Ariana Grande has released her new album, Dangerous Woman. For some it will be a signifier of new heights for Grande, now into Drop #3 of her music career. For others it will be more of the same: young pop starlet is going to show you how mature she is with angry putdowns and sleazy come-ons, mixed with sexualized packaging to trumpet that “she’s no little girl anymore.” Both these scenarios are old and worn to the point that neither show any degree of maturity whatsoever, only a music industry’s innate need to follow tired strategies.
What is different is that, this time around, one of Grande’s fans is demanding that Metacritic disallow venerable publication Rolling Stone’s negative review of Dangerous Woman. The assertion is that the review dulls the all-important Metacritic rating and somehow does damage to Grande. Elliot Karsten has even started a petition to rally Grande fan-dees to shake the pillars of heaven to force this into being. This is an escalation.
Karsten writes: “By signing this petition, you are standing up for not only Ariana Grande, but all artists who suffer unfair reviews that have no substance or meaning to them. Please sign this to give Ariana Grande the score she deserves!”
I couldn’t tell you much more about Grande’s album as I have not heard it, nor do I intend to and, thus, will not be reviewing it here. Part of Karsten’s beef is that he believes RS paired a reviewer with a recording they knew he would not like, and through such chicanery a bad review was all but assured. (By the way, the actual review got three out of five stars — hardly a slam.) He claims this was a hit job, pure and simple. I would not defend the practice of hit reviews, as I find them not only distasteful, but pointless and miserable. With so much music coming out every day, why would you actively seek out something that probably won’t bring you an ounce of joy until after you’ve defecated on it? Life’s too short, there are too many options to choose from, and wanting to be annoyed is a foolish pursuit.
And Karsten should have written an op-ed stating his displeasure. Lord knows there are a million ways for a bunch of cranks to be heard these days. (Editor’s note: that’s why we’ve got you, Dunphy.) It is the next step, where he is demanding a system “disappear” a review he disagrees with, that gets me angry. He bases his righteous wrath on the conjecture that Grande’s album has received unanimous praise and the RS review is an outlier. Absolutely untrue. There have been some very good reviews for the album, and some just okay ones. Far from being a failure, so it would appear, but certainly enough room in the mix of reviewers to simply not like Dangerous Woman. There is something almost fascistic about demanding the erasure of an opinion because it doesn’t jibe with your own, or that it’s going to skew the abstract number grading.
One thing is true above all: any creative endeavor is going to draw criticism. Some of it can be mean-spirited and harsh. It should not be but it just is. The artist, musician, writer, painter, whatever must come to terms with the probability that the one-to-one-hundred people who don’t like your stuff (or maybe don’t like you) also have the agency to speak it before the public. If Ariana Grande isn’t thick-skinned enough to deal with that, she should not be working in the public arts, because she’s going to get a hell of a lot of it, justly or unjustly. Frankly, I bet Grande can handle it.
It’s a good thing to have devoted superfans, too. You’re going to have a long and healthy career before you with them. But this superfan, in his extreme ardor, seems to insinuate that Grande won’t be able to handle one bad review and has taken it upon himself to defend her honor in a gross display. In trying to support her, he instead reflects a lot of negative responses her way. The entitlement, the fragility, the “calling out of the goon squad” to take down the detractors (dissenters?) once again call to mind a pop superstardom too weak to be pop superstars. The vicious swarming of the Beliebers. Fistfights between Harry and Zayn supporters. Even earlier than those, the howling video beseeching “Leave Britney alone!” This has gone on for some time now, bur even on the spectrum between petulance and stalker-ish defense, demanding the press unpress what you disagree with, or have that disagreeable opinion removed from the digital rating record, is a new low.
Rolling Stone comes out looking pretty good here, a bastion of free press ethics. This is a magazine that has, for decades, housed incredible journalists and reviewers who have done stellar work. They’ve also run reviews for albums from old favorites that were extremely biased in their favor. There’s a reason why there are universal eye-rolls and face-palms when a croaky Baby Boomer icon releases a half-hearted effort and still gets the five-star treatment. But if I have a gripe about it, I have the freedom to express that as I just have. I have the freedom not to buy the magazine and not to patronize the site or its advertisers. That would be my protest, and I think the RS editorial staff would begrudgingly respect that.
I do not have the right to demand they or any other body like Metacritic change for me, or for the musical object of my defense. I’m not so spoiled and entitled to believe I should rally outraged like-minded fans to force you to shut up or else. I do not have the right to cut out the parts I don’t like so it fits my personally approved narrative that everybody loves it. Everybody Loves It. Resistance Must Be Crushed.
You’d think at this point I would demand Karsten take down his petition and, instead, cede the webspace to a cause that’s a hell of a lot more important than Ariana Grande’s ego…but that would be playing into the same fascistic “My way or die” mentality. I do encourage people to read it, look it over, and then start a conversation about what real liberty is all about. Not the liberty of political press junkets based on fear tactics of all the stuff the other guy plans to take from you, but the liberty of being able to say something and have it stand or fall without fear of someone on the fringe trying to zero you out. You should be allowed to say things both smart and dumb, and be judged accordingly, and those words should not be “disappeared” like in some dictatorship where everyone must be of one mind whether they like it or not.
Incidentally, Dangerous Woman is Number Two on the album charts and doing very well.