The Conversation: When is Music Too Negative, Too Hateful? Is There a Line?

tyler-the-creator3.jpg
Tyler, The Creator seems like a nice young man.
Just last week, DC9 ran a review for the Gorilla Vs. Bear Festival that took place at the Granada Theater.

The show, which featured 10 acts -- from Shabazz Palaces to Preteen Zenith -- was pretty great. But a big hot-button topic surrounded the venue's "Twitter wall," which showed unedited Tweets on a screen between acts.

For a time during the show, the tweets got a little ugly. Hateful jabs at Shabazz Palaces and their fans didn't sit well with a lot of the crowd. Neither did some of the homophobic ones that showed up.

It got me thinking: Why is that commentary looked down upon as hateful and intolerant when done in that setting, but generally acceptable when done in music? While we certainly believe that no one should be censored, acts like Odd Future are pushing the limits of socially unacceptable subject matter in hip-hop.

After the jump, Pete and I discuss the reason such shocking acts have become so popular, while looking back at other acts who have pushed the boundaries in the past.

Daniel: Last week, I reviewed the Gorilla Vs. Bear Festival at Granada Theater, which was great by the way, but one of my big issues was with the Twitter board projected on the venue's side screens in between acts. Overall, the comments were funny, but as I noted, a few racist and homophobic remarks made their way onto the screen.

It really bothered me, and I don't think it sat well with our commenters either. One commenter wrote, "It probably was nothing more offensive than what you get from a typical Odd Future song. I forget where DC9 comes down on them." Pete, you responded by saying "DC9 approves of Odd Future," and posted a link to your rave review of their appearances at South by Southwest.

While I don't object to the group's music and believe that people are free to say what they want, the subject matter is a little too shocking for me. Same goes for any act that puts a high value on shocking lyrics.

So, I'm a lightweight. Whatever.

But it got me thinking: How far is too far when it comes to shock value in music? Is there a line? And if so, how far does an artist have to go before he or she crosses it? What are you thoughts, Pete?

Pete: The history of rock 'n' roll is rife with people taking things "too far." Think of all the things once deemed too "out there" for American audiences, from something as innocent now as Elvis' swaying hips to something still as thought-provoking as Karen Finley's naked spoken word/performance art offerings.

That's just the way things have always been in this world, and likely the only way they'll continue to be if the art aspect of the music is to truly keep being pushed. There are countless other examples -- like, say, the nudity seen on the album artwork offered up by The Dwarves (in town this week for a gig at The Double Wide, by the way) or even the murderous concepts behind some of Eminem's lyrics. Or, hell, Marilyn Manson wearing plastic boobs. Yes, we are all stars in the dope show.

Very little of that still looks offensive with the benefit of hindsight. I remember when Eminem first came out with The Slim Shady LP and how vulgar some of his lyrics about sex and murder were. Major talking-point stuff back at Needham High School, let me tell you. These days, though, he's pretty much without question seen as one of the greatest MCs of all-time.

Odd Future's no different. A little homophobic and crazy, maybe. OK, definitely. But the thing that makes them so great isn't their crude, often sophomoric lyrical content, but rather the vigor with which they proffer their material.

Point is, there is no line. Often, the only way to progress is to do something most see as a regression. But the message is so rarely just on the surface. It's the passion beneath the surface message that's important -- something that even my parents clearly didn't understand when they first confiscated my cassettes with Explicit Content/Parental Advisory stickers back in elementary school.

The difference is that these people are, at least in theory, artists. Douchebags who post racist and homophobic things on a Twitter wall at the Granada aren't doing so because they're being artistic. They're going for cheap laughs, and coming off like small-minded assholes in the process.

Isn't the best thing about the Gorilla Vs. Bear Fest aftermath the amount of people who've voiced their concern about the Twitter wall? Isn't that simple fact -- that very few people are OK with what they saw on there -- an encouraging thing?

Daniel: Yeah, I think that is an encouraging thing. And I am impressed by the vigor and passion in Odd Future's performances. I remember the first time I saw them. Their Jimmy Fallon performance was the craziest set I've ever seen on a talk show. I was blown away, for sure. But I had no idea what the subject matter of their music was about. I found out later that it's shocking -- possibly more shocking than any popular music to date.

I don't think that you can focus on the passion of the artist and turn a blind eye to the subject matter or the music. The passion with which they use to project their music is just extra. Marilyn Manson's fake boobs had nothing to do with his music, nor did Elvis' swaying hips. They were essentially just a way to generate buzz or sell the brand. Maybe Elvis didn't know it at the time, but he was basically establishing the formula for selling music. In retrospect, Elvis' music was legendary, and Marilyn Manson's music was OK at best. And, the shock value of the subject matter that Eminem and Marilyn Manson put out seems almost laughable these days.

