After taking a shot a Baby Boomers in my last post, I’d like to spread the criticism around and go after my own generation. This Blender list of the 40 worst lyricists in rock is a case study in intellectually lazy criticism, as practiced by Generation Y¹: snark and sneer, with a useless dash of contrarianism thrown in to annoy.
I understand that lists of “the best of” and “the worst of” are both inherently subjective and presented as the empty-calorie diversion of popular magazines, but something more than “assertion with attitude!” is called for here. You want to try and set up some sort of vague criteria or at least choose the most egregious and generally recognized offenders (e.g. something goofy like 50 Cent’s “I love you like a fat kid loves cake”). At least go for broke on the meaningless and viscously subjective, which, even when your readers don’t agree, can be pretty funny; arbitrariness alleviates the burden of having to legitimately defend your choices. If you’re going to be irreverent, you need to sell it.
But when Blender claims Sting is the worst lyricist ever, this is the best they can muster:
Surveying the Cold War, he found the West “conditioned to respond to all the threats/In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets.” His rage at Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was so heated, he castigated the scoundrel in Spanish. Holy frijoles, was Sting mad!
Oh noes! He was “mad” and singing in another language! Oh, snap? If you’re going to assert Sting’s lyrics represent “[m]ountainous pomposity, cloying spirituality, ham-handed metaphors,” it would help if you cited examples, unless we’re to understand that mentioning Nabokov or referencing Shakespeare for an adult-contemporary audience as pomposity–in which case I’d like to thank Blender in advance for adding to creeping anti-intellectualism, or outright disdain for anything resembling the influence of poetry² on lyrics.
For more on my Generation’s critical follies, check out this Slate article categorizing this sort of criticism as a symptom of “poptimism”.
¹ Or whatever the hell we’re calling people born after 1980 but before 2000.
² Hahahahaha. “Poetry.”