Song Review: Grady Smith – “Critic”

 The short version: N/A

Personal rating: N/A

The long version:

There are two points I’d like to establish before moving on with this piece:

  1. I don’t know how much of an actual “review” this will be considering that the only element I can really talk about is the lyrics. I mean, it’s not like I can say it’s overproduced or something along those lines. The guitar playing is fine and the singing is fine but other than that, my sole focus is on the lyrics.
  2. No, I’m not a professional critic and never plan to be one. I am a lowly blogger, so maybe I don’t have any right to say anything about this song. However, even just from my experiences of running a blog, I unfortunately relate to a lot of what Grady is singing about.

Really, I’d just like to dissect this song line by line because like any good song, there’s a lot said in just one little line, so I’m going to offer my perspective. The first verse alludes to the pressure of meeting a deadline when writing a review. Again, I’m the lowly blogger, so I have no deadlines. Still, I know I’m not alone in the music blogosphere when I say that there’s still this constant pressure to produce content everyday out of a fear of losing your audience. The unfortunate part is that when you do run on a time constraint, the writing isn’t nearly as strong because you’re writing because you feel you NEED to, not because there’s any passion there.

Now, I get that professional writers do have deadlines, and those who are more experienced in the profession still churn out great pieces of writing. Still, you have to wonder how much of it was work instead of something fun and exciting to do. After all, you get to write about music for a living. It should be the most exciting job in the world! Now, the line about tearing the artist to shreds is something that seems a little distanced from reality. I mean let’s get real here, you’re not writing a negative review if you’re at a professional outlet. Then again, music journalism even during the time when Grady published his video of why Country music was bad in 2013 was different than it is now (access, access, access!), so it’s understandable why Grady based the song around the more “vile” part of music criticism.

The part talks about him spending his days angry at guys who make money, and whether it’s just clever satire of what the superfans or artists think of criticism or the truth is something I can’t tell. As a blogger, I’d like to think it’s the former option (I’ve never gotten outright angry at anything I’ve heard, let alone for an entire day…not even for Walker Hayes!). But telling the artists “you’re settling for nothing, and your taste is all wrong” is a bit of a confusing line. I’m assuming it’s directed at artists and not fans since “settling for nothing” seems to suggest that selling out or making “bad” music ultimately buys you short term success rather than long term success. Telling them that their taste is wrong though seems to fit more in line with what the fans think of the music (after all, record labels obviously have huge control over who records what, especially with younger artists). I do find that line to be one of the best and most humorous though, mostly because it’s an absolute joke how much some bloggers and professional critics think they can dictate the trends of popular culture and have that much of an influence over what people listen to. Let’s face it, most of them are opinionated assholes. It’s often frowned upon to say “that’s just my opinion” mostly because it looks unprofessional, but what is so bad about it? Music in itself is a highly subjective art form, and taste is really a useless construct. I don’t like the majority of Florida Georgia Line’s discography, but I’d be happy to hear why a fan of the duo likes them. There’s so many possible tastes we can have in regards to music, and yet we stupidly hammer it down to simply “good” and “bad”, or rather, black and white. Where’s the color?

Of course, the next line seems to be the inspiration for this piece. Hearing someone say “why don’t you do something better” is one of the most laziest, immature criticisms of criticism that has ever surfaced. There’s even a dumb tweet about it –

If we can only criticize something when we’ve done it ourselves, then by that same notion we should only be allowed to praise something once we’ve done it too. If we went by that insane logic, there would barely be any discussion on music, and the discussion that did occur would be obsolete since even the audience wouldn’t be allowed to engage in it. Yeah, you idiots forget that critics are consumers of music as well as normal, everyday people. By that same logic too, we wouldn’t have any discussions on movie criticism or sports or really, anything! Sure, it would occur, but it would be completely esoteric, and eventually society would devolve into little cliques that don’t interact with each other because they don’t know or understand that world. Is that really evolving as a society?

Despite what I just said though, please don’t confuse that with me saying that writers are on par with what artists do. That’s not true. What artists do is create something out of nothing. Whether it’s good or bad, that still takes skill in and of itself. What writers (of any kind) do is talk about something that’s already been made. No matter what the quality of the writing is, it will never measure up to what an artist does. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be allowed to discuss it though. I will say though that the line of “I’d rather sink their careers down the drain” is a little over the top. Readers aren’t stupid and only dependent on bloggers and critics to help them find music or tell them what to listen to. The fans of the said artist are going to keep supporting said artist even if a writer trashes them. 

After that we get to what I guess could be considered the chorus where Grady essentially admits to being in this false construct of thinking his words are going to make a huge impact on what the listener chooses to do, when really the person impacted the most is him. Again, the lowly blogger understands. It’s essentially why I chose not to interact with artists or publicists anymore. It’s all fun and games when the music is good and you can say lots of super-duper positive things, but when they release something that’s mediocre? It’s hard to say something bad, especially when you’ve become “buddies” with said artist. You also will have people criticize your writing, and honestly I’m still getting used to that. I had a guy recently say my blog was “absolute shit”, and while it stung for a second or so, eventually it became absolutely hilarious for me and inspired me to do this blogging thing even more. I’m still getting used to it though, and in a conversation I recently had with Grady, he said that sometimes the people who are the best at doling out criticism are ironically sometimes the most sensitive people. I believe that. Let’s face it too, nobody really WANTS to be negative. That’s silly. Still, I think more often that not people confuse criticism for blind hatred, when really that’s not the case.

The chorus also seems to suggest that critics are the truth tellers that the particular “genre” needs, and hey, I’m glad it’s said in a mocking tone, because it is absolute bullshit. Yes, Country has a strong group-think culture (echo chambers are another huge problem for Country), but really the side that advocates for “real country” and the side that thinks that country is evolving (independent versus mainstream I guess) has clashed into this ugly civil war when really, it’s alright to like music from both sides. Country could afford to use more color and individual opinions at the forefront rather than an opinion stemming from what the direction of popular culture would suggest.

Another money line is “I think I’m a hero, then think I’m a villian”. Again, the blogger here gets that. Sometimes it does feel good having a different opinion from what everyone else has, but when it’s a negative opinion, after some time has passed, it just makes me wonder what any of it is actually worth. I never personally aim to be negative or mean spirited in my writing. I try (and sometimes fail) to be balanced and come at things from a fair perspective. I don’t think I’m alone. The moral struggle is something I don’t have the answers to, mostly because I’m still working through it myself. On that note though, “If I stop being honest, I think we all lose”. That’s it right there. That’s the money line. Yes, sometimes reviews are glowing and sometimes they’re negative. Honestly being the cynic that I am, I truly believe artists, labels, and publicists don’t give a damn what anyone writes as long as it’s positive and full of great quotes. Journalism these days is all about gaining access and it’s sickening. That’s for another piece though. As someone who has shut down approximately four or five blogs over the course of three years, my main issue is that a lot of my writing didn’t feel authentic to what I truly believed in. Often times I felt like I was writing to appease a fan base or an artist or even just some random fan. I may just be a blogger, but to go back and read so many posts that I don’t even believe in eats away at me and makes me regret just not being honest in the first place.

Writing used to be such a painful exercise to engage in, when at one time it was a joyful hobby! Now that I decided to be honest at this outlet though, I’ve found that I’m writing more than I ever have before because I’m actually saying exactly what I’m thinking. Is it the best way to grow a blog? No, but it’s the only way I’m comfortable with. Again, as a blogger I have the freedom to do that whereas professional writers often don’t. My sympathies are with them.

That’s essentially the end of the song, and aside from those annoying “ehs” or “heys” or whatever they are during the chorus (wasn’t one “eh” or “hey” enough, Grady?) and the aforementioned nitpicks, I do find a lot of this to be relatable to me even if Grady and I come from different worlds. I don’t have an answer to whether or not criticism is a wonderful or vile thing though. As a blogger of course I’m not going to have a ton of control over the direction of an artist’s career, so for me it makes sense to be honest. However, when your words are placed on a platform that is read by tons of people, I’m sure it can admittedly be hard to own up to your writing and face the backlash that may come your way. I wish I could say “don’t let it get to you” or “your honesty is appreciated”, but honestly I’m still working and trying to find the answers myself. Regardless of that though, I appreciate Grady being openly honest about his own personal struggles with what he does, and while this may negate the entire point of the song, it did at least help get some additional thoughts out of my head. Maybe it helped someone else too. I don’t know. Either way, thank you Grady.

I’ll end on this note – whether you are a professional writer, a blogger, or even just someone writing at home with no intentions for anyone to read your writing, writing about music is a weird task. I think we all get into because we love music more than the average person, and yet it’s the negative pieces that ultimately characterize what people think of us. Hell, by all accounts they’re the reviews WE use to characterize ourselves. My only advice I can give is to just never lose that passion for music, because it all starts there.

Also, if you’d like to read more of my thoughts on the pros and cons of Country music blogging, click here. If you’d like to read more of my thoughts on why I review bad music, click here.


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