Ask A Music Critic: Is The Rise Of Greta Van Fleet Comparable To Donald Trump?

Courtesy of Greta Van Fleet

Welcome to another installment of Ask A Music Critic! And thanks to everyone who has sent me questions. Please keep them coming at

Do you find some parallels between the response to Greta Van Fleet and the 2016 election? I thought of this after reading the Pitchfork review and seeing the response from other critics, specifically NYC-based bloggers. I am a liberal guy but I found myself using terms like “coastal elite wannabe tastemakers” in my head. Now people would cringe at this comparison, and I don’t mean it politically, but the response to GVF from NYC-based critics compared to their reception feels like Trump rallies before the election: Most writers were writing them off, meanwhile these rallies were packed with people screaming for their guy who represented in some ways a throwback to a different time. Again I’m not implying GVF listeners are Trump voters since I myself am a GVF fan and not a Trumper. But I do believe there is a parallel here between the critical disconnect and the common-man enthusiasm. Does the parallel work for you? — Josh from Buffalo

It’s interesting to me that as a fan of Greta Van Fleet, you thought to liken the band’s rise (and the subsequent critical backlash) to the cult of personality for our gross president. (Sorry, can’t be “fair and balanced” here.) Because I suspect many of GVF’s detractors would also be tempted to compare the conservatism of classic rock-worshipping bands with some of the most backward impulses that have caused our current political nightmare.

For the record, I’m also a somewhat grudging fan of Greta Van Fleet, who I find to be completely ridiculous and yet also enjoyable in the right doses. But to address your question — yeah, I think drawing that parallel is credible, if also reductive. As I and many others have pointed out, bombastic and transparently derivative hard-rock bands like Greta Van Fleet have never been popular with critics. Of course, that includes Led Zeppelin, a band that has been literally sued on multiple occasions for plagiarism. Though over time critics came to embrace getting the Led out. Will that eventually happen with Greta Van Fleet? The band members are awfully young, and I would expect them to evolve dramatically over the next few years. Or they might make an album exactly like Anthem Of The Peaceful Army(or Led Zeppelin II) the next time out. I’m curious to find out!

The crucial difference between GVF and Trump, in terms of this very narrow comparison concerning “coastal elite wannabe tastemakers,” has to do with the degree to which the respective popularity of those institutions is reactionary. Many of the people who love Trump appear motivated, at least in part, by the intense animus he inspires on the left. A vote for Trump, in effect, is a way to own the libs. With Greta Van Fleet, however, I don’t get the sense that fans like that band because critics hate them. In fact, GVF was already a really popular band before they became a critical punching bag.

Whereas the people who read Pitchfork or other music sites are more likely to share that site’s tastes, GVF’s actual audience is likely totally unaware of the bad reviews or inclined to see them as acts of bad faith by sour hipsters. So, while Trump fans and haters are interconnected, GVF’s fans and haters seem to exist in completely separate silos. Which is why GVF can get a 1.6 and debut in the top three on the albums chart.

Just saw A Star Is Born yesterday. Pretty much dug it, though I kept thinking throughout, “Who would be the closest real equivalent to Jackson Maine?” Thinking of a rock star who’d be famous enough to have every drag queen in a club dying to get his autograph while still selling out stadiums left and right, but somehow declining enough to play a big pharma gig for cash and get bumped from a Roy Orbison tribute at the damn Grammys. — Jason from Lafayette, LA

Confession: I haven’t seen this movie yet. I’ve been busy lately! I still want to catch it, though I wonder if I actually need to see it, seeing as how I’ve already experienced approximately 4.72 million thinkpieces and GIFs about it in the past month. Just reading your question feels like watching A Star Is Born.

Anyway, my point is that even though I haven’t watched the movie, I still feel qualified to answer this question. And this is my answer: Kid Rock.

