Following up slightly on yesterday’s New York conversation about journalistic integrity comes an extended discussion between music critics Craig Jenkins and Frank Guan over the sort of credentials a critic needs in order to delve into something like Lemonade or The Life of Pablo. I think it’s sort of obvious that someone who “shares a social background with the artist they’re reviewing has an innate advantage over a critic who doesn’t,” but at the same time, unless the work in question is being screened privately only for people from that background, or if it’s been acknowledged that nobody outside of a select culture could possibly enjoy Kanye West, then it’s hardly disadvantageous for a so-called “outsider” to discuss it.
If there’s a bias, it should be clearly presented: someone who hates rap music shouldn’t be your first, second, or even third choice to review a new album from A$AP Rocky, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t people who would be curious about such a writer’s viewpoint–especially if they found themselves reluctant admirers of the work. It would be worse, in my mind, to ensure that music were only insularly covered: someone who only listens to Kanye might miss every single outside element or homage sampled by that artist, or might unfairly excuse tracks that in a larger context might fall apart.
What’s important, however, and what I think Jenkins and Guan are really getting at, is that a broad range of perspectives isn’t always offered, especially if you’re filtering only through what’s probably still the largely old, white male gaze of the MetaCritic aggregate. Some sites are getting better at course-correcting–OpenCritic, for instance, which collects information on video game reviewers, allows users to create their own profiles and to choose which critics to follow and which to ignore. The reader can be as selective as they want, but the broader scope is still there at any time, should they want it.