Shut up and play your music
So apparently Jack White is now a jerk for calling the guys in the Black Keys jerks, among other jerky things said about other people, including his ex-wife, in the heat of the moment … to a Rolling Stone reporter. Then Jack said he was sorry.
Don’t you wish these guys would just stop talking? They’re going to wreck it.
The difficult question is how to figure out exactly to what extent music stars spoil enjoyment of their otherwise worthy music by being insufferable twits who just won’t shut up. Can such a thing even be measured? Short answer: Maybe.
Too much information can be a curse to some music lovers. It might be better not to know, for instance, that Jack White felt that he never got enough encouragement from Meg while they were in the White Stripes: “She’s one of those people who won’t high five me when I get the touchdown,” he said in one of many out-of-context excerpts of the recent Rolling Stone interview floating around, in advance of his new solo album, Lazaretto (which the magazine gives 4 out of 5 stars).
Before undergoing a detailed study on the possible impact of the “Suck Effect,” it is important to single out artists who are immune. Bob Dylan has said some foolish things over the years, sold his music for television commercials, shown a lack of respect for his fans and is a self-indulgent performer on stage – yet none of this seems to have affected Dylan’s status as the Voice of a Generation, even if he denies being the Voice of a Generation. In fact, his fuck-you attitude only appears to have endeared himself further to his fans. Dylan is bulletproof.
What about Michael Jackson? There are some music fans who argue that Jackson’s songs have been forever tainted because he may have been a child molester, but Justin Timberlake obviously doesn’t think so. His new duet with the late King of Pop is called “Love Never Felt So Good.”
Bad-mouthing fellow pop stars can bite you in the ass – but among a number of stars scuttled by excessive backstabbing, Elton John gets a free ride. That he slammed Madonna for being a big phony wasn’t the issue. It’s that he later apologized to her. What’s with these namby-pamby celebrities speaking their minds and then taking it back? You’d never catch Noel Gallagher from Oasis apologizing to any of the bands he’s bashed. Yet Oasis, too, like Jack White, like Elton John, like Dylan, and like Michael Jackson, made music strong enough to withstand a little dirt on its creators. Lou Reed, for a great example, was said to be a legendary asshole, and most people still seem to be able to hear “Walk on the Wild Side” without thinking ill of the dead man.
Do the musical math
To begin, let us compare an artist apparently loved by fans and critics alike, say, Jack White, with one that allegedly isn’t, like Nickelback. Calculating a ratio of the total number of Google hits on “Artist” alone against the number of results of the search term “Hate Artist” gives us the Suck Index (results can vary by day). So “Jack White” by itself yields 5.82 million results, while “Hate Jack White” gives 82,500, for a Suck Index of 1.4%. Do the same with Nickelback and you get 0.3%.
How is it even possible that Jack White has more haters than Nickelback?!
The answer may lie being talkative. Jack White loves to talk. Nickelback does not. In fact, you could argue that the allegedly stupid things Chad Kroeger has done – helping his wife produce “Hello Kitty,” being the singer of Nickelback – fall under artistic license and therefore doesn’t count. You’d have to search hard to find a quote of Chad bad-mouthing another artist, or in fact saying anything controversial whatsoever, beyond expressing a love for weed. Nickelback is also immune.
Let’s bring Ted Nugent into the equation. Can anyone listen to “Cat Scratch Fever” without thinking of the right wing lunatic who spits when he talks? He recently told a crowd of gun nuts that U.S. President Barack Obama is “a communist-raised, communist-educated, communist-nurtured, subhuman mongrel.” Then he bit the head off a live squirrel to make his point. Mike McDonald, singer of Jr. Gone Wild and proprietor of Permanent Records, is a music fan of significant local credibility. While supporting Bob Dylan through thick and thin, McDonald says “I am guilty of having enjoyed Ted Nugent in my youth. Didn’t know he was batshit crazy in a dangerous way back then.” Listening to the Nuge now, if it can’t be avoided, he says it’s “ALL cringe ALL the time.”
No surprise, The Nuge scores a whopping 3.2% on the Suck Index, more than double Jack White and 10 times Nickelback.
It’s when we turn to the Love Index (“Artist” alone vs. “Love Artist”) that it gets weird. Nickelback scores only 0.5%, suggesting the main emotion at play here is indifference; Jack White pulls in with a respectable 5.7%; and the Nuge blows them both away with a Love Index of 48%! So what the hell does THIS mean?! It means that some artists inspire more passion – hate or love, less indifference – than others, and that there appears to be a direct correlation between the passion of music fans and how much the artist just won’t shut up.
Politics makes it complicated. It can strengthen passion. For those who might agree with Ted Nugent, for instance, the very sound of Neil Young’s voice can cause seizures of indignation – most especially due to his recent comments regarding oil. Or think of the Dixie Chicks blasting George W. Bush and losing all that rural country credibility. Former fans actually burned Dixie Chicks records, but then the group earned a lot of publicity and a whole new audience. Ditto k.d. lang, whose “Meat Stinks” controversy back in the day pissed off every rancher in North America and ruined her chance of ever making it in Nashville. Then Ingenue came out.
Consider Bono. Here’s another guy who loves to talk – so much that some music fans claim his otherwise great band U2 has been ruined, that they can’t even listen to “Sunday Bloody Sunday” without seeing Bono’s smug face when he says how much he wants to save the world. The nerve! Bono, however, scores a negligible Suck Index of only 0.04%, roughly the same as U2 itself, but then when you bring in the U2 Love, we see an overwhelming ratio: 57 times more love than hate!
