The Conversation: When is Music Too Negative, Too Hateful? Is There a Line?
|Tyler, The Creator seems like a nice young man.|
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?