Chris Brown, Chloe Papas and the future of music journalism

This is Chris Brown

He’s a complete prick – a homophobe, a violent drunk, utterly insensitive, with idiot fans, and (as everyone must know) responsible for this appalling assault on Rihanna.

A thoroughly despicable person, then. We can all agree about that.

So, having got that out of the way, let’s have a look at a review of his new album.

This review was written by a woman called Chloe Papas for an obscure Australian magazine. She reasonably “assumed this would be read by a few hundred people” but instead somebody took a photo of the review, tweeted it, and in the last few days it’s gone viral. I haven’t spent a great deal of time on the internet but I’ve still encountered it on five separate occasions – so clearly people love it, including people I know, people whose opinions I value and respect.

But I can’t escape the fact that it’s a bad piece of journalism, and here’s why:

“For those of you out there saying that you have to separate the music and the man; screw you, don’t encourage his actions.”

This would be a fair statement in a world where bad people never made good music, or for that matter a world where people universally refused to listen to music made by bad people, but that’s not how things stand at all. Some of the best music has, unfortunately, been made by people who have done terrible things. Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Ozzy Ozbourne, James Brown and Mark E Smith have all beaten their wives and girlfriends. Don Drummond actually murdered his girlfriend. All inexcusable actions, yet in each case it remains socially acceptable to listen to their music. Why? Because in reality we find it very easy to separate a musician’s character from their work. If you disagree with this then you are free to boycott the list of artists above, and many more.

The only time we seem to find it unacceptable to listen to music is when it’s tainted by the artist – their character overflowing into their work. The members of Skrewdriver never (to my knowledge) beat anyone, but their music is unacceptable to most people because of its racism. Likewise I couldn’t imagine listening to Buju Banton because his music encourages the murder of gay men. When music is tainted by violence or prejudice it’s easy to dismiss it, but Chloe Papas has failed to demonstrate this. The quotes she takes from the album are boorish at best, but fall far short of offensiveness.

The duty of a music critic is to translate their experience. If you don’t like something then your next step should be to ask “why don’t I like it?” Either you’ll find a reason or (even better) you’ll confront your own prejudices and preconceptions. Papas clearly isn’t a fan of RnB, which is fair enough, nobody is making her like it. But instead of asking herself why she doesn’t like it she’s written a character assassination of a public hate-figure, and instead of opening up debate has closed one down. I’m not blaming her – she’s just written a short review for an obscure magazine – but holding this up as a model for music journalism is utterly counter-productive and frankly bizarre.

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2 Responses to Chris Brown, Chloe Papas and the future of music journalism

  1. jonwakeham says:

    Gore Vidal was already a successful novellist when he published ‘The City and the Pillar’ but the content was not acceptable at the time, and his critics hounded him out of the business of publishing books. These days it seems tame, and people don’t stop looking at paintings by Caravaggio after they discover his many sins. Just as important are excessive praise or damnation by critics who like to sound clever while not really doing their job. A critic should judge the work on its own merit. Don’t let the style distort the message.
    I must admit that I really liked the review of Lional Bart’s Robin Hood themed musical, ‘Twang’, “OUCH”

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