The Contrarian: Musical Artists You’re Wrong About, Vol. 1


By Spencer. This website needs a little more hate. Sure, we introduce you to a lot of great music here, and for that, you should clearly be thankful. But there are some other websites out there with somewhat wider readership who are hellbent on convincing you to listen to some truly godawful crap. And gullible as you, o’ hapless internet reader, might be, there’s a decent chance you’ve even convinced yourself that you actually—[head shaking]—enjoy this shit. I’m not just talking about these newer indie bands, either; some of these mistakes go back decades.

Well, it’s time to have an intervention. Because I can’t just keep standing idly by while the arbiters of taste keep gushing with complete impunity over the same overblown, pretentious, boring, hackneyed, obnoxious purveyors of shit music. These artists objectively and demonstrably suck, and it’s high time you realize it. So for those of you who have been suckered into some inexcusably bad musical tastes, I’m kicking off a new series, The Contrarian, that will hopefully save you from yourselves. You’re welcome.

frankoceanFrank Ocean: When Channel Orange anointed Frank Ocean as an R&B genius with appeal to both black urban youth and middle-class white hipsters, it didn’t grab me but I could at least respect the aim. Then came the altercation with Chris Brown—and I think we can all agree, being on the wrong side of that dickbag is enough to make anyone look better—followed by Ocean’s vague but admirable coming-out statement. By that point I was kind of rooting for the guy. But then came all the breathless speculation about when his new album would finally drop—speculation he shrewdly teased into existence. And when it finally did arrive, he went like Beyonce on steroids with two surprise releases in the same weekend—one of them a so-called “visual album” and both available exclusively through Apple Music. Reports surfaced that the visual album, Endless, was a blatant legal maneuver designed to fulfill his record contract with Def Jam so that he could go independent—and keep more of the money from the true album, Blonde, for himself.

Frankly (see what I did there?), it takes some real douchebaggery to make the lawyers look like the sympathetic party in anything. In doing so, Ocean revealed himself for what he truly is: a hollow opportunist whose “talent” is more in the packaging than in the bland music underneath it. Which, if you think about it, pretty much makes him the fucking Donald Trump of music. But of course he couldn’t even get that right, because in the rush to keep his nefarious plan secret from Def Jam’s lawyers, the moron rushed out an album cover with the spelling, Blond, leaving the music media to guess which one is the proper title.

Naturally, the hipsters just saw this as part of Ocean’s mystique and hailed the drama and ambiguity as some kind of deeper creative statement—like marketing executed as performance art. And if you’re one of those people, then fuck you, because you’re what’s wrong with millennials (and America in general). You probably also needlessly camp out in front of the Apple store a week before every iPhone release, insist that the huge box office of the Michael Bay Transformer movies proves that he’s just giving America “what it wants,” and argue that the Kardashians should be respected as business innovators. This is why we can’t have nice things anymore; because stupid people can’t wait to hand over their money for complete shit, and even stupider people think there’s some kind of virtue in the ability to capitalize on this.

And make no mistake, Frank Ocean is one of the capitalizers. Blonde (or Blond or whatever the fuck you want to call it) is as aimless as you’d expect from a performer with such attention-deficit disorder that he can’t be troubled to spell the name right. And Endless is the musical equivalent of one of those exhibits at the MoMA where they install a urinal on the wall with a plaque reading “Untitled No. 1” and then wait for the assholes to line up to see it. Please don’t be one of these assholes. And the next time some dickhead makes you subscribe to an unwanted streaming service so you can be part of a pop culture “experience,” don’t reward him by playing along.

sufjan-3Sufjan Stevens: It’s very easy to confuse eccentrism with profundity. So when Sufjan Stevens went from a bare-bones acoustic artist to recording with full symphonies on every track, we accepted it. We praised his broad vision when, during the era of releases like Michigan and Illinois, he absurdly claimed he was going to record an album for each of the fifty states—a claim he later admitted was just a “promotional gimmick,” because OF COURSE IT WAS. The real question is, why did we put up with this kind of egocentric bullshit for so long? And why does the music media still fawn over his every release? I mean, just look at this asshole. If a tinsel-lined Budweiser skull cap is the least obnoxious thing in a picture of you, you’re a real dick.

I know that on the back end of the grunge and nu-metal eras, it seemed courageous to layer clarinet and harp over everything, but come the fuck on. Even when he burnt out on that, he had to follow it with the same escape hatch used by every so-called artist who’s out of real ideas; he went electronic, peppering The Age Of Adz with enough vintage Atari sound effects to satisfy the five-year-old child still hiding in every Gen-Y jerkoff. The dude even managed to release a box set of Christmas songs that will make you hate Christmas. And yet the media loves of him! When one of the guys on NPR’s All Songs Considered came to tears last year while describing Sufjan’s live show as a quasi-religious experience, it only made me wish the guy would find real religion, which even in its worst forms has probably been less destructive to society. Sufjan is the musical embodiment of trying too hard, and the fact that more people can’t see through his asinine shtick gives me serious concern for the future of mankind.