All that is to say this: The subject matter of the music is the most important thing to the music. But I'm surprised that something as shocking at Odd Future has become so popular. Maybe it all just boils down to how desensitized the listener is. Maybe all those years in the hardcore hood of Needham have made you numb to world, no?

Pete: Yes, the MetroWest suburbs of Boston are truly "hard." (Not really.)

I'm not at all turning a blind eye to Odd Future's lyricism. But I honestly think that a lot of the to-do about Odd Future comes from people like you (no offense) who haven't really delved into their music and who, based on what they're reading elsewhere, think it's a problem. What Tyler, The Creator is doing really isn't any different than what Eminem did when he first blew up. At all.

Where do you see there being much of a difference? I'm asking this seriously.

Because I'm sure that, more than anything else, Tyler's pumped that his music has become such a hot-button issue. The only difference, really, is that Tegan and Sara made an issue out of Odd Future's lyricism, whereas Elton John went and performed with Eminem at the Grammy's.

Does that mean that what Tyler and his fellow Odd Future collective members are saying is A-OK? Not at all. But, as the old saying goes, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Which is also to say that, if you don't like it, you don't have to listen to it. And, even if you do listen to it, you certainly don't have to agree with it.

It's healthy to talk about things like this, even if that wasn't what Odd Future's intent was.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like, based off what you're saying, that your problem with acts like Odd Future is that you think that an artist saying one thing paves the way for an average Joe to say the same things. Sounds like a cop-out to me.

I guess I'm just not sure what your issue with it is. The fact that we're even having this conversation means that Odd Future wins, doesn't it?

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jessicacea
jessicacea

it's already been pointed out but this convo could have benefited from the inclusion of a lady person, or a gay person. or mayhaps a gay lady person.  that being said, i do love to hear the response elicited by offensive art in general and it's nice to hear it on the regional level, since the convo has been happening a while in a more national context. keep it up pals!

that said, i too was incredibly impressed with Odd Future after seeing them at SXSW at both Mess with Texas and the Fader Fort. as a feminist lady who got caught up in such a performance, i found interesting the tension in enjoying the show and trying to make sense of the content. my conclusion is best summed up with Mike Barthel's piece from The Awl, http://www.theawl.com/2011/04/... - which also links to an excellent piece from NPR music writer, Ann Powers, In Defense of Nasty Art. Barthel's essay also begins by confronting the Odd Future conversation. (i feel compelled to point out that the pit at the Odd Future show at Fader was made up of the nicest moshers i've encountered - who let us more delicate types get as close as we could without joining the pit wholly.)

the problem with the, "how far is too far?" convo is that it assumes that art has some responsibility to not offend? does it? ("no" - me.) isn't it meant to ellicit these conversations/reactions? if not, forcing these conversations might the greatest side effect of such aggressive content? especially in a day when actual domestic abuse (oh hai, entitled Chris Brown, your welcome on retaining your career) barely triggers a reaction! Tyler had to literally describe raping a lady with glass before people got up in arms. when Kanye tells me he is going to put my "pussy in a sarcophagus" (a funeral receptacle) no one bats an eye. for the record I own both albums, and plan to see both acts this Fall/Winter. art and my expectations of treatment in the actual real world, do not go hand in hand.

as far as that twitterfall goes, bigots be bigoting on the internet. lots of people were also making funny jokes, loving on the artists and complimenting the new air conditioning. real time fan interaction can be sacred too, remember how we all came to the same show? to love the same artist? and the Granada be having that thing at every show, ever! was that really new for any seasoned showgoer in the metroplex? how about all us music lovers spending time at the beloved Granada start calling those assholes out more, once bigots quit getting laid it won't be so cool to be one.

sorry so long. words require words.

Simon McDonald
Simon McDonald

I think Gavin and Jeff should have gay (yet straight) sex, and then I will write a rap song about it.  It will be great.

MattL1
MattL1

I think the key to this whole discussion is that you can't draw lines.  Daniel is, I think it's safe to say, somewhat put off by Odd Future's lyrics, while Pete sees artistic validity and "vigor" in their approach to music.  One opinion isn't more valid than the other.  I tend to steer away from "shocking" material, preferring a more subtle and crafty approach to sensitive subjects, but I won't go so far as to say that that particular approach is better.  Once you start drawing lines dividing what is "acceptable" art from what isn't, even if the vast majority agree with that stance, there is necessarily a chilling effect on both artists and audiences.  

