Let’s get this out of the way: I write negative reviews about music because I hate music, and you should hate it too.
After all, what is music if it isn’t something to dump on? Taking what people love, analyzing it piece by piece and ripping it to shreds to invalidate their enjoyment is what I thrive on. I just want to take your favorite album and show you why it’s so terrible until you hate it yourself. What, you thought I listened to music because I like it?
Just kidding! I love music.
A lot of people know me for my notorious dislikes. I could aggravate K-pop fans in an instant with my sweeping criticisms of the genre. My friends would put J. Cole on the aux at my own party just to mess with me. If I want to turn a whole room against me, all I have to do is say “I think Lana Del Rey is kind of boring” — that’s always been a very unpopular take.
Talking about my dislikes was pretty exciting for me early in my music-appreciating career. As soon as I crossed some threshold of having listened to enough hip hop, I felt like I was qualified to make assessments on big releases in the genre. At some point I found myself questioning: Why am I full of dislikes? Do I think so highly of my own opinion that I assume everyone else is wrong and I’m on some sort of mission to correct them? Can’t I just let people who like J. Cole live in peace?
Well, turns out there is joy to be had in saying: “Your favorite album sucks.” Last year I attended a few meetings for Hip Hop Congress, a rap music production and appreciation club at the University. If those meetings were any indicator, sharing hot takes and strong negative opinions is really prevalent in the hip-hop community. I was definitely partaking in the smack talk myself. But that experience helped me realize something: The joy isn’t in changing other people’s opinions or ruining their favorites for them. The fun is in the debate and the argument.
Maybe that’s why I like doing what I do so much. I can’t help but think critically about why I like and don’t like music — I’ll be doing that in my head whether I’m writing it down or not — but putting that opinion into words is a springboard for debate. Debate might be one of the most fulfilling ways to appreciate art.
Arguing is all fun and good. The hip-hop head in me is always ready to defend an unconventional Kanye album ranking. However, I want to be known for the music I love, not the music I hate. I don’t get joy out of making people dislike an album they previously liked. On the other hand, nothing matches the excitement of getting someone to take a chance on an album they never would have considered before.
A real passion has started to emerge for me in finding music that means something to other people. In 2019, I fell in love with slowthai, SOPHIE, JPEGMAFIA and so many more game-changing acts in music. The only joy greater than listening to those artists is introducing them to my friends.
The other night, I picked up my brother and his friends from the bar. The day before, I had introduced him to the unconventional music of 100 gecs. I don’t know how to articulate the surrealness of four drunk frat bros rolling into my car at one in the morning demanding I play “money machine.”
That’s the kind of domino effect I want to start as a devoted appreciator of music. So I’ve started to focus on talking more about music I love.
Nowadays, when I run into friends at a party, they’ll ask my thoughts on the new BROCKHAMPTON album, the new Kero Kero Bonito EP or the new Rina Sawayama single. One pal of mine texts me artists I should try all the time. Many of my fellow music writers also love Rex Orange County, so when Pony came out, I didn’t want to call dibs on reviewing it — but it was my team on the Music beat that said I had to write about it.
At some point, three out of five songs on my Spotify top-five-most-listened being by Kero Kero Bonito became funnier than my mocking impression of J. Cole’s “Wet Dreamz.” That’s something I’m pretty okay with. Bad albums will still get no mercy from me. But my 2020 will be all about artists that are pushing music forward, not holding it back.