He’s very famous. He’s also in the midst of a commercial decline, though he still headlines arenas. I don’t know if he currently has a drug problem but it’s certainly plausible to imagine him with one. I suspect that at least eight out of 10 drag queens know who he is. He checks all of the boxes.

I wonder if you could also liken Kid Rock to the Lady Gaga character, if we talk about A Star Is Born in the context of “Picture,” Kid’s hit 2001 duet with Sheryl Crow. “Picture” was a crucial crossover move for Kid Rock, pushing him into the roots rock realm as nu-metal faded. In this scenario, it’s fair to say that Sheryl Crow — who never again had a top 10 single after “Picture” — is the Jackson Maine figure. Where have you gone, Sheryl?!

I attended the Gorillaz concert the other night at the United Center in Chicago. We scored great seats, mid-upper level, but towards the front. Upon arriving at our seats we realized that the people around us didn’t appear to be super fans and they all looked very comfortable in their seats. Once the show started, the music took over us and we felt the need to get up and dance/nod along to the beat. My suspicions were correct and as we looked around, we realized we were the only ones standing. We weren’t obnoxious about it and we even chose to sit more often than we normally would. But there were certain songs where a seat couldn’t contain us (“Rhinestone Eyes”). Throughout the show we could hear rumblings that “if we wanted to sing, dance, move around… why didn’t we score GA tickets.” For me, I like a good GA from time to time. I also like the ability to have a seat (a home base if you will) in order to go use the restroom / grab drinks without feeling like starting over again. Which gets me to my question, what is the protocol for sitting or standing during a performance at a large venue / stadium where you have a seat? — Kris from Chicago

Talk about an extremely depressing scenario — you’re surrounded by (apparently) thoroughly miserable people who insist on sitting the whole time at a Gorillaz concert. What’s the point of paying to see a lightly funky indie-pop band if you’re just going to sit there twiddling your thumbs for two hours?

Granted, I can be a pretty big crank at concerts. But this just strikes me as especially grouchy. On your feet, Gorillaz fans! Damon Albarn didn’t invent a cartoon band for you to just lay around all day!

In my view, sitting down during a concert puts you in the subordinate position. It’s on you to put up with the people around you, not the other way around. That said, you do have to read the room. I went to see Crosby, Stills, and Nash in the late ’00s, and there was one codger in that whole theater who was standing. That guy happened to be directly in front of me, and this codger behind me actually started a fist-fight with the standing codger! So much for peace and love! You can’t take baby boomers anywhere.

When comparing your favorite song by your favorite bands and artists with what you consider to be their best song, in which instance is there the widest gap in quality and artistry? This question came to mind as I was reading Twilight Of The Gods and thinking about my faves by Bowie, Tom Petty, Pink Floyd, the Boss, etc. I realized that, in most instances, there was at least a reasonable (if not always super strong) argument to be made that my favorite could also be considered the band or artist’s best. But it was more fun and interesting when that wasn’t the case. Example: “Black Diamond Bay” is my favorite Dylan track, mainly because of sentimental reasons. I would never argue it’s top-tier Dylan, let alone his best. It’s not in the same universe as “Like A Rolling Stone” or “Visions Of Johanna” or “Every Grain Of Sand.” So if you applied the same “Favorite vs. Best” comparison to groups and artists you like, where is the biggest discrepancy? — Barry from La Crosse, WI

First of all, thank you for the plug. Mentioning my book, especially now that we’re entering the holiday season (Twilight Of The Gods a great stocking stuffer!) will always get you a place in this column.

The artist that came immediately to mind was Cat Power, whose 2006 album The Greatest came out the same week (or so) that I met my wife. The song “Living Proof,” in particular, brings me back to that time period more powerfully than just about anything. But I would never say “Living Proof” is the best Cat Power song; that distinction probably belongs to “Good Woman,” from You Are Free, which is about the end of a relationship. So, while my critic brain prefers “Good Woman,” my sentimental brain is all about “Living Proof.”