Compare and contrast the love-hate ratios (and Suck Indices) of other artists who like to talk:
Bob Dylan (Voice of a Generation), 93 to 1 (SI = 0.2%)
John Mayer (embarrassing genius popsmith), 49 to 1 (0.5%)
Michael Jackson (also genius, may be child molester), 35 to 1 (0.5%)
Chris Brown (good dancer, wife beater), 24 to 1 (0.5%)
Courtney Love (confrontational rock widow), 22 to 1 (0.1%)
Ted Nugent (nutty libertarian), 15 to 1 (3.2%)
Neil Young (oilsands naysayer), 12 to 1 (0.1%)
Kanye West (insufferable blowhard), 9 to 1 (0.7%)
The Black Keys (dour innovators), 8 to 1 (0.3%)
Jack White (impulsive artiste), 4 to 1 (1.4%)
Morrissey (crusty contrarian), 3 to 1 (0.1%)
It’s hard to tell the difference between hate that comes from an artist saying or doing allegedly stupid things and the hate that derives from people being passionate about not liking an artist’s music – a hallmark of young fans – but most of the above (with a couple of exceptions) are known for making great music. At least according to music critics.
It’s also important to separate the “classic” artists – whose best work came before the Internet was invented to forever mark all the stupid things they may have said or done – from those whose best work may still be ahead of them.
Gary Glitter is famous for a song called “Rock and Roll, Part 2,” but it’s doubtful many of the spectators at the sporting match singing the song at the top of their lungs even know who wrote it, let alone that the songwriter happens to be a convicted pedophile. Pete Townshend being issued a caution by British police over allegedly viewing child pornography doesn’t seem to have dimmed the legacy of the Who.
On the other side, we should expect Justin Bieber’s Suck Index to rise in direct proportion to the allegedly stupid things he has said and done, but this isn’t likely to affect the critical acclaim of “Boyfriend” – because the song never had much critical acclaim to begin with. Moreover, girls who like bad boys, for continuing mysterious reasons, find Bieber even more adorable now – so Bieber is also immune from the Suck Effect despite having a Suck Index that currently stands at more than 14.1%, one of the highest ever recorded, because, not to put too fine a point on it, his music already sucks.
In an example of a rising star possibly sabotaging his own career from an abhorrent act, take the case of electronic artist Betoko, who was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend – the news recently prompting Edmonton DJ David Stone to strike Betoko from his CJSR playlist. Stone explains, “I can’t see how anyone can recover from that, especially with the evidence already out there. People say and do dumb things, but there’s definitely always been a line you can never cross, whether you’re a DJ or an owner of a sports franchise.” Chris Brown, on the other hand, still seems to be doing well.
Most of the artists mentioned so far have said controversial things to reporters. They don’t even need to be interviewed by Rolling Stone to put their feet in their mouths. They can do it themselves on Twitter. Some have said too much. Some have made terrible blunders in life, like any human being. But what about the artists that aren’t known for dumb things? There are a few.
Focusing on the modern rock genre, Arcade Fire, aside from an unfortunate misunderstanding about requiring a dress code for shows on their upcoming tour – there isn’t one – is clean of controversy, scoring a Suck Index of 0.5% and a Love-Hate Ratio of 8 to 1. Arctic Monkeys gets 0.6% suck and 11-1 hate-love. Do the same with other modern rock artists – yes, you can try this at home – and the numbers are similar.
One anomaly is Kings of Leon – whose Suck Index is 3.1% with a tiny 1.1/1 love/hate ratio. What happened here? The band’s 2013 album Mechanical Bull earned rave reviews all around. Maybe it was all that talk of rehab and “creative differences” among the brothers, making the band come off like the Oasis of America. Maybe it’s the notion they sold out to the mainstream. Maybe it was that feud with Glee producer Ryan Murphy, who was pissed off the band didn’t grant permission to use “Use Somebody” in the show. “Fuck you,” he said. (Then he said he was sorry.) Or maybe it was at least one reported occasion that lead singer Caleb Followill was too drunk to finish a concert. Incidents like that can haunt you for years. It’s hard to know exactly the toxic agent responsible for such an abnormally large Suck Index from such an otherwise fine band.
There are plenty of other historical examples of the curse of too much information. Some say Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons sullied their reputations by starring in reality TV shows. Fans pissed off that Steven Tyler was a judge on American Idol claim it wrecks Aerosmith; likewise with Idol judges Nicki Minaj and Jennifer Lopez, who always seem to make the list of Star magazine’s “Most Hated Celebrities,” as does John Mayer. The arrogant behaviour of Axl Rose has cast a pall over Guns N’ Roses. Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine has said some absurdly stupid things that puts him in the nut league with Ted Nugent. Metallica lost face in its fruitless battle with Napster, and revealed themselves as whiners of the highest order in at least two revealing documentaries. Alice Cooper turns out to be a right-wing Christian. Worse, he golfs.
Stop. Please stop.
Maybe we can’t properly measure the effect of too much unpleasant information on subjective artistic opinion, but like high cholesterol doesn’t always signal an immediate heart attack, having too high a Suck Index should be a caution to any artist – Jack White, The Black Keys, name your favourite band – that maybe they should think about a lifestyle change. For their own health, maybe they should shut up and sing.