[If you’re looking for something through-provoking, look no further than this article in the Chicago Tribune that outlines some of the biggest ethical dilemmas facing music and music fans today. – AC]
It’s a cruel world. Here’s why being a virtuous music listener feels harder than ever.
Whenever a teacher or professor invites me to their class to speak about my work as a pop music critic, I jump at the chance, eager to blab with students about whichever songs might be lighting up their brains that week. And while I’ve been making classroom visits for years, I’ve never felt sufficiently prepared for certain questions that always seem to materialize – questions about cultural appropriation, problematic lyricism, selling out, the ethics of posthumous listening, and the slippery white whale of 21st-century cultural criticism, “separating the art from the artist.”
Part of what makes these questions so vexing is our desire to answer them decisively, as a unified, monolithic listening public. But how do we even begin to answer them as individuals? A few months ago, I promised one group of students that I would give it a go. Here I am.
And here we are, living in an era in which listeners expect their favorite musicians to reflect their personal values and politics in neat, legible, completely literal ways. We demand that our pop heroes be virtuous in their private lives, valiant in their public art – and if they aren’t, we try to compensate by being ethical in our listening. And we expect the same of our peers, so we patrol neighboring fandoms on social media as if music were no longer something we each experience privately inside our heads.
Still, music remains as private and mysterious as ever, and while some view music criticism as a clarifying force, I would much rather try to put people in touch with the mystery. That’s another way of saying that I don’t have foolproof answers to the five hardest questions in pop music – only tactics to better cope with them. Here they are.
This is really good. Keep reading.