Death of the Critic

Ramblings on Criticism

Written by: Tom Blaich


Recently an interesting thought came to mind. I’m a critic, for better or for worse, and it makes me think about the media that I consume in an interesting way. I can’t help myself but look for symbolism and deeper meanings within work, and there is something amazing about discussing them with my friends.

I was looking at coverage of the Grammys the other night when I saw that
Kendrick Lamar had finally won Rap Album of the Year for To Pimp a Butterfly, a masterful rap album that talks about his experience becoming famous. And while I do think that this should have won Album of the Year over 1989, that isn’t what I want to talk about today.

I love
To Pimp a Butterfly. I think that it is one of the most significant rap albums ever made. But it isn’t my favorite album of last year. That would have to go to Summertime ’06, the debut double studio album of young artist Vince Staples. The album follows young Staples through the summer of 2006: the summer where he became a man.

He hasn’t been quiet about his gang affiliations in his past and in my opinion it is an amazingly powerful, darkly beautiful album that didn’t get enough attention last year.
But iIt is not better than
To Pimp a Butterfly.

I should make that clear, first and foremost. To Pimp a Butterfly is objectively a better album. It is a masterpiece of composition and writing, blending disparate elements into something moving and special, with lines that still have an impact on you after you’ve listened to them dozens of times.

But I feel like there is something valuable that we as critics forget when we are speaking about a piece of work. Consumer criticism is not objective. By its very nature, the criticism that we write have when we are reviewing a piece of work is inherently subjective. And if I sat down with an album, and I could look at it objectively and say that it had terrible writing, not the greatest beats, and weird features, yet I kept coming back to it, isn’t that something worth mentioning?

Critics want to be the authority on a piece of work, but all it leads to is dozens of reviews that read like the exact same script interpreted by different people. The same songs are mentioned, the same lines. The same praises and criticism. There is nothing unique or different. I’ve written about
To Pimp a Butterfly before, and for the most part my review would read like anyone else’s. I am more critical of the work as a whole, but the praises I put onto the album are no different than you might find with Pitchfork or NPR.

If a review deviates from this norm it is looked down upon, and it leads to a culture where we no longer even have to look at the ways in which people are talking about albums. Or any media in general. If you go to a site like
Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes, or any review aggregator, you will quickly notice these trends being developed about each work. Trends that subsequent writers feel like they are forced to follow, lest they be called out.

What is wrong with liking something that someone else dislikes? The entire purpose of a reviewer is to learn if their tastes are in line with yours and see if you can trust their opinions. By whitewashing an entire industry of writers into a bland mural, we are losing the fantastic writers that we have.
It's ok for me to like or not like something that is popular/unpopular. That is simply my opinion, and when I recommend something, I do it based off of my opinion. It’s what I’m trying to accomplish here, with this project. I want to be able to write about what I experience, whether I like it or not. If I dislike something, why do I dislike it?

I want to examine my biases and use them to develop a different type of criticism: a type that more people can relate to. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. In fact, I expect most people to disagree. I don’t claim to be the only voice on criticism or to always be right. In fact, I’m wrong a lot. But there is something to be said about a willingness to deviate from the norm. I don’t claim to be an expert of any sort. I’m a young guy. 22 years old. But that doesn’t mean that my opinions and experiences don’t matter. I’m just asking you to go along for the ride.



Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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