I just read this account in the New York Times about negative criticism in the theater world. We are often told that negativity is a bad thing and I'm sure sometimes it is. But it is also a good thing when it energizes a debate about things that really matter. I had a dispiriting few minutes the other day when I ran across a slideshow of the biggest-earning celebrities. As I recall, the musicians on the list were U2, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and Paul McCartney. Now that's a sad collection. It makes one long for the days when Paganini and Liszt were the most notorious and famous musicians!
The thing is that an awful lot of music is simply awful. Perhaps it serves a purpose: in Mexico, a lot of awful music seems to be the necessary accompaniment to the frequent festivals and the ongoing ferment of life. I was looking at a house the other day and, passing through the room of a teenager, I saw she had devoted the entirety of two large walls to pictures of Justin Bieber. Nothing wrong with that. But there is also a--well, almost a duty--to point out musical strengths and weaknesses. The simple truth is that most celebrities are a pretty nasty lot: they have the dead eyes that comes from placing everything in the service of the accumulation of more money. In our world, with a little cleverness, fame = money, therefore anything we do that makes us a little more famous, makes us a little wealthier. Lady Gaga wears bizarre outfits and recycles Madonna not because these are interesting things to do, but because that is a money-making niche. It is shocking sometimes how little the greedy have to do to become wealthy. Just look at U2, a pedestrian rock band with absolutely minimal talent.
This is more than just a question of taste, I believe. I'm sure there are musical groups that share the aesthetic of U2, but actually have creative abilities. If someone could point that out, wouldn't that do us all a service? I think I help out by saying try this composer instead of that composer. Over the decades and centuries, it is this inevitable winnowing out that blows away the shallow and tiresome and leaves the great monuments of art.
Plus, there is a certain satisfaction that comes from puncturing the pretensions of the fake artists that are rolling in dough. One final thought: even before you start really listening to the music, it is a pretty good indicator that there is something wrong with the music when it mostly seems to be about posing and mugging for the camera. These days this posing and mugging seems, along with product placement, to have become absolutely generic: