Music Criticism Is Tongue-Tied, Says Daily Beast's Ted Gioia

By James Inverne on Mar 19, 2014 07:33 PM EDT

A very interesting piece comes to us from Ted Gioia at The Daily Beast about music criticism, or rather its death, or rather its inability or unwillingness to use technical language or display, you know, any kind of actual knowledge. It's especially interesting because it seems to take the viewpoint of mainstream, pop music criticism, referencing outlets like Billboard and even American Idol (I know, that last isn't exactly a bastion of intelligent criticism but apparently Harry Connick, Jr. was sniggered at for using the word "pentatonic"). Sigh.

Classical music, which is actually still reviewed in more technical terms, at least in its specialist journals (I write having been the editor of perhaps the most prominent, Gramophone), also suffers from this somewhat. But to nothing like the same extent as pop. On the other hand, I'd argue that pop music is shorter-form and therefore often much less complex than its classical cousin. However, classical music critics have been lamenting the slow diminution of the critical vocabulary for years. Opera magazine about three or four years ago ran an excellent piece about just that.

But the root of the problem is not the writers, as Slate infers. There are always great writers. But the editors sometimes, themselves, suffer from a lack of knowledge and don't know what they should be looking for. And the publishers don't want to pay for the best of the best, at least not in music writing. So, while there are still fabulous writers around, their incentives to keep writing are hardly irresistible.

But it's emphatically not that readers don't have the patience or appetite for linguistically adept reviews. Because other genres have, if anything, developed on that front--take a look at some of the film criticism around, or the visual arts. There at least a few mainstream critics are not afraid to reach for esoteric comparisons or even the odd technical phrase.

Has there ever been such a serious discussion happening around graphic novels, or what we used to call comic books? What are those forms doing right that music is getting wrong?

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TagsThe Daily Beast, Ted Gioia, Billboard, American Idol, Harry Connick Jr., Gramophone, Slate

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