4 min read

on objectivity

on objectivity

Today it’s 75 degrees in Philadelphia. I went to Penn Treaty Park with a bottle of cider and new sunglasses to read Joan Didion’s Let Me Tell You What I Mean. I have a business degree so I didn’t read any Didion until my twenties. I wish that weren’t the case, but had I been exposed any earlier her work would have convinced me not to get a business degree so maybe it’s for the better. In the first essay she discusses enjoying alternative papers not because they’re well written or doing imperative journalism, but because the writer is talking directly to the reader in a way that is appealing and interesting. She says, “They assume that the reader is a friend… this assumption of a shared language and common ethic lends their reports a considerable cogency of style.”

Of course, she’s right. Obviously. It’s why I get copies of the Chicago Reader delivered. It’s also true of many forms of culture writing and discussion I like best. Zines and newsletters and podcasts— the appeal is in the approach. The opposite is also why I find most people who write about music and culture hard to read. There should be a barrier to entry. The way I see it, I should feel like the person writing is speaking to me with a level of assumption of understanding the way a friend would. Faux objectivity is a plague upon music writing specifically.

I don’t believe in the value of general interest culture writing. Talk to me like you expect me to have a baseline of understanding or it’s not worth my time. Objectivity holds no weight for me because the music I like best is all about feeling and culture and buying in.

Now is about when you should be asking what my point is. You don’t like reviews, fine. You’re a hypocrite, but fine. Stay with me.

The other day my dear friend and podcast cohost called The Sidekicks the “most overrated underrated band.” And this isn’t about whether he’s right (fake concept, I disagree, etc), but I do want to discuss the thoughts I had following the response to that statement.

The Sidekicks are a band that have long been sold to me as capital I Important. The best band in the world. The most underrated band in the world. Superlatives out the ass. And you know what! I’m a big fan of the band. I’m an Awkward Breeds gal myself, but in the summer you can’t get much better than Happiness Hours. I think the songwriting is great. The melodies are great. There’s a lot to enjoy, but I think the underlying “you should think this is great” from people you think are great is what’s really important.

The phenomenon of Your Favorite Band’s Favorite Band is strong. I can tell you I think The Weakerthans are special for a lot of reasons, but I only got there because people I love and/or respect have evangelized John K. Samson. I think “Twin’s Twist” is a great song, but I love it because I’ve spent every summer blasting it in my ex-boyfriend’s car screaming along. There’s a lot you can say about Jeff Rosenstock’s songwriting, but the thing that made me love his music and understand his impact is listening to the fan interviews in the Bomb the Music Industry documentary.

I think the worst thing someone can say about music is that it’s objectively well done. That is scathing and any time I say it you should not take it as an endorsement. For me, there’s no power in objectivity. There’s nothing compelling about the who, what, when or how.

I think that’s what’s so disenchanting for me about reviews and the vast majority of music writing.

When I wrote about orgcore last year I had to read a lot of articles posted on PunkNews and they were not all good. In fact, they were mostly bad but that’s not really the point. I left that exercise not thinking “Dillinger Four is the best band in the world” but instead thinking “these people love Dillinger Four so much it’s nuts and I should probably try to see why for myself” which, for me, is infinitely more powerful. To the same end, “these people think this band blows and are mentioning it specifically and repeatedly, I should check that out” is present too and just as cool to me.

There is so much lost when so much writing is positioning itself as objective. You can’t build communities around the concept of objectively good music. Or you could, but that’s how you get Radiohead’s boring fanbase and men emailing me that my review of a Wilco album sucks a year and a half after publication.

Most of the stuff I love isn’t reviewed all that positively by the centralized music press, if it’s reviewed at all. Including bands that come from this in-between era of the internet who weren’t given a boost by the music press in any significant way— bands like The Sidekicks. But I think it’s better to divest from caring about that. Invest in writing and discussion that feels like it’s speaking to you like a friend. You can create community— for better or for worse— around that. Invest in the feeling and the love (or hate) people have for what’s going on.

I’m going to close the paid tier of this newsletter. I’m not stopping, but I can’t take your money in good conscience and it’s just a lot of stress.

Thanks for the support. If you paid for a year subscription, I’ll still be posting every once in a while, but if you want something from me shoot me an email. Not sure what I have to give, but we can figure it out.

Follow me on twitter @mirandareinert. Listen to my podcast. It's called Endless Scroll.