Wednesday, June 15, 2005


I thought hip-hop was about the triumph of artifice. That no serious critic believed rappers were real gangstas, or that hip-hop lyrics were reflections of objective reality (or that they should be). Hip-hop aficionados have frequently used this unreality as a defense mechanism, buffaloing anti-hip-hop voices and painting them as literalist buffoons who take it all way too seriously.

So this review of the new Coldplay album is a little puzzling, coming as it does from a fairly prominent critic best known for his work on hip-hop.

Behold the quotes that tell the story:

>the music of Coldplay traffics in the melancholy of the individual, a mythic individual who feels for all of us. And as the band's profile grows, the conceit of that individual grows increasingly difficult to stomach.

>There are epic tissue-boxes of emotion, but no objective correlative to account for the tears.

>It's strange for a man as morally outspoken and well-meaning as Martin to defer to such generically pop instincts—to retreat to the ambiguous power of crying "Aaahhh." But it's almost stranger for him to offer a collection of songs infected with the same low spirits as 2000. The State of Coldplay has never been stronger and Martin, with his celebrity wife and new child, has cobbled together a pretty good life. If it's not the sadness of worldly affairs that gnaw at the aching heart of Coldplay's songs—and the lyrics suggest not—it can't possibly be his own life, either. Maybe it's those bastard shareholders. Worse yet: Maybe it's nothing at all.

Is Hua Hsu really saying what he seems to be saying – that because Chris Martin is rich and famous and married to a rich and famous movie actress, his melancholy lyrics ring hollow? Maybe even that he’s got no right to be melancholy at all?

That’s always been an absurd argument. It was leveled against nu-metal bands in the late 1990s; they were called suburban whiners for their songs about broken families, existential despair, etc., with critics lining up to offer one variation or another on “Whatta you got to complain about? You’re a skate-rat from Glendale.” The flipside, of course, is the praise for “real” artists like Steve Earle, whose drug problems and arrest record give him extra gravitas in the eyes of many critics. (Nick Hornby deflated this myth expertly, saying that if drug abuse made you a genius, Elton John would be the greatest genius rock music had ever known.)

So the question is, why is Hsu taking such a – yes, I’ll say it – rockist tack in coming after Coldplay? (And yes, I realize this spot is turning into a Coldplay amen corner. I’ll stop after this post, probably.) Would he make the same charges against Snoop Dogg, a multimillionaire movie actor who continues to pretend to be a gangsta?

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