Should music critics fucking get a real job?

jezabels Editor Bobby Townsend reacts to Hayley Mary’s recent comments:

Hayley Mary, lead singer of The Jezabels, recently said that music critics should “Fucking get a real job,” in relation to some less than favourable reviews of her band’s latest album:

She went on to tell Music Feeds, “I just think there is too much hatred in the world to have a job that is based on writing off what other people try and do, unless that person is in a serious position of power. I don’t mind when people criticise politicians, or like the army or something… Clearly it’s not for you, so you’re communicating something that’s not that helpful to someone who might potentially like it, or not like it. It’s just hate.”

As well as sending my irony-o-meter off the scales, these comments have been rattling around my head for a couple of days. So here’s my two cents…

Firstly, it’s worth mentioning that many music critics do have “real jobs”. Few people can survive on freelance music journalism alone. The contributors to this site, for instance, all do it for free (as do I). We write about music because we have a passion for it. We want to share amazing sounds with people. We all have other jobs, whether that is writing about sport, bar-tending, retail, office work, etc. Outside of our working hours, we spend our spare time standing on our own in grubby little music venues hoping to find a band that will blow our minds. Then we come home and stay up late writing our reviews. We do it because we love music. Simple.

I personally get no pleasure from harshly reviewing musicians. Sure, I’ve given bad reviews but I’ve been writing about music for nearly a decade and I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been unfair on a band. However – and here’s the thing – sometimes music just isn’t very good. Sometimes it is lazily executed. Sometimes it is a letdown. Now, in this circumstance, Hayley Mary would have us sweep it under the carpet. Not mention it. She equally says that gushing reviews are pointless (I disagree with this too. I love reading people raving about something they’ve really connected with).

So, with no negative or overtly positive reviews in Hayley Mary’s ideal world, music websites and magazines would simply be… what? An adjective-free list of current releases, or just reviews of albums and songs that we find to be moderately acceptable, nothing more or less? Wow, that would be thrilling.

If music criticism is to have any value or purpose, reviewers have to be entirely honest. If you are not completely truthful when something isn’t good, then this means that a positive review also becomes entirely hollow. Sometimes my team come to me to double-check if it is ok to be very critical of a band that they have seen/heard. I tell them all the same thing; that they can be as critical as they like, so long as they can justify it. If it is the worst album of all time, tell us why it is the worst album of all time. If they can successfully do that, then they are doing their (part-time, unpaid) job correctly.

And anyway, why should The Jezabels be exempt from critique? According to their frontwoman, it’s okay for people to criticise the army, but not her band. So, serious political debate is the only thing permitted? What a dull world this would be if we were no longer allowed to discuss the arts. Also, isn’t criticism an important learning tool for a creative? Don’t you gain as much from your defeats as your victories? If everyone had just nodded politely when Radiohead released their debut album rather than giving it honest and measured criticism, would they have gone on to create OK Computer? Maybe, but probably not. Thom Yorke would likely still have shit hair too. Rather than being precious about it, criticism should be channelled and utilised. At the end of the day, if you are going to get upset about what one person thinks and writes about your art, you perhaps shouldn’t have chosen a profession in which you display said art publicly, you delicate little flower.

I think that music critics do a fantastic job in bringing new music to the masses and if the occasional musician gets upset at a negative review as a consequence, then that’s a small price to pay. When I was a teenager, I would buy NME and Melody Maker every Wednesday and read them cover-to-cover. Living in a small town with no scene, this would be my way into the music world. I would read about bands and decide if I wanted to check them out. Sometimes I disagreed wholeheartedly with the reviews I read, but there is no doubting that these publications fuelled my knowledge and love of music. Remember, reviewing is a just a small part of what music journos do. What about the interviews and the hours spent hunting out new sounds to share with the world? That’s a pretty important service, I reckon.

Here’s a genuine question: do you think The Jezabels would be as successful as they are if they had never been reviewed or interviewed? I guess the answer you give will determine which side of the fence you fall on in this debate.

Oh, and, as a post-script, we actually quite like The Jezabels at Something You Said. I reviewed them myself at Hordern Pavilion and we also interviewed them lately too. I guess, according to Hayley Mary, we shouldn’t have bothered. 

bobby townsend


Words by Bobby Townsend.