As a professor once told me, and he may have been quoting someone else (and I may have been in an altered state), the best way to combat expression that you find offensive or distasteful is more expression.  Or just change the damn channel...

Gavin Mulloy
Gavin Mulloy

I think promoting a negative way of thinking is bad.  But That's the Problem with..., Concert Party fouls and other such stuff.  Seems Dc9 has been a lot more instagatory lately.  Yes, I make up words.

Dudebro
Dudebro

Joking, right?  In an above reply you dickishly criticize some dude's usage of the word 'sickening' and then include a dictionary entry for 'destroyed'.  Seems like you're instagatating some negativity yourself.

Gavin Mulloy
Gavin Mulloy

Totally.  Negativity is the new positiveness.    

Dave_little
Dave_little

I think this discussion also applies to stand-up. Tracy Morgan recently was taken to task for a homophobic rant from the stage. I really doubt that he would kill his son if he found out he was gay, but people had no problem being offended. I believe artists have a right to say anything. Isn't that what art is all about? So doesn't the crossing of the line happen whena person acts out the scenario from a song or a joke? I've got a great idea: The next time you get offended by a song or a joke or movie or a tv show, send a check to the Red Cross. I'm pretty sure you'll quickly develop thicker skin.

JAM
JAM

Ding Ding Ding!!!          Ref raises Daniel's arm in victory as Pete lies dazed on the canvas. 

Kurt Osterbusch
Kurt Osterbusch

The difference is pretty simple - Odd Future's "popularity" is no accident. Even if some of it is attributable to the Blog/tweet echo chamber, for something to go "viral," it needs to resonate with the host culture in order to do so. However, childish/racist/homophobic tweets (and blog comments) get no traction and are lost in the static. Replace the discussion of "art" with "viral" and you'll be closer to explaining Odd Future, and the state of today's popular culture (Kanye's Dark Twisted Fantasy's rave reviews also serves as a good example).

Jonathan Toles
Jonathan Toles

That's an interesting observation.  Do you think everything that goes viral has no artistic validity?

mike
mike

I've always thought it was best if the public can police itself, and the most effective way to do that is with your feet and your $$$.  It does seem somewhat risky to let that unedited stream flow across the screen in a crowded venue.  While it does keep you "entertained" between sets, most of it is mindless drivel...at best.  If you find it offensive, you should walk out and let the venue owner know why. Artist have always pushed the boundaries. and I think they do get some license... I remember some older folks walking out of the Kessler when the artist started lampooning southern religious practices, while most in the audience the lyrics were funny and insightful, these folks did not.  Personally, I’m get more offended by boorish behavior from the audience than from an artist…I can walk out of a show, but if its someone I want to see and the audience ruins it for me I’m likely to get pissed

Jonathan Toles
Jonathan Toles

"As soon as we start putting our thoughts into words and sentences everything gets distorted, language is just no damn good—I use it because I have to, but I don’t put any trust in it. We never understand each other." — Marcel Duchamp

amy
amy

As a woman it's really hard to listen to : "We [are] ...ready to stab a clit with some glass and shit."  and "Rape, write, repeat twice".

Artistic as fuck, I guess, because this humorless feminist just doesn't get it. There is so much academic discussion about the place of irony in revolutionary performance and communication, and not much agreement. For me, though, and knowing the stupidity of people (and don't deny it - people are stoooopid), My question is what happens when the audience just. doesn't. get it?

There are plenty of things that people "just don't get," and Eminem was never one of those things. Kids loved Eminem, their parents hated him and thus the power balance was maintained. Tyler, The Creator on the other hand, is just sort of "not understood" by everyone but fucking music critics. I get that music is about pushing boundaries and blah blah, but just because it pushes boundaries doesn't necessarily mean that it's enduring/classic/really great. 

All that being said, I would listen to Tyler, The Creator every day for the rest of my life if it meant that I didn't have to listen to Chris Brown ever again.

