A while ago (quite a long while now), Noyan and I wrote an editorial about how to love music. In it, we claimed that the attitude which avoids criticism in order to keep affection intact simply hides insecurity and a lack of affection rather than an abundance of it. Those who can critique that which they love with deep and earnest criticism, are those with a well-seated and secure love for it. Today, we’re here to talk about the opposite side of that. Today, we’re here to talk about how to hate music. More to the point, and abandoning dichotomy, we would like to talk about how to disagree, disapprove or take apart something which doesn’t immediately appeal to you.
This discussion has two facets. The first is the individual and how the ways in which we digest and then express criticism affect us as people. The second is a natural progression towards the community and the ways in which different kinds of discourse create different kinds of community. At the bottom of all of this, whether individual or community, lies a simple belief: most things which people love has at least some form of merit. Even those things which you find completely repulsive, things of which you can’t find even one good thing to say, have their fans and those fans have some reason for loving that thing, no matter how unfathomable that may seem to you.
However, many of those positives often require attention, care and expertise to parse. Therefore, discounting anything completely out of hand blinds you to what merits might be hiding beneath the surface, waiting for a more attentive hand. It’s quite easy to do so considering the amount of material that vies for our attention; and especially considering how some of that material is infinitely more appealing to our sensibilities. However, there’s value in expanding one’s viewpoint and considering the merits and flaws of something within different contexts. That band you think is trash because they play simplistic music might actually be very appealing because of the subject matter of their lyrics, the live energy of their music, or one of many other factors.
More than that; even if something contains no possible points of merit, you still lose nuance if you dismiss the people who love it regardless as “idiots”, “uninformed” or otherwise “inferior”. Assuming that others can’t back up their own points while yours are always well made is a common bias and one which culminates in the ease with which we dismiss the tastes of others in favor of our own. This ultimately contrarian point of view doesn’t just sabotage discussion into being bad or ineffective. It completely shuts discussion down by robbing both parties of the basic tool needed for understanding: empathy. Thus, even if something is so ultimately vile that you cannot even contemplate liking it, assuming that others do so just because, and therefore undermining the need to understand them, is essentially futile, cowardly and crass.
The gamut of possible dismissive, condescending or vitriolic reactions to things online is described by the word “edgy”. They who attempt to be “edgy” are looking for shock factor; their goal is to dismiss things loved by as many people as possible, as loudly as possible, to garner the all-important “emotional rise” that makes up so much of the Internet. This is not to say that all derisive criticism is “edgy”; there certainly exist a whole bunch of things so amateurish or offensive that they deserve no consideration other than the most shallow and callous. But the list of those things is much, much smaller than you think. In reality, simple empathy is all that is required in order to take something off your “shitpost list”, according it more time than a muttered grumble or acerbic comment online. Most things which you encounter are completely legitimate objects for worthy consideration or at least contemplation regarding the motivation of those who enjoy them. It’s incredibly easy to disregard these though, as it costs one almost nothing. What’s even easier is not making a negative remark at all. There’s clearly some reward loop going on here.
And here’s where the individual aspect of things comes in. You see, the “shitpost list” has momentum. The more you add to it, the more it grows, encompassing a plethora of media, genres and forms of expression. Just like lying, being “edgy” makes you more “edgy”, eating away at the place within which empathizes, growing more callous with every angry response or perceived insult. This in turn makes you less open not only to new ideas but also to familiar ones which once might have held a simple joy for you. The jaded adult, battle-scarred from countless, ruthless attacks on albums (for example) they once held dear, looks back with glazed eyes on music he once adored, unable to listen to it without hearing their own, snarky voice echoing in vile disdain.
Take, for example, the distance which one can find within oneself from bands one once thought moving. The passage of time certainly plays a role in taking some of the edge (heh) off of these bands; cliches get more blatant, enjoyment erodes over time or personalities change. However, a transformation can occur when one decides to export their distance and making it a matter of public knowledge. No darts are more poisoned than the ones you cast on the things you once loved. This can easily be observed across your own sphere of friends. Past fans of bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Slipknot and other likely targets are quite often the most venomous and resistant detractors of those self-same bands, mutating internal apathy into public vilification.
This blot spreads to things which are similar, at least initially. The infection usually begins with a single band or album: they are “washed out”, “hacks”, “sell outs”, “derivative”, “hipsters”, “over the hill”. These adjectives can be aimed at both a band as a whole or one of their releases. The sneer then spreads, by association, to other bands which partake in the same movement or aesthetic. After all, if those bands share enough similar qualities, are they not the same thing? What’s worse is that the “edgy” attitude is essentially reductive and thus, makes it easier to bungle up entire genres within the same basket. Before you know it, the poison has spread and now paints your attitude towards dozens of bands or several genres, who are of course complex, rich and intricate milieus.
However, you’re too far gone for those subtleties to be apparent. Make no mistake, this isn’t about being a “bad person”. The infection is far more insidious than that. It doesn’t attack your character; it’s possible to be a great, loving and smart friend to others or an upstanding citizen and still be “edgy” online. Instead, this mindset attacks habit and reflex, working before the higher functions of your brain. Before you’ve even had the time to properly assess a song, let’s say, with your frontal cortex, something of the lizard, of the stem mind takes over and spills its acid all over your words. It blinds you to shade and tone and instead paints everything in familiar and comfortable black and white. It affects your very perceptions, effectively changing the song/album/work of art you consume and making it worse by association with the categories you hate.
