Notes On Musical Popularity And Critical Respect


On the one hand, music that is popular (though not necessarily critically respected) has earned the affection and admiration of its fans because they have found a use for it. The uses of musics are many–as numerous as music’s endless styles–including using music to show others that you like the same music they do. On the other hand, music that is respected and praised (though not necessarily popular) has earned the affection and admiration of its critics who have found it in some way(s) smart. The ways in which musics can be smart are many, including pushing, defying, or re-defining conventions of style and idiom, mixing up old elements in novel ways, and more rarely, offering the world a new and distinctive voice.

Whatever the reasons for a music’s earned popularity or critical respect, once afforded a measure of one or the other the music is granted entry into a feedback loop of attention. As we focus on the music–because it’s popular, because it’s significant–it becomes more and more established as something we should continue considering and thinking about. And yet the maker of the music has no control over whether or not anyone likes what they do. They can’t make their music earn anything–certainly not fans or respect. The music is powerless to make any arguments on behalf of itself besides simply being what it already is.

All of this to say that after its liminal moment of creation or performance the trajectory of a music is very much outside the control of its maker.