Your fave may “never” but it helps to be critical of them. Here’s why.
Having a newborn means you lose those sweet moments of sleep you used to take for granted (particularly if you’re nocturnal like me). I missed all of Superbowl 50 in substitute for much-needed rest and with it the Halftime Show. Now, it’s not usually something I tune in for; most of the acts they’ve had in recent years don’t move me outside of extravagant multi-million dollar TV segments. However, I knew Beyoncé would be there again and the usual frenzy of BeyHive stans and questionable faux-menists would be there with her for their own respective reasons. Currently, I’ve only seen clips of her performance and I do plan on watching (and listening) to it all in full at some point but a Twitter thread posted by a friend of mine caught my eye on the subject of that performance.
So, I finally sat back and took another listen to "Formation" x Beyoncé and I realized that I was so caught up in my stan essence,
— L'lerrét Ailith (@llerretallure) February 8, 2016
As critiques go, this is perfect. I’m by no means a Beyoncé fan past a few songs from her discography but reading that certainly made me see her current work in a slightly different light – a blacker light. And that’s precisely what we all need as music listeners and fans of our respective faves. Lately, I’ve been thinking more critically of Michael Jackson, who I stan HARD for and have done for many years. I’ve questioned whether he was a misogynist based on the representation of women in some of his songs. You won’t get many if any fans doing that but it’s a valid area to look at and evaluate. I’ve read some things that made me think he isn’t and it helped me understand his work a lot better, breathing everlasting life into a body of work that continues to give me everlasting life.
It’s refreshing to raise these “controversial” questions and see others do it and garner opinions because if anything it can reinforce the fandom and make it stronger. It can also fill gaps in your fandom or the interpretation of their work. Beyoncé is a mega star and if her work moves away from that capitalist/white gaze perspective, it’ll get scrutinised to the hilt but as long as we critique correctly and properly, it can only enrich the further work and growth she does. Beyoncé is just an example, and the easiest example at that as she’s arguably the biggest female superstar in the world right now. Kanye West is probably someone who needs this level of critique because being surrounded by media yes men has cultivated a misguided school of thought around what his work is supposed to represent. He can release songs like Black Slaves and we can go hard in the paint at the club when the beat drops but Ye isn’t removed from that white gaze himself, the one he clearly conforms to and has married into if we’re totally honest. A level playing field for critique, not only for his music but his overall personality and ethic, could actually answer some of the questions that his work arises, because there is certainly more head scratching than switching light bulbs going on.
I suppose all of this stems from one statement. Something most fans will refute to their dying day: your fave is problematic in some way. Whether it be something to do with how they treat women or have had drug or drink problems, they have either had problems or reinforced a problem with something they’ve done. Moral judgement is left to the individual fan but critical judgement should be left with the fandom as a whole. It’s often questioned whether we should separate the artist from their art and it’s something that’ll never have a closed succinct answer. Should we only appreciate Miles Davis for his music and completely disregard his abuse of women? Should we hold the same opinion for Chris Brown? We invariably become hypocritical when it comes to these subjects because we see our faves through the rose-tinted glasses they sell us. But if you take those off for a second and look critically at what they do and what they say, it may bring some internal conflict but it could also reaffirm the fandom you hold so dear.
One of the biggest personal turnarounds for me is with Nicki Minaj. My first exposure was on Kanye’s Monster. Her verses blew me away and I was ready to hear more. Instead, I got Pink Friday and Roman’s Revenge. I tried to listen to Pink Friday and I had to stop halfway through. Perhaps it just wasn’t for me or it was genuine trash, I don’t know (okay, maybe I do but I’m being diplomatic for the sake of this article). Fast forward 5 years and I’m suddenly warming to her and on her side in regards to sexuality, race and female representation. The music I’ve yet to grow fond of but much like with Beyoncé, I’m open to that changing and I welcome the new subtext. That’s not to say I will only care about someone I’ve disliked if they conform to what I believe but it does unlock a door to both the future and the past. Something I pondered on a few months back – which ties in quite well with Minaj – is my dislike of trap music. And then I realised: trap music is just another facet of black music and the black experience and perhaps their story wasn’t something I was comfortable with or could understand. I’ve never been or lived in the Projects. I know little to nothing of the trap world or its culture so who am I to even judge? Its beat may appear monotonous in composition and style to me but I might be ignoring the subtext, no matter how materialistic it may appear to me. At the end of the day, it’s another chapter of that black experience and I have no right to invalidate it because I didn’t write it myself.
But questioning your fave doesn’t mean invalidating what they are doing. Bringing a well-rounded discourse is essential for them to grow and for your fandom to grow too. How can you expect your favourite artist to evolve and extend their reach if you stay in the past thinking their debut can’t be topped? Their experiments are going to be jarring and divide opinion but as long as you look at things objectively, there’ll be no perceived mistakes, just unique decisions.