This is how it gets into the community. Since the most casual of exposure to “edgy” attitudes can begin the chain of events described above, the attitude sticks. Populate enough threads with bile and it will achieve its purpose; others start to react in a like-minded way, fire fighting fire. People who are genuine in the face of “edginess” are left feeling naive, as all the negative aspects of the work at hand are brought up and inflated. Before you know it, the counter arguments levied against the camp from which the original, “edgy” commentator emerged, are themselves simplistic, stereotypical and instinctive. Now it’s more than just two people flinging insults at each other; entire communities set themselves in opposition, usually in a battle of one-upmanship. These online battlefields can often slide in to the all too real “IRL”, garnering genuine hatred and animosity among people.
Consider the emerging conflict between the new waves of black metal and the original progenitors of the genre. The conflict began with the elder of the two; comments on bands like Deafheaven (most prominently, due to their success) were the very definition of “edgy”. Instead of credible, insightful or productive criticism that might have existed during initial reactions to the style, voices were quickly reduced to little more than name calling. Words like “posers”, “hipsters” or “pussies” became the vocabulary through which the discussion among the old guard of black metal took place.
Of course, the backlash was just as idiotic; people from the opposite side of the community began to dismiss the older iterations of black metal as “outdated”, “childish” or “out of touch”. These conflicts have affected venues, labels, luthiers, and consumers all across the “real world”, breaking down the distinction between “off” and “on” line. What does this separation achieve? Deafheaven may or may not produce great black metal. But instead of debating the nuances of their work, the conversation happens at a level where each side is entirely disingenuous and unwilling to see eye to eye. Is it likely that Deafheaven are abjectly terrible? Not really. They might not be universally appealing, especially for fans of “kvlt” black metal, but their existence is not inherently harmful to the genre. Nor is “older” black metal completely outdated and without any value for the modern fan of metal.
These back and forth reductions can be found everywhere in metal. They hide in the split within djent and metalcore, death metal and deathcore, progressive metal and pretty much anyone else and in many other places. Essentially, they all stem from the same attitude, a waving of hands and a subtle “guffaw”, dismissing the very presence of the other. In the age of the Internet, where exhibitionism is the rule of day and garnering interaction is all, such dismissal has to be visible. Thus, by reverse engineering, we have arrived back at the individual being “edgy”. Since one’s opposition must be communicated, must be seen, one must constantly broadcast it. This is what leads to pages upon pages of YouTube comments, all following a certain formula of near-sighted disapproval. Each comment has its own responses, and they have their own responses, and thus, from a single, acidic spark, the entire thing goes up in a vile conflagration. This is textbook virtue signalling, creating a social pecking order within communities that poisons the conversation and forces it to go further and further off the rails.
Now, here’s the scary thing: no one is immune to this attitude. Every single person out there, including the writers of this post and you reading it, have the potential to both start the cycle and take part in it. And what’s more, we’ve all done it, many times in our lives. That’s fine; demanding constant empathy, attention and willingness to learn is absurd and we have no interest in calling for perfection. However, what we are here to call for is what philosopher Martin Buber called “the stretching of the neck”. Even if you cannot always be in the presence of perfect calm, even if you cannot always be expected to look the problem right between the eyes, you can intend to. You can try and be aware of when your perceptions are colored by the need to be “edgy”, when your lizard brain wakes and calls for blood.
That’s what we’re here to call for. It’s not super complicated; it’s all about introducing a few moments of pause before you write a comment. Ask yourself: is my negative opinion adding something to the discourse? Do I have a well founded and interesting point to make? It doesn’t have to be long; good criticism can be one sentence. But is that sentence serving the discussion or is it serving you and your need to exhibit opposition, to satisfy a need for a response? Such heightened awareness will not lead to you never being “edgy”. Plenty of times, you’ll answer the latter and still go ahead and comment and that’s completely fine. But it will lead to more and more times of silence and, hopefully, further study and empathy towards whatever it is you’re considering critiquing.
You’d be surprised how many things you thought were utter crap had something to give you, if only you had given them a chance by trying to speak their own language. This is perhaps the last point we want to make; part of being “edgy” is an unwillingness to budge from your own ontology, your own little dictionary of what exists and how it exists. However, recognizing the fact that every genre, community and, indeed, person has their own little dictionary is a big part of being an adult. There is no reason to not take a minute and skim through a track or two to see the appeal. Or maybe take a few minutes and really listen to a track and trying to understand its appeal. The even harder and larger part is learning how to put aside your own language, for a while, and attempt to speak the other’s. When you do that, you enable true understanding and an openness to what might be hiding beneath the surface of the thing you would have otherwise attacked. And if you open up yet still don’t get anything, you lose nothing! If you think you’ll “lose face”, you’ve been trapped in the mentality of “edginess” and probably need to shake that off. But even taking that first step of just giving things a shot will get you quite far, even if the object of consideration is still deemed “worthless”.
Intending to do that more and more is the best thing you can do for yourself and, by extension, your community. It will not bring about a Utopian vision in which we all constantly agree; conflict is important and can be healthy. However, it can lead to an atmosphere in which being “edgy” is perceived as a waste of a time, an easy cop out for those who do not wish to truly interact with the subject matter. While all of us are at time those sloths, simply wishing to comment and move on, we’re more often critics and fans who would wish our words to be taken seriously. Or we’re artists and contributors who would genuinely like their output to be challenged. Or we’re just people who appreciate the things we love and do not wish to see them torn down. Regardless, we all yearn for honest conversation; we just sometimes forget it.