This post was first published at Capitalize the B Newsletter

Given the state of the many choices of social media platforms and their catering to a different piece of your attention, it’s been harder to cultivate communal moments like we used to. Fewer artists seemingly stop the world and invoke curiosity with each project they release. (Again, you can attribute this to how we receive and consume music). But this past Friday was different as Taylor Swift released her 11th full-length album, The Tortured Poets Department. Then, surprise, Swift announced it was a double album, and fans rejoiced, parsing through every metaphor and story as they had with most of her previous music. On the flip side to that, a collective uneasiness weighed throughout the journalistic community.

How do we write about this album in a manner that doesn’t subject the critics to an enormous amount of abuse? If somebody just so happened to issue a poignant critique of the album not steeped in unbridled adoration and praise, will it be worth it for all the potential doxing and comments of “you don’t get it” that they will receive in the future? Paste Magazine chose to forgo adding a byline simply because of these fears. In these moments, we have to collectively ask ourselves why we consider critiques a personal attack against ourselves and how society would look if we had an extreme devotion to things and people without the inference of individualized thought. Art cannot survive without different perspectives; it’s how the magic gets made, and it’s okay if it looks different from person to person. If I go to the MoMA and see a Henri Matisse painting, a person standing beside me will probably have a different experience from where they are standing. If I’m listening to a Deftones song, the meaning to me might be completely different from a fan living in Los Angeles. It’s those different interpretations of art that keep the medium thriving. It wouldn’t be healthy if we all took it in a uniform, rather dull manner. 

A principle often forgotten is that critics are fans of the medium they assess. They frequently face dwindling pay, fewer job opportunities, and immense pushback from the culture of standom that sometimes risks their safety. What often keeps them going is remembering when they arrived four hours early to stand in front of the barricade so they could interact with their favorite band or singer. There isn’t a mass conspiracy to get an album, listen to it, formulate an informed opinion about it all for the sake of tanking said creative world/having a vendetta against a particular artist (at least, I hope not).

Art cannot survive without different perspectives; it’s how the magic gets made, and it’s okay if it looks different from person to person.

When you’re a critic, you go in with the consideration that an artist, director, actor, etc., has put in a considerable amount of effort and time to make their art form and release it into the world. It can be a considerably nerve-wracking and often vulnerable experience. Whether the review is negative, critics do consider this to provide reasons why certain things don’t necessarily work for them. The issue is the need to draw a line between fan admiration and the ability to differentiate one’s identity. I get it. You’re going through a hard time, breakup, or loss, and an album speaks to you because it feels like the artist and accompanying melodies are the only ones that understand what you’re going through. It’s like a friend talking to you through a speaker, and even though you have never met before, you’re just happy that someone could create something in a three- or four-minute digestible bite that personifies everything within your world.

But there’s a danger of not seeing yourself slip across the line to obsession and uncontested worship. Because an artist might be highly forthcoming with their experiences, there’s a delusion that you must defend their honor—their experiences have become your experiences. After a while, you forget where they start and end. Then, a non-stop crusade exists against people who don’t “get it” because you’ve internalized they don’t get you. That’s why publications feel the need to lock the doors and latch the windows to prepare themselves for the possibility of oncoming attackers like an invasion. 

We must collectively step back and look in the mirror to figure out why we provide country to extreme fanaticism, not realizing the artists behind the heart are human. Removing them from a mantle of perfection will allow a healthier space for them to connect to us. Eminem’s ‘Stan’ coined the phrase, and the song heeded as a warning against this. Swift speaks about this with the new song, “I Can Do It With A Broken Heart.” The way she talks about this topic and how her career has been forged, it almost feel like a Twilight Zone episode. Some of this album indicates being caught in an endless cycle of expectation that turns into exhaustion. If a critic notices something like this, it’s okay to say it without having an adverse reaction to how the album affected you. It’s not as if these reviews are slapped together; critique is an art within itself. 

To be honest, a society without thoughtful critique is dangerous, and this doesn’t only pertain to music or pop culture. You can vote for a particular presidential candidate and critique them on a policy decision that might not be great for the collective if they are elected. When we confine this to music, it’s beautiful that people listen to and react differently to an album— so let it happen before deciding to tear down the doors of those who aren’t necessarily blown away in the same fashion you are. There’s room for nuance on the battlefield, and critics are not your enemies, but maybe the harder lesson to see is that relation to allegiance is.