Five Reasons Artists Shouldn't Respond to Critics, or Don't Bite the 'Fork That Feeds

Categories: Lists

Emma Garr
Don't let this sad picture fool you: Fear Fun is hilarious.
Former Fleet Foxer J. Tillman turned Los Angeles mystic/comedian Father John Misty took Pitchfork to task on Monday afternoon, taking to Twitter to express his beef with the website's review of his latest LP, Fear Fun (previous records were released under his given name). His mammoth rant against indie rock's most popular publication had a few high-quality burns but could also be seen as a showcase for his chipped shoulder.

Whether it's a small-time bar band or an arena diva, here are five reasons why publicly addressing your critics, or biting the 'Fork that feeds, only makes you look bad.

1. The artist-critic dialogue isn't what it once was.

Gone are the days of famed New York art critic Clement Greenberg writing nuanced essays in the '60s about the burgeoning pop art movement, the artists responding with new work or total non-sequitor, and everybody involved feeling as though they knew their role in the discourse. Internet criticism is bountiful and moves lightning-fast; an artist picking apart one site's commentary only grants that site more attention and more (lucrative) hits. And unlike rappers, indie rock bands don't have much precedent to aid a "fuck the haters" response anthem.

2. Twitter's not the place for high-minded discourse.

Twitter is great for posting food pics, forging surrealist commentary, or flaming-up weird beef in a flash. It is not the place to take your critics to task. Why respond to a lengthy essay with an arsenal of meager 140-character mortars? Someone should have told M.I.A.: Her petulant Twitter rant against an unflattering New York Times profile in 2010 included the Super Bowl middle-finger-slinger tweeting the author's phone number.

3. If you've truly been wronged, your art/other people will make the argument for you.

The only reason I even found out about Tillman's rant was because it was re-tweeted by a number of music critics I follow, some former Pitchfork staffers and other gleeful Pitchfork teasers. From what I saw, nobody thought Tillman got boned. It goes both ways, too: Popular pop essayist Chuck Klosterman got hit hard by the rock-crit circle for the backhanded story about tUnE-yArDs he wrote for Grantland earlier this year. If somebody biffs a high-profile review, they're gonna hear about it from their own community.

Plus, nothing spells revenge like a heroic comeback. L.A. art-rock trio Liars were initially praised for their role as tweaked-out brutalists in New York's early-2000s dance punk scene, but their 2004 album They Were Wrong, So We Drowned drastically upped their usual ratio of atonal racket. Spin, Rolling Stone, and Pitchfork panned the hell out of it, and the Liars guys could have easily made the argument that they were being shunned for brazenly defying expectations.

Instead, they flew to Berlin and recorded their best record to date, Drum's Not Dead, which kept the experimentation intact but focused it into developed, long-form jams, all threaded by a light narrative about a guy named Drum. The concluding sentence of the album's Pitchfork review called it "a total fucking triumph."

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The rant didn't have anything to do with being sour about a "bad" review. The dude who wrote the FJM review said nothing but good things about the album until that bullshit line about the lack of "syncopation" (seriously, it sounded like he had to flip through a music dictionary to find a snooty term to incorporate into the piece), and it somehow ended up with a 7.3 rating. 
Sites like Pitchfork reduce music to a 1-10 scale by pulling random numbers out of their asses and adhering them to artist's public profiles. (What the fuck is the difference between a "7.3" record and a "7.4"?) I think Tillman summed up his rant perfectly in two posts:  "Getting critiqued, good or bad, feels like a violation to me and ultimately a perversion of the relationship between music and humanity" and "The critic must be honest and complicit with the fact that, ultimately, he suspects he is better at listening to music than other people". Music journalism should be about the content, the artist, and the backstory of music that the writer finds interesting, not some random guy's take on whether or not someone else's art is worthy of the public's interest. I've never bought a "9.2" album because of its rating, but I can think of a number that I've bought because of interviews that piqued my interest. Too many music journalists write their opinions off as fact; they forget that their tastes don't dictate the tastes of others.


Tillman's whole thing with Pitchfork goes way beyond responding to a review. He'd been twitter tweaking them for months. If the review had been good it would have been just as much fodder for him. Plus they kinda gave him a gift with the "on the beat/syncopation" thing, which was really about as stupid a review comment as I've read. But then, I think he's funny, I think his humor has a good point, and I really like his album.


Maybe you're missing the point. He gets in an argument on Twitter and people end up writing articles about it, thus giving him even more attention. He's got nothing to lose since it's a good review and he has humor on his side. Not to mention he segued the whole thing into his Suntory parody. It was a genius move on his part if you ask me! Kudos to him.


What a dip. The reason he's able to make the music he makes today and be a comedian is because of the royalty checks he gets off of Fleet foxes who became very popular thanks in large part to pitchfork

Jedidiah Foster
Jedidiah Foster

They Were Wrong, So We Drowned is better than Drums Not Dead. I'm sticking by it.

Phoenix New Times
Phoenix New Times

I completely agree with you, Anon. I've never -- I mean never, and I used to write for a site that used a rating system -- been a fan of doing it "by the numbers."  Your statement: "Music journalism should be about the content, the artist, and the
backstory of music that the writer finds interesting, not some random
guy's take on whether or not someone else's art is worthy of the
public's interest" is absolutely right. I'd add "context" to it, too.

Chase Kamp
Chase Kamp

He is definitely being way more savvy about this than others. I think "strategic trolling" is a good exception.

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