Welcome to another installment of Ask A Music Critic! And thanks to everyone who has sent me questions. Please keep them coming at email@example.com.
Which band or artist has the worst fans? — Andrew from Milwaukee
Excellent question! Though also very difficult to answer. When people talk about bad fanbases, what they really mean is “most annoying fanbases.” In terms of fandom, the best fans (i.e. the people who are most informed, most dedicated, and just all-around care the most) are often also the worst fans (i.e. the people who will band together online like killer bees and repeatedly sting any dissenter to death).
As a person who writes about music and pop culture for a living, I have a skewed perspective on this. We now live in an age where it is extremely easy for famous artists to essentially weaponize their staunchest followers against anyone who speaks ill of them. I had my own taste of this earlier this year, when I wrote a critical piece about Saturday Night Live‘s Colin Jost, and his friend and fellow cast member Michael Che accused me of having sex with dogs on his Instagram. This subsequently unleashed a torrent of best/worst SNL fans who clogged my social-media feed with “you totally have sex with dogs, dude” jokes. Just a normal day at the office, folks!
For what it’s worth, I think Michael Che had the right to publicly lash out against me and my piece. When you decide that your own opinions are worth broadcasting to the world, you must accept that occasionally people will get mad at you. (Also, I think Che made himself look like an idiot and inadvertently confirmed the validity of some of the criticisms made in my article, though that’s neither here nor there.)
Anyway, anyone who writes about public figures for a living is especially attuned to the awfulness of the best/worst fanbases out there. Here are the three worst in my own personal experience.
3. Anyone About Whom I Have Written Negative Things
I don’t know that the fanbase for Arcade Fire is especially bad. But, personally, I still get complaints about the review I wrote of 2017’s Everything Now. As for Childish Gambino, I got an email the other week taking me to task for a piece I wrote six years ago. These people are simply defending artists and bands that they love. I can respect that. I can also wish that these people would all suddenly lose access to the internet.
2. Anyone About Whom I Have Written Nice Things
It’s understandable to get some blowback when you rip an album by an artist or band that a lot of people like. For instance, I know that if I ever attend a Dave Matthews Band concert, I might take a shiv in the back for calling them “the world’s most ambivalently received superstar rock band.” But what’s truly insane is when you write nice things about an artist or band, and the fans still get mad at you. This has happened the most for me whenever I write about jam bands, even though I count myself among the most sympathetic to that scene among mainstream music critics. Jam partisans are in many ways the best music fans out there — they listen with rapt attention, from a position of deep knowledge, and often after traveling long distances to a concert. But that devotion can also drive them to argue with people who essentially agree with them, over some minor, arcane point that only matters to someone who has bothered to rank every essential live version of “Harry Hood.”
1. The Beyhive
Look, Beyoncé fans are the best. Truly. Bow down. Bow down, I said! But let’s be frank: The Beyhive is also the mafia of music fanbases. Anyone who steps out of line will be targeted for a swift comeuppance. It’s one thing to write something uncouth about a beloved pop star. Anyone who writes anything even remotely negative about Beyoncé faces the possibility of social-media hell that can last for days, weeks, months, years. However, people have faced death threats just for improperly asking Jay-Z if he wants a vodka soda at a basketball game. That is some true best/worst-ness right there.
Don’t hurt me, Beyhive.
The other night, Lord Huron played a career-defining headlining show at the Hollywood Bowl. I’ve been a fan since their debut, and while I understand that they are not a band that has reinvented or reinvigorated music in any substantial manner, the apathy or obliviousness to their slow and steady ascendancy from music publications and writers, with few exceptions (such as your friend and contemporary Ian Cohen’s profile of the band in Stereogum), strikes me as very odd. How can a very successful act that just headlined one of the most iconic venues in the country still feel like they are completely under the radar? —Mark from Las Vegas
I’ve asked myself this very question many times — not about Lord Huron specifically, though they are a great example of this phenomenon. Obviously, there is some dissonance for acts who generate almost no media coverage, in spite of doing well on the road and even selling a decent amount of records.