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