Liles
Liles

Just my opinion here, but you guys are totally missing the point. This isn't about specific artists or their subject matter. Take the discussion back a step: should the audience have a sanctioned platform inside the theater to comment on the show in real time? An LED board located right next to the stage encouraging twitchy teens to bleat out anonymous comments about a performance in front of the rest of the audience is, IMO anyway, pretty fuckin' sickening. A theater is supposed to be a sacred performance space, right? Or is the audience now part of the show too? You guys wouldn't be having this discussion if The Granada had not given the audience a public platform to post hateful digital graffiti on stage at their venue. Did they not take into consideration that some of these comments might ruin an otherwise perfectly good night out for their customers? Think about that for a second. As an audience member, not only were you exposed to this distracting and immature nonsense, you paid money to let somebody else in the audience taint your impression of the performance. And here we are a week after the fact, still in deep discussion about the audience and how a few of them totally destroyed what was otherwise a great vibe at the show.

Gavin Mulloy
Gavin Mulloy

LED Board?  Never seen that.  Screen with a projector, seen that.

"encouraging twitchy teens to bleat out anonymous comments about a performance in front of the rest of the audience is, IMO anyway, pretty fuckin' sickening"  

Not anonymous at all.  Name or handle is displayed.  And the first part of that sentence isn't inflammatory at all.  And is was sickening to you?  It drove you to a feeling of near nausea?  

People love the board.  95% is funny or positive.  Still haven't ever had anyone call for a refund because of the Twitterfall.The board is never up when a band plays. 

"And here we are a week after the fact, still in deep discussion about the audience and how a few of them totally destroyed what was otherwise a great vibe at the show."destroyedpast participle, past tense of de·stroy (Verb)1. Put an end to the existence of (something) by damaging or attacking it.2. Completely ruin or spoil (something).Yeah, It won't happen next year.  And in all of the reviews, Dc9's was the only mention.  

Liles
Liles

Again, just my opinion, but I think it's fuckin' idiotic to encourage or promote the use of a handheld electronic devices by audience members inside a performance space. When you step into a movie theater or live music venue, you do so to leave the rest of the world behind. It's called the willing suspension of disbelief. It's meant to be a transformative experience. You don't break down the fourth wall. You don't let just anyone in the audience stand behind the microphone (or Tweetboard, whatever) and say whatever they want. Venues like Largo in Los Angeles and the Knitting Factory in NYC forbid the use of cell phones inside the performance space. The Kessler is considering a similar policy.

That's all I'm saying: Dallas live music audiences have traditionally been less respectful than what I've see in other cities; they chatter during the quiet parts of songs, or take pictures and answer email while sitting or standing right in front of the stage. This live Twitter shit ain't helpin'. If you simply have to do it, step into the lobby. No artist wants to look out and see a roomful of people staring into their iPhones. 

The Granada and The Kessler are clearly going in opposite directions here. One is promoting the idea of an interactive audience participation experience via gimmicky Twitter nonsense; the other is showing the proper respect to the artist by providing a sacred space where the audience members are expected to act like mature and respectful adults. 

Gavin, you may think that 95% of the "people" love the Twitter board, but I can tell you firsthand that 100% of the artists that I spoken with all think it's a particularly dumb idea. 

Gavin Mulloy
Gavin Mulloy

Totally.  Sounds like the Kessler is turning into a listening room.  Which Dallas needs.  But obviously we have different goals.

And I think we should be respectful when the band DESERVES it right?  Like Kings of Leon, were those chanting there wrong?

And at most of the shows where its all seated we turn it off completely.  Older audiences don't use it.  And Old people just don't get twitter apparently.  Glad there is a new guard in town.

Dudebro
Dudebro

I'm all for respectful audiences, both for the artists' sake and for my experience, but you gotta remember that we're talking about popular live music here, not a DSO concert or a play for stuck-up richies.  Rock crowds are messy, and that's been true since forever.

just sayin'
just sayin'

Liles doesnt seem to get it. The "twitterfall" is only on between sets. It isnt some live review board where fans can write "you suck" or "play Freebird" while a band is playing. It is just something in the background while people are pissing, going to the bar, or going outside to smoke. This has nothing to do with violating a "sacred space". Its just filling the dead air for the 30 minutes between opener and headliner. I would much rather laugh at a silly one-linerfest on a wall than listen to a pretentious white guy with dreads standing beside me in the beer line talking about how tragically unhip the Dallas fan is.

Oh, and for the record, I dont twitter or facebook and I am still rocking a 6 year old razr because I think smartphones are silly.

Gavin Mulloy
Gavin Mulloy

Man, the Twitterboard isn't up when acts are playing.  When was the last show you attended at Granada where you observed this being anything other than entertainment?

 

just sayin'
just sayin'

The last time I went to the Granada, they turned the live tweet shit off as soon as the house lights went down for the band. The tweets were just a quirky distraction on the wall during that super slow window of time between bands.

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