Beach House: You know those movies where they send astronauts into deep space in a state of suspended hibernation? Yeah, they were all just listening to Beach House.

rsThe Cure: I know, I know. This is the one that’s going to piss a lot of you off. You know what? There are exactly four good Cure songs: “Just Like Heaven,” “Lovesong,” “Burn,” and “Friday I’m In Love.” And per the rules established by the purveyors of cool, you’re only allowed to like that last one if you’re a little embarrassed about it. The dirty little secret of The Cure is that they’re actually better when filtered through other artists; a lot of great bands loved them (Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Blur, Interpol, Suede, The Killers), were influenced by them, and turned those basic sonic sensibilities into actual listenable music. That’s why, nine times out of ten, a Cure cover is better than the original. But when fucking 311 can play your own song better than you, you really need to hang your head in shame.

To make matters worse, Robert Smith is an arrogant prick who walks around looking like a homeless version of Boy George while clearly thinking this somehow magnifies his artistic credibility. Thanks to him, we’ve all got to look the other way every time some Goth kid comes walking down the street, just so we don’t give them the satisfaction of the attention they so desperately crave. THOSE PEOPLE ARE HIS FAULT. And yet he has the audacity to disclaim responsibility for it! “It’s so pitiful when ‘goth’ is still tagged onto the name ‘The Cure,'” he’s said, which is a little like John McCain complaining about all the Sarah Palin fans in Republican politics. Goth music, Smith says without self-awareness, is “incredibly dull and monotonous” (which is really a perfect description of Seventeen Seconds).

And then there’s the whole emo scene, which also owes its existence to The Cure. When your style has spawned not one but two different groups of whiny, pretentious shitheads, maybe you owe it to society to shut the fuck up and apologize already. But no, this is what Smith has to say about the legacy of his band: “We’re not categorisable…. I just play Cure music, whatever that is.” That’s a sentence that makes me want to hit people. Seriously, spending just seventeen seconds with this pompous douchebag must feel like an eternity.

9 thoughts on “The Contrarian: Musical Artists You’re Wrong About, Vol. 1

  1. I’ll take the bait Donald, I mean Spencer, Hate is exactly what we need more of these days. We have a flippant, misogynistic, racist oompa loompa inches away from the WHITE House spewing his propaganda from a presidential platform for God’s sake!, We’re sitting on boiling keg of rage ready to erupt in a full on race riot the next time a frightened ass clown with a gun shoots down another unarmed African American, I live in a community where kids are flying confederate flags off their trucks at the high school because “Fuck Beyonce”. We have terrorist cells popping up all around the world ready to demonstrate such hate and evil that now my son’s friend (dad was killed in the San Bernardino shotings) and countless other kids around the world have to grow up without a dad, mom or significant member of their family. So Yeah lets have more hate!!!! I know this is supposed to be tongue and cheek and maybe I’m too sensitive but I don’t need anymore fucking hate, especially in a place I go to escape all the hate swirling around me. I’ve listened to Blond(e) and there we’re moments of beauty that moved me, he’s a broken kid trying to find himself through art so yeah Fuck him for that what a dick!! What a dick he is trying to roll out an album to get as much publicity as he can to expose as many people as he can to his art because the arrogant prick actually believes people will want to hear it. Fuck me too!! I cried to the latest Sufjan Album, my dad was inches away from death in the hospital and an album by a guy I’ve always related to comforted me in a time of grief and fear so what a dick I am. I went to his show and it was spell binding and i’m pretty sure the crowd and I didn’t then go on a crusade and kill all the Hessian’s at the Ratt/Warrant reunion down the street at 4th and B. Finally leading me to my favorite band of all time The Cure, I’m pretty sure all the things you said about Robert can be said about Billy Corgan times 3. I’m pretty sure all rock stars can be dicks and douche bags and I’m pretty sure Billy and Ryan Adams can be near the top of that list, that doesn’t take away from the fact that these dicks have made some great music and you’re (tiny hands clenched with pointer fingers pointing towards a “defective” microphone with my lips pursed like a disgusting orange Anus) Wrong about the Cure only having four good songs but that’s like your opinion man. Finally, you have said some asinine things since I’ve been reading your reviews and this blog but the one that made me lose all respect was the 311 one, that was some absolute Skip Bayless bullshit right there. So i probably played right into some secret lawyer trick because I let myself get all riled up by this but I couldn’t stay silent. I’m guessing based on Chris’ comment Morrissey/Smiths (another of my favorites), Radiohead and Justin Vernon are up next. Cant wait to read how bad my taste is again!

  2. Haha, I share your sentiments