencer with your work?”
b) Ask to read a fucking article BEFORE IT IS PUBLISHED so they can DEMAND to have things DELETED or CHANGED as if the JOURNALIST exists to further their stupid fucking sales agenda and ACTUALLY WORKS FOR THE SUBJECT?!?!?
We’re already working in a bruised and battered shadow of what the industry used to be. Can we at least pretend to hold on to some dignity of self? Of independence? I promise you that not a single one of the six to 150 people who reads this interview will give a solid shit about whatever you said about doing drugs or taking a boat to see a dolphin or whatever. I bet the thing you’re most afraid of will actually be the most interesting part of the conversation.
And here’s the thing: if an artist says something so grossly offensive that they need to be scared of having it printed, then the least I can fucking do is let the world know who they really are.
And that is almost never, ever, ever the case.
It sometimes is though. And that’s why it matters.
Investigative music journalist Annabel Ross recently wrote about how she was banned from covering Movement Festival in Detroit by one of the event’s headline artists, because that artist sides with Derrick May, whom Ross profiled as a prolific rapist for Resident Advisor.
She’s been personally attacked a number of times by industry insiders for giving victims a voice, and that’s some scary shit.
Further Reading: On Derrick May, Detroit techno and toxic male solidarity
Sure, people are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, but journalists should be allowed to do their fucking jobs, and if you go around letting pushy publicists define what we can and can’t say, however innocuous, we further degrade the ethical boundaries of our industry so that, one day, when someone writes about something that is actually important, there’s hardly anything of credit and professionalism for them to hold onto.
So if I wanna say that the lead singles from Calvin Harris’ long-awaited forthcoming Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2 album are pretty underwhelming, I should be able to say that without fear of repercussions from anyone but Calvin Harris and his biggest fans.
I, for one, welcome that kind of discourse. Art is not a science. It’s an expression of emotion, and we’re all right and we’re all wrong about it all the time. We’re all just out here trying to connect with each other, sharing what we’ve found, getting into heated nerdy conversations with our friends, tweeting into the void in hopes of finding another soul to snuggle up to.
It’s not that deep, but it really is that deep sometimes, and people should just let journalists say what they want to say. Who knows? Maybe the bad review will actually end up going viral, like when Pitchfork gave Greta Van Fleet’s album a 1.6 out of 10. I’m 100 percent sure that actually got more people to listen to the album than not, and in the end, they’re headline festivals and winning Grammys.
And they all lived happily ever after.
My friend and colleague Lil Moayeri interview Maxim of The Prodigy for Billboard Dance, and it’s a touching and intimate conversation that addresses what it’s like to tour after Keith Flint’s tragic death, the first piece of vinyl he ever bought (by The Specials), and why even his favorite go-to dance album is The Prodigy’s game-changing The Fat of The Land.
Cherry Flavored Antacids, my band, is set to release our first songs to Spotify and Beatport and all that stuff. Three tunes are going live Sunday, July 31, and our 30-minute audio-visual mix is going live on YouTube Monday, Aug. 1!
It would mean so much to me if you gave us a listen, a follow if you like it, and a share if you really like it. It would also mean a lot to me if you wrote a blog post explaining why it’s soulless trash, if that’s what you think, but you won’t because it’s not lololol, shit bangs.
Speaking of shit that bangs…
(This is the part where I share songs that are so good, they’re absolutely necessary to listen to. That’s it. That’s the bar.)
I made two Spotify playlists for this section that you can follow: one weekly playlist updated with just the new stuff every week, and one cumulative playlist that will host every song I pick ever (until Spotify tells me it's full). Check them out! I made them for you—and me, but mostly you.
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs - “Never Seen You Dance”
Oooh, I was already excited for TEED’s forthcoming sophomore LP, but this disco-fied single has me more excited than ever. It’s really bridging the gap between these new tunes and Trouble, which was his electrifying debut that made me and all my friends fall in love with TEED in the first place! Indie dance vibes forever, yayay!
Franc Moody - “Raining in LA”
I wrote this song up for this week’s First Spin, and it deserves a highlight here, too. It’s got real swing and pop hook heft. It’s also got a great music video. Definitely giving this duo a follow and looking out for its forthcoming LP, due in September.
Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul - “Cliché” (Soulwax Remix)
I don’t wanna seem like I’d just add every song released by either Charlotte Adigéry or Soulwax, but this remix is just too freaking funky to go unshared. It’s groovy, it’s biting, it’s sassy and it’s ravey as all hell. It makes me wanna put on glow-in-the-dark JNCOs and punch myself in the face (which is a good thing, coming from me!).
Drama - “I Do” (Vandelux Remix)
This remix is sweet like birds singing outside your window; like a pina colada sipped poolside; like a cheeky dance off with the cutie you wanna go home with at the end of the night. It’s silky. It’s got pretty piano. I like it.
Vieux Farka Tourè x Khruangbin - “Savanne”
I will never miss a chance to see Khruangbin live. That live set is just too good, but I don’t always looooove every song Khruangbin records. Sometimes, the energy just isn’t there, but this collab with Malian guitarist and singer Vieux Farka Tourè is absolutely on. It’s got dusty guitar jangles and moody blues throughout its sonic soul. You have to hear it.
Juuku - “Home”
This song is an abrasive assault on the senses—and that’s why I like it. It’s got a complextro-style breakdown with future bass beat waffles and all the textural jungle gym stylings that make me love noise. It’s not for the light hearted, but if you are insane like me, you’ll dig it.
Cerrone x Purple Disco Machine - “Summer Lovin’”
Cerrone is a certified disco legend. Purple Disco Machine makes some of the slickest grooves in the game. The two coming together is a match made in funk heaven. You’re gonna need wider bell bottoms for this.
Royksopp - “Let’s Get It Right”
This song right here is all about the build. It’s a five-minute long vibe, and you have to let it ride to “get it right,” as the song says. This is a “ride off into the sunset, roll credits” type beat. So, it’s a good closer for this week.
THAT’S ALL, FOLKS.