New Criticals

The reviews from the 1980s treated music reviews as though they were ads, attempting to advise the reader on whether an album was worth the money spent on them, while modern reviews rely on the placement of references to decide what is “good.” Both methods are inefficient because they never evaluate the music at hand on its own merits. The British music sociologist, Simon Frith, confirms the idea of referential criticism in his book, Bad Music: 

"Music is judged bad in the context of or by reference to a critique of mass production. Bad music is “standardized” or “formulaic” music. The implicit contrast is with “original” or “autonomous” or “unique” music, and the explanation built into the judgment depends on the familiar Marxist/Romantic distinction between serial production, production to commercial order, to meet a market, and artistic creativity, production determined only by individual intention, by formal and technical rules and possibilities." (20)

What Frith is attempting to point out is that when music adheres to a formula too perfectly, the movement of the overarching narrative becomes static. Music can be defined as the unconscious expanded into the real by way of tones, so what that equates to is that the mental well is dry. The concept of bad music in the critical world is often linked to the retreading of old ideas or something being too avant-garde for mass consumption. With music being positioned as a commodity in 80s critical spectrum, modern critics already have a standard to judge newer artist by. Critics are now allowed to view bad music as music that doesn't line up with the ideas of those who have reach commodity status – low sales equal ineffectively getting their message across.

The selling point of uniqueness illegitimately defines what an era experiences. Pop culture phenomena takes the place of era replication on the plane of sound. The “uniqueness” of image beats out musicality because the audience has something physically present onto which the audience can project. The artists are placeholders for the message that their music intends to get across. “[A]ll entertainment businesses are organized around the idea of stardom. The star is central to the entertainment market, most obviously in the figures of the film and pop star ." (Frith 205) The message or theme is blocked by iconic figures; thus, the music is no longer significant. By reading music as a text, picking apart the details within the song and album itself, critics can reverse the current ideology that supports “faces” over music quality.