A necessary part of being a small-time writer on a blog that doesn’t get much traffic is the ability to self-critique. I don’t get much in the way of serious feedback and some of my posts get barely any views, so I usually have to decide for myself whether it was successful or not. I think this is one of my strengths as a writer — just like I enjoy picking apart an album, I enjoy looking back at my own work and learning from my successes and failures, and I think I’m able to do it more objectively and honestly than most.
So as a possible learning experience and therapeutic exercise of sorts (plus a way to shamelessly plug posts someone might have missed), I thought I’d look back at the year I had and see if there are any takeaways from what I have deemed successes and failures. Let’s start with the good ones, in no particular order.
The Legacy of Trish Keenan Series
This is something that’s been rattling in my head forever because I’m such a fan of Keenan and so dismayed at how little her music gets discussed. I kept putting it off because I felt a lot of pressure to get everything right and usually would doubt my capabilities to do something on this scale. I’m only partway through it, but so far I think I’ve done justice to her career and have done it in a way that is unique to my blog.
Part of how I generate ideas now is to think about the type of writing I wish there was more of, and this is something I never see on other music websites: deep appreciation and enthusiasm for an artist, especially one who isn’t current. The One Week One Band tumblr is the closest I’ve seen and was the main inspiration for this. Almost all other music websites are obsessed with the now and are chasing clicks through news items, reviews, and controversial opinions. They also focus on an objective, academic style that drains the writing of any personality or joy for music.
So the broader takeaway that I like from this series is that it’s providing something different. I want to give a personal perspective and provide analysis of artists I love, regardless of their popularity or how they fit into the “conversation,” and this series serves as a baseline of what I want to accomplish. Now I just need to finish it, which is difficult since there’s so much to talk about.
This New Janelle Monae Song is Not Good
In a similar vein, I think other websites don’t have nearly enough negative criticism. I can understand why: it’s risky to potentially piss off readers, and a lot of blogs try to cultivate positive relationships with artists so they can promote each other. One upside of my lone wolf approach is that I owe nobody anything, so I can say something sucks if I think it does.
It’s reasonable to ask what the purpose is of just unleashing some negativity, especially towards an artist of this stature. A lot of it is my belief in just being honest: any real music fan has these moments where they despise something, even if it’s irrational, and I want to capture that strong emotion. The Pollyanna approach almost everyone else takes isn’t real and doesn’t actually serve artists or art. In an odd way, I think my post is more complimentary to Monae than the thousands of “YASS QUEEEN” cheerleading articles, because I’m actually taking her work seriously and engaging with it. And I realize nobody really understands this concept of criticism anymore, but I believe strongly in it and want to keep doing it.
There is also some strategic value to this, because I want to provide a context where potential readers understand that I don’t just love everything I listen to. This way, it means something if I am praising an album I do enjoy. That said, it’s important to pick targets judiciously, and even at my most negative, I usually make an effort to respect the artists and not diminish them or their fans on a personal level (except for the Black Keys).
Beyond all this, I think this might have been my strongest writing on a pure sentence-to-sentence level. It flows really well and I think it’s constructed in a way that is persuasive, even if pretty much no one on earth seems to share my dismay at Janelle Monae’s career path.
“How You Remind Me” Is a Perfect Song
Usually when I write about music, I don’t get a chance to show off my incredible sense of humor. It occurred to me recently that part of why music writing isn’t resonating with me much is that it’s so serious all the time. Everyone lately is treating music like it’s in a museum and must be treated with total solemnity, when half the fun is talking shit and disagreeing with people.
So this was my attempt to just write something silly, while still providing some level of analysis that I hadn’t seen articulated much elsewhere. I don’t think I’d want every post to be like this one, but it worked as a change of pace and as a way to show personality/voice that isn’t seen much at professional outlets. And maybe it was funny — I’m not actually sure.
The Landmark Feminine Vision of Hounds of Love
This is the type of post I used to shy away from: tackling some iconic album where it feels like little old me has nothing to add to the discourse. But this one has a personal angle, and I think it has that balance of voice/experience/analysis that I’m trying to do. It is still a little clunky at parts and maybe runs too long in terms of explaining every part of the album, but I thought it was still a good step just to write about such an intimidating work.
Becky Lynch is Making Wrestling Real
I ended up writing three different posts about Lynch as I got obsessed with her story right as I also hit a bit of a lull in music this year. My first two were kind of bad, since I was writing about a new subject and felt I had to fill in a lot of esoteric details for non-wrestling fans. But I thought on this one my perspective on the subject was more accessible, and I made an argument for why Lynch is an artist and wrestling, despite its obvious stupidity, is sometimes worth taking seriously. I don’t know if I’ll keep doing wrestling posts (nobody seemed to enjoy them), but if I do, they’ll hopefully be like this one.
That’s enough of how great I am. Let’s examine some of my humiliating atrocities from this year.
Naomi Osaka Meets Her Hero
For those that don’t know, I once aspired to be a sportswriter and currently work in the sports industry. I know a disturbing amount about sports (way more than I know about music) and so I wanted to try to bring that side of myself to this blog. Unfortunately, the problem remains that sportswriting is really boring and it’s almost impossible to have a unique perspective on any event that happens. In this one, I framed it as characters and drama, but it just didn’t really work and I was somewhat embarrassed to have published it. I like the occasional departure, but this was a mistake.
Look What You Made Me Do
One of the unique aspects of this blog is how I completely shun popular celebrity culture and try to focus on artists who aren’t being written about incessantly. I threw that away when I wrote this Taylor Swift essay because I thought I had a unique enough perspective and it would be entertaining. Neither of those things were true and I think this was just bad. I felt gross after publishing it. Let’s not do this again.
Oh Right, This is a Music Blog
This one isn’t bad in and of itself, but it’s a type of post I’ve realized is ineffective: the album round-ups thing where I just throw music out there and write a paragraph or two about it. I don’t think it ends up serving anyone, because I feel no sense of accomplishment from writing it and I don’t really do justice to the albums, and then anyone who reads probably isn’t that compelled to listen based on the two paragraphs I wrote. There were great albums featured in this post and I should have just written separate reviews instead of crapping this out.
My Best and Worst Posts of 2018
This started out as a good idea — honest self-reflection that would help articulate some of my process — but ended up being a work of bloated self-indulgence. At the end of the day, nobody cares that much about my process and I should have kept this to myself. I would be shocked if anyone even read the entire thing.