The more I write about pop music, the more I feel compelled to read about it, as well. Sure, I'd probably be doing it for pleasure anyway, but as this writing thing starts to bear some vague resemblance to a “profession” (pretty grossed out by that, to say the least), I need to keep up with what the kids are into these days, because I'm not really one of them anymore, even if I feel like it on most days.
So, I spend a small portion of my week reading blogs and music sites, and I've come to a few conclusions: 1) Bloggers have way too much time on their hands, 2) message boards are the most spiteful, shameful places in the world and 3) people who write about music continue to regurgitate the same formulas they've been using for years.
Of course, I've fallen prey to many of these pitfalls, too. But I'm determined to resist the short list of music critic / writer / journalist / whatever-you-want-to-call-it fallbacks that should be forever banished from the pages of websites, blogs and print publications everywhere:
Hypothetical band combinations. Perhaps the most common music-writer trope is relying on the simile, “[Band name] sounds like [different band name] meets [another different band name] doing [recreational drug, sexual act or other collaborative activity].”
This is acceptable only when used as an insult, like, “These New Puritans sound like Linkin Park and RZA scoring a Vin Diesel movie.” Even then, it's pretty lazy.
Use of pop-culture slang no adult says in real life. If Pitchfork, Stereogum or any other site publishes one more piece using “WTF” instead of actually spelling it out, anthrax letters will start showing up at their offices. Same goes for “whatevs,” “obvs” or whatever else 13-year-old girls are saying these days. Actually, can we just do the world a favor and eliminate these “words” from our vernacular altogether?
Comparing a popular band to an obscure one without actually hearing both. It can be very difficult to call a bluff on this, because even the most esoteric groups have widely available music these days. However, the biggest tell is calculating the popularity-to-obscurity ratio between two bands.
Let's say a writer is discussing the work of a well-known quantity such as Yeah Yeah Yeahs and wants to sound authoritative. Said writer might claim that while many people compare Karen O's vocal style to The Pretenders' Chrissy Hynde, he or she thinks Ms. O. bears more of a resemblance to Mary Timony of Helium.
The popularity-to-obscurity ratio here is roughly 50 to 1, meaning for every 50 people who've heard Yeah Yeah Yeahs, only one has heard Helium. With such an alarming popularity-to-obscurity ratio, chances are high this writer is full of shit. Not to mention Timony and O. share little in common, other than that they're females singers in rock bands.
Rule of thumb: The more even the ratio, the more likely a writer is telling the truth.
Excessive use of hyphenation. There's nothing a rock writer loves more than making up words, and the hyphen allows them to indulge in their every whim. For example, affix “post-” to just about anything and it's suddenly a new genre.
Post-rock. Post-punk. Post-neo-soul-electronic-jazz-funk-wave.
You're not an ethnomusicologist. If you were, you'd be out doing field research instead of opining on the new Vampire Weekend album. Smart is good, but pretentious is bad. There's a very small space reserved for intellectual writing on pop music, and most of it exists in Europe, where cultural studies are actually taken seriously. If you're reading this, you probably don't live there. So, write in a way with which people might be able to identify.
Writing an album review as if it were a grad-school thesis. Again, you're not trying to impress your “colleagues.” If you are, please stop writing about pop music. Put down the thesaurus and write from the heart.
Compulsive, subjective list-making. I'd try to justify my breaking of this rule, but such blatant contradictions should've been apparent from the jump. Pretty much shit the bed on this one. Nobody's perfect, right? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.