Dreary Things People Say About Stuff They Don’t Like

Liam Gallagher (AP Photo/Joel Ryan)

Liam Gallagher, art critic (AP Photo/Joel Ryan)

Art is a subjective form of communication. That is to say, whether you’re listening to music or watching a movie or experiencing a painting, the thing the artist thinks he or she is saying to you isn’t going to be the same as the thing you experience. It can’t be, because the method of delivery is abstracted from the bricks and mortar of rational explanation.

Even writing is an interpretive artform: the words writers use will alienate as many readers as they enthral – that whole paragraph above is incredibly annoying, for starters – it’s all a matter of personal taste. So why do people find it so hard to say “I don’t like that,” and why do they prefer to create statements that sound empirical, but aren’t?

They’ll say a movie is “cheap” or “pandering to the lowest common denominator” (which just means “people who are not me”). They’ll say a record is “manufactured” or “disposable” or that it won’t “stand the test of time” (as if these are reasons not to enjoy popular culture in the here and now). And they’ll make a gradation between popular fiction and literature (as if hard-to-read is synonymous with good). They will, essentially, blame the art for not making the effort to reach out to them personally, which isn’t just unrealistic, it’s downright arrogant.

Liam Gallagher has just done that very thing. He’s not mad on the Daft Punk single “Get Lucky,” and like a lot of dreary people, has chosen to dismiss it by claiming he could have written it himself “in a f***ing hour.” As if the speed of composition implies sloppy work.

This is bull. Some amazing songs have been written in the exact length of time it takes to play them. Others get sweated over for weeks and turn out rubbish. An hour is actually quite a long time in songwriting terms, assuming you start the stopwatch at the moment the first good idea arrives. What takes the time is the endless noodling before you start.

And besides, what Liam may not realise he has said is that if he worked solidly for a whole hour, he would only be able to come up with a song that he doesn’t like. He’s literally THAT talented.

In any case, often the hallmark of good communication is when you experience the beautifully expressed thought that seems like something you, the audience, have already thought, but never quite said in that way. It’s easy to look upon those moments as simplistic or shallow, but you can level that accusation at any basic truth, whether it’s “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or “you’ve got a friend in me.”

Trouble is, if you really don’t like something, the biggest fear is of appearing out of step with public opinion, because that reminds you that you’re just a small person on a planet of small people. Your point of view, no matter how forcefully expressed, is just that. Your. Point. Of. View. It’s massively important to you – it’s the filter through which you view everything – and if no one else agrees, that’s like being exiled from society, by your own taste.

The only answer is to be honest. Make that first step. If we have to enforce our own opinions using empirical language, it will only perpetuate the myth that there are right and wrong opinions about, well, anything. And if we can’t shift that, there’s no chance of conversation, debate and consolidation.

So, if you want to own your own opinions, say so. Don’t be angry when people make things you don’t like, don’t accuse them of failing you, just as you don’t remonstrate new co-workers when they don’t magically make your coffee just the way you like it. Simply say “I don’t like this, and here is why” and be ready for that view to be challenged.

Unless you’re some kind of professional critic, of course, in which case your job is to know all this and carry on regardless.

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 13 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Music.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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