The Guardian view on critics: thin-skinned artists beware | Editorial

US rapper Lizzo took to social media when angered by an unflattering review. But the wisdom of crowds hasn’t altered the need for independent, expert advice

Critics who don’t themselves make music “SHOULD BE UNEMPLOYED”, the American rapper Lizzo tweeted to her 222,000 followers this week. The star was reacting angrily to an unflattering, though far from hostile, review of her new album Cuz I Love You. The battle between offended artist and critic is a well-established one. Though the medium has changed, Lizzo’s message was a striking echo of a furious telegram displayed in a new British Library exhibition. Its sender, the playwright John Osborne, complained that a reviewer did not understand creation, warning him, also in capital letters, “FROM NOW ON IT’S OPEN WAR ALL THE WAY”.

But Lizzo was wrong about this, as she may have taken on board. (“Gonna take my temper off the internet”, she subsequently tweeted.) Publishers, studios and artists have always been publicists as well as creators. Independent voices offer a crucial counterweight. Critics help people determine which music, TV, books and plays to spend their time and money on, and to make the most of those choices. The internet has made it easier to sample culture, while social media has vastly increased the range of word of mouth. But in our age of algorithmically generated recommendations, this curatorial role has arguably become more important.

Judgments, whether of opera or soap opera, are subjective. What is considered beautiful or interesting depends on perspective. But knowledge and experience, whether of folk music or science fiction, matter. A person who has been reading poetry for decades, or has seen a play many times, will be able to tell you things about a new poem or performance that others can’t – even, sometimes, their creators.

Disagreement is healthy. Artists are free to take issue with critics (in the world of books these are often the same people), just as other critics are. The internet was supposed to make this whole process more democratic and open, since comment threads and websites could publish far more opinions than the printed pages of old. The wisdom of the crowd, in all its diversity, would enhance that of the traditional gatekeepers.

This partly worked. It is much easier to access a range of views than it used to be. Lively arguments about talked-about shows – like the discussion of the Fleabag finale – can quickly spread. But social media also provides a platform for performers to reveal their thin skins, or for armies of fans to descend upon anyone who dares to dislike a favoured star or film franchise. Justin Bieber’s outburst this week, after he was criticised on a talkshow for lipsynching in an appearance at the Coachella festival, suggested an alarming degree of sensitivity.

The malevolent critic, motivated by envy of creativity, is a tired trope kept alive for the benefit of the artists it flatters. (In the 1973 film Theatre of Blood an actor played by Vincent Price takes the ultimate revenge, killing off his critics one by one.) True, reviewers can be gratuitously mean. Criticism is the exercise of judgment, and this applies to what is said but also how and to whom; as a rule, novices should be treated more gently. Yet performers and others who resent harsh words should be careful what they wish for. Critics are part of the proof that culture matters.



The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Guardian view on Elon Musk: a billionaire in need of humility | Editorial
Editorial: Attacking a British diver involved in the Thai cave rescue was ridiculous. He should concentrate on fixing his business


16, Jul, 2018 @5:33 PM

Article image
How Marvel film director James Gunn was demonised by the alt-right | Seb Patrick
The Guardians of the Galaxy director was fired after old, offensive tweets came to light. But who was behind the revelations, asks film journalist Seb Patrick

Seb Patrick

01, Aug, 2018 @8:00 AM

Article image
The Guardian view of Trump's populism: weaponised and silenced by social media | Editorial
Editorial: Democracy has been threatened by commercialising the swift spread of controversy and lies for political advantage


15, Jan, 2021 @6:24 PM

Article image
The Guardian’s view on free speech online: a messy compromise | Editorial
Editorial: Rightwing extremists are now being deprived of their income stream from YouTube advertisements. Not to do so would be worse


13, May, 2019 @5:40 PM

Article image
Wiley's racism flowed because social media is a petri dish of hate | Nish Kumar
The rapper will pay for his antisemitism but nothing else will change. Twitter and Instagram were once cute but have turned vicious, writes the comedian Nish Kumar

Nish Kumar

27, Jul, 2020 @5:02 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on censoring the internet: necessary, but not easy | Editorial
Editorial: Who should protect us online? And who will guard us from these guards?


21, Aug, 2017 @5:34 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on Twitter’s blue ticks: a conflict of interest | Editorial
Editorial: Social media companies must accept that their duties to democracy rival their commercial incentives


16, Nov, 2017 @7:14 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on political advertising: time to regulate it, Mr Zuckerberg | Editorial
Editorial: The Guardian view on political advertising: time to regulate it, Mr Zuckerberg


01, Nov, 2019 @6:30 PM

Article image
Social media spying is turning us into a stalking society | Keza MacDonald
Facebook, Twitter and others must act on misuse and abuse or face the ongoing “techlash”, says the Guardian’s games editor, Kez MacDonald

Keza MacDonald

13, Feb, 2018 @3:58 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on free speech online: let law decide the limits | Editorial
Editorial: The standards by which the internet is controlled need to be open and subject to impartial judiciaries – not left to advertisers


18, Mar, 2018 @6:15 PM