Photo via DORK
If I had to look back on it critically, I think I realized I was a hater back in elementary school (primary school for our European readers). There was so much of what I now recognize to be formative music being released at the time; Justin Bieber's "Baby (feat. Ludacris)" had just come out, The Black Eyed Peas were on top of the world, we were still giggling to each other about what LMFAO stood for, and One Direction had just started charting with "What Makes You Beautiful." What a time for tunes, fueling one of my now only regrets, that I wasn't old enough to truly appreciate the music of the day-- white girl wasted in a club on a Thursday, just as God (Pitbull) intended.
But as a kid just shy of nine, ten and eleven years old, you couldn't openly admit that "Baby" was the hit of the decade. You were big, strong man, fastest on the playground, capable of lifting as many chairs as the teachers needed for assemblies-- you had to be an Anti-Belieber, you couldn't have a favorite member of 1D, and heaven forbid you knew the chorus to a Lady Gaga song. You only knew boy songs because boys could only sing to boy songs sang by boys, for boys, with the boys. It was the 2000's, it was a whole thing. As we all matured (or realistically, as we all got old enough to drink), I liked to imagine in my fairy tale world that many of those ignorant ideas about gender stereotypes, and in turn, music, were unlearned. But as a natural-born hater, I still enjoy my unfounded and illogical distaste for certain albums, artists, songs, etc. Consequently, I have found myself sprinting back to the music that painted the picture of authenticity I'd outlined in my head, and in doing so, I have not only limited my exposure to new music, but also dulled my ability to hate more effectively.
This is not to say that I haven't had moments of brilliance since unintentionally narrowing my listening habits. I have still been able to find the time to hate or be generally underwhelmed by several albums and artists, many of which I am fans of, others not so much. Somewhere between my journey to become a better writer and personal side quests to become more outwardly punk, my critical listening and hating skills (much like my reading comprehension) began to dwindle, leaving me with half the motivation to find new music I once had.
I'd be lying if I said half of the fault didn't lie with me. I was raised on rock n' roll, I'm a lover of the sweet, Southern blues, it was no surprise that I'd make my way to the harder stuff. Punk and blues rock spoke to me in ways I was unable to form into words, there was a layer of authenticity that I just wasn't getting out of most of the new albums and artists overflowing out of the Hit Machine. I wanted music that was what it sounded like, rather than music that sounded like it needed to meet certain criteria to be considered part of the genre.
Tommy Jordan, singer-songwriter and front man of Geggy Tah, described the style I'm referring to as "music from the neck down." In This Is What It Sounds LIke, by neuroscientist and Purple Rain producer, Susan Rogers, she explains that what Jordan is referring to are "compositions and performances that seem to bypass the circuits that restrain our social behaviors, delivering music that sounds as though it comes straight from the heart, guts, or hips" (Rogers & Ogas, 2022, pg. 23). In contrast, Jordan referred to more cerebral and technical tunes as "music from the neck up" (Rogers & Ogas, 2022, pg. 24). Regardless of terminology, that's what I crave, I need music that I can feel in my hips, in my guts, that connects the sparks in my brain with the same level of passion and need as when I first heard B.B. King sing "The Thrill is Gone" on Live in Cook County Jail. I crave that raw, emotional, bodily storytelling of the blues and it's sublets because of what it makes me feel rather than for it's technical aspects (which is not to say I don't dig a face-scrunching string and keys solo). I look for the reserved strength and bottomless energy of Fenton Robinson, The Rolling Stones, and Etta Janes because it makes me feel like a part of something bigger, in much the same way frat boys are drawn to hip hop and rap because it's a departure from their Wonder Bread upbringing.
I do not mean to imply, however, that there is not neck-up, cerebral music that evokes emotion just as strong or as genuine as hip-shaking neck-down tunes, there are plenty of technically proficient bands that are able to write and produce complex, heart wrenching pieces of music that we still talk about today; Ms. Lauryn Hill, Radiohead, and The 1975 are perfect examples of this idea. Where we start to stray, and where I believe my hang up started, is the art school inclination of most indie and alternative music, as well as much of what has begun to chart in recent years. This is not necessarily due to a change in standards in higher education in the arts, and is more of a confession of the price of admission into the music industry as a whole (that's a separate piece, one written by our fearless leader, check it out here), but does not change the fact that as music evolves and young artists and bands begin to experiment and blend, the genres that were once neck-down expressions of the common feeling become overrun and saturated by what Liam Gallagher graciously coined "art school wankers."
Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Most of your favorite acts are probably classically trained or art school educated in some way; Jack Antonoff attended the Professional Children's School in New York, Phoebe Bridgers went to Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, even Reneé Rapp graduated from Northwest School of the Arts in my hometown of Charlotte, NC. Being able to study art and music at a higher level is an incredible privilege and does not immediately make the music bad or less authentic. It does, however, put the music under a different lens and potentially harsher criteria than music made by bands like The Chats or Soul Glo, bands who shred despite having no formal musical education. Antonoff in particular, I would argue has the biggest target on his back at the moment when it comes to art school wanker-ness, considering his new musical direction-- a soulless emulation of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, albeit a catchy and self-referential imitation.
It's because of the art school kids coasting down highways lined in mediocrity that the trained bands with real impact get the wrong rep. If you're a person with ears who listens to music on occasion you've most likely heard the term "industry plant" haphazardly and often wrongly labeled over the last few years, the latest target of which being the Bowie/Mercury reminiscent opera rock band from South London, The Last Dinner Party. The group has been raking in headlines, accolades and spiteful, testosterone-charged hate messages since the release of their debut single, "Nothing Matters."
While lead guitarist Emily Roberts and keyboardist Aurora Nischevi both come from more classical backgrounds, both having studied at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the band brings an exciting new direction and unique perspective to guitar music and rock fusion, last seen performed by rock figureheads such as Heart and the aforementioned David Bowie. The Last Dinner Party is the right chemical balance of Jordan's neck-up and neck-down music, employing multiplex rhythms and melodies and captivating operatic swells, the presence of which are especially apparent on their most recent single "Caesar on a TV Screen," a tongue-in-cheek caricature of the fragile male desire for power and acceptance, personified as a despot traditionally misinterpreted in the male-dominated media.
The South Londoners are shattering templates and exceeding genre limits in ways that we have not seen since the death of David Bowie or the New York indie sleaze boom of the early 2000's. But because the band is comprised of five women, The Last Dinner Party is fated to fight uphill carrying the label of industry plant and other undeserved accusations alike based solely on their presented gender and seemingly unprecedented rise to fame. However, with five previously released hit singles under their belt and their debut LP, Prelude to Ecstasy, set for release on Friday, February 2, the fearsome five will undoubtedly put the hecklers back in their place.
But what separates The Last Dinner Party from trash acts with just as much as musical education, like YUNGBLUD or the internet's favorite punching bag, TX2? As we discussed earlier, TLDP enjoys a healthy layer of authenticity and originality that employs the best of the neck-up and neck-down tactics; poignant and thoughtful lyrics that evoke strong emotional reactions form the listener, backed and bolstered by clear and confident instrumental and theoretical proficiency in their chosen genres. While that does not absolve them of their status as art school wankers, which they makes no effort to hide or dispute I might add, they choose to take their formal training to grow and create something new, interesting, and unique to their shared and individual experiences. Where dumpster fire posers like YUNGBLUD and TX2 fall short (it's like conjuring Beetlejuice every time I say their names), is their lack of attention to detail and the perhaps sheer inability to rise to some level of originality, instead clinging to tired motifs and hollow personas born from their thirst for relevancy rather than artistry.
The artist, however, is only responsible for so much. While I like to imagine that labels are made up of music lovers with an appreciation for new and exciting sounds and respect for the history of it all, it doesn't take a degree to recognize that this is not the case. In the music industry, all publicity is good publicity, no matter how lame or played out you or I may think an artist to be (yes, I'm talking about you, all of The Hives). As listeners, we ultimately influence what stays, what goes, and what endures in the musical meta, hence why Tom MacDonald has been able to maintain a following large enough to convince Conservative pundit Ban Shapiro to record a verse on his latest sewer water drinking bigot anthem, or why Nicki Minaj's "Big Foot" is getting unironic streams.
As an engaged listener, it's important to engage in a healthy amount of hating. You don't need to wake up early to have extra time to be a hater or anything like that, that's why come to us, we get loud and opinionated so you don't have to. But hating is good! According to "The Importance of Hating People" by Harvard Crimson editor David Weinfeld, hating is a physiologically beneficial practice for rounded individuals; a practice that allows you to keep people you detest in your life "to set up as contrasts with those we really love and respect" (Weinfeld, 2004). The same principal applies to music. We listen to music we enjoy because we enjoy it and recommend it to our friends and fellow nerds because we feel they'll enjoy it too. In contrast, we listen to bad music to strengthen our attachment to our chosen favorites and so us nerds have something to talk about (I don't have a position on this magazine without bad music).
But don't just hate to be a hater. Unfounded hate does nobody any good, and limits your musical landscape. Take a look back through your playlists or favorite albums, scroll through and get a better understanding of your musical biases and what you look for in new music and move accordingly. You will eventually find new records that fit the template you've defined, but you should still give the new stuff a chance, even if just a listen or two, before you decide you hate it or love it. If you do decide you don't like something, say that shit with your chest and don't be afraid to stand by that opinion, even if it's wrong (and we will tell you if its wrong). I wouldn't be a new fan of The Last Dinner Party or have destroyed my algorithm with Tate McRae's most recent album otherwise.
Recognize your own musical prejudices and use them to your advantage, become an ungovernable, well-informed and well-read listener. Don't just tell people their music sucks, tell them why it sucks in (excruciating) detail. Be an ethical hater.
The Last Dinner Party
Rogers, S., & Ogas, O. (2023). This is What It Sounds Like: A Legendary Producer Turned Neuroscientist on Finding Yourself Through Music. WW Norton & Co.
Weinfeld, D. A. (2004, March 4). The Importance of Hating People. The Harvard Crimson. https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2004/3/4/the-importance-of-hating-people-heres/