What’s Fandom Got To Do With It?

jotyco / October 21, 2008

Live reviews of music tend to incite unnecessary fury from artists’ fans when they feel that their heroes have been slighted. Los Angeles Times critic Ann Powers opened up her mailbox and showed us some of the letters she received in response to a not-completely-glowing review of a recent Tina Turner performance at LA’s Staples Center. Here’s one of the nicer notes Powers got: “This woman is an inspiration to us all… For you to criticize her in any way is a lack of respect for her talent and professionalism. Wait until you turn 68 (almost 69) and see if you can get out and do half of what she does. Shame on you.” Not all of them were that polite, however.

Witness this caps-happy missive from a TINA TURNER SUPER FAN(!!!):

YOU REALLY DON’T GET IT, DO YOU. That’s all I can say to you……Who do you think go to these shows, DIE-HARD FANS.FANS.FANS….A fan of a super star will go to any and all shows that are available and possible…..A fan loves the artist no matter what…..For you as a columnist to tear apart this show was really out of control.

In cases like these–an established artist putting on an elaborate stage show and charging lots of money for the experience–should a review act as a consumer guide? The second commenter has a point lurking between the caps-lock and ellipses: Many people who purchase high-priced tickets to see a rock and roll legend are most likely going to look past the performance’s minor flaws.

Powers defends her position, saying, “In the end, I decided that ignoring Turner’s flaws would have been disrespectful, a qualifying act not unlike that old male chauvinist saw: ‘You play pretty good for a girl.’ She’s a real artist, and a musical innovator; she would want me to be honest, I think.” One wonders if Turner would focus more on her fans’ reactions to her show, both in the immediate crowd response and in the later ones from comment and letter-writers, particularly since her current tour is seen as something of a last victory lap.

But it’s difficult to support music criticism on an entirely citizen-journalistic basis, considering the types of fans who so willingly offer their opinions in comment sections around the Internet. And Powers’ review did analyze why, despite Turner’s vocal problems, the show was a success: Turner’s physical performance is what has really developed her career. Powers’ piece proves why we need competent, literate music critics: it’s good to have someone with at least some sense of objectivity to explain why performers have the ability to affect an audience, whether in a positive or negative way.

Are Tina Turner and other legends off-limits to negative criticism? [Pop & Hiss]