Regarding Hayley Mary: a critic lashes back
“Fucking get a real job.”
French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu said, “Taste classifies and it
classifies the observer”. Everything you buy and experience – books, music,
film, games, TV, art and so on – it is these choices we make regarding our
taste that separate us from one another, and feed into our cultural capital.
Cultural wha...? Think of it in terms of finance: every object has some measure of economic capital – which is its monetary value and a utility value defined by its purpose. (Thank you, Pierre.) More important, however, in terms of character formation are the social associations made with the object, the cultural capital it confers. Who you are, where you’re from, what you look like, who you interact with, the music you choose to associate yourself with... these all carry different implications, separate to their commodity value.
If you have financial capital – money in the bank, properties, a big flashy sports car, a yacht in the Caribbean – you are accorded a certain social status, and people want to know you (mostly). For most teenagers and fans of pop music, this status is unobtainable. So how do you set yourself apart? Enter Bourdieu and his notion of cultural capital – your taste helps classify you as an individual. It accords you a social status quite distinct to that of how well off you are.
I think if I was a fan of The Jezabels and I’d woken up to read singer Hayley Mary’s diatribe against music critics on MusicFeeds yesterday, I’d be feeling a bit pissed off at her casual dismissal of pop music as not ‘serious’. I quote:
“Fucking get a real job,” the singer joked, adding, “I just think there is too much hatred in the world to have a job that is based on writing off what other people try and do, unless that person is in a serious position of power. I don’t mind when people criticise politicians, or like the army or something. Musicians are just writing songs. You don’t need to get all vitriolic about the situation.
So, according to Hayley, pop music is just “musicians writing songs” – not important enough to merit discussion or discourse or have criticism levelled at it at all. Fuck! How do fans of The Jezabels feel about that?
Or did they already suspect it?
There’s nothing wrong with music teaming up with fashion, of course. Ask The Rolling Stones. Ask Beyoncé. Ask the original punks. Ask Lady Gaga. There is everything wrong with music teaming up with fashion when it leads to sounds as inoffensive, as featureless as those created by The Jezabels, though. (They won the Australian Music Prize in 2011 for having the bright idea of matching a female vocal to Coldplay-derived music.) There’s been a lot of talk in the last few days about the idea that the success of triple j has slowly but surely homogenised Australian music (i.e. bands specifically alter their sound so as to get airplay). The Jezabels are a great example of this.
According to Haley, criticism is OK when it comes to politics or the ‘real world’, but not when dealing something as insubstantial and throwaway as pop music. But taste serves social distinction – so, if anything, the music that you choose to listen to is actually more important than politics. It directly feeds into your identity (defined both in relation to yourself and the outside world) and is something you have control over.
In other words, it’s not just pop music. It’s never just pop music.
Analysis has clearly preceded output at every turn in the making of this album. Every gesture is reaction-bait, chosen with cynical precision and semiotic canny. It’s an exercise in trend-spotting. And it’s not even clever about how calculated it is; in fact, it’s offensive how low they’ve aimed in making a batch of recordings that are so patently engineered to get a bunch of A&R guys’ perineums tingling. If your only aspiration for your music was market dominance, would it hurt you to try and lead it a little, even if you’re just leveraging your audience’s lust for hipness?
Here’s another interesting point about the singer’s “jokey” diatribe. Hayley suggests that if a music critic doesn’t like an album, they shouldn’t review it. (Wow! You looked around yourself recently, Hayley? You’ve just described music criticism in web 2.0 environments.) She says, reserving particular wrath for those cads over at Mess+Noise,
Clearly it’s not for you, so you’re communicating something that’s not that helpful to someone who might potentially like it, or not like it. It’s just hate, and gushing is similarly as uninformative and not helpful.
So if music critics aren’t supposed to be offering critiques of music or criticising (the clue is in the job title) what should they be doing? And who is taking on their role as opinion-leaders? And would it really be better for music as a whole if no one is contributing to the dialogue around it, except for those with vested interests and the occasional fan? For isn’t this what, historically, usually happens in Australia. And isn’t this the reason why Australia is traditionally ridiculed in the rest of the world – pop-music wise – for such abominations against nature as Silverchair and INXS and Savage Garden?
Where’s Nick Cave, just when you need him least?
“The American music press is completely deferential. And the Australian music press…well, there isn’t really one to speak of. It’s not worth discussing the Australian music press.” – Nick Cave, Plan B Magazine, March 2007
As Dennis Kennedy writes in the introduction to The Spectator And The Spectacle: Audiences in Modernity and Postmodernity:
“A spectator is a corporeal presence but a slippery concept ... audiences do not come readymade. They are created.”
Audiences are vital to the well-being of any industry. Without an audience to sell the product to, the industry cannot exist. If music critics are no longer helping to shape and inform consumer opinion within the field of music production, who is taking on that responsibility?
I humbly suggest that if Hayley Mary really cares that little for the art form her band are associated with, then she should (to use her phrasing), “f-cking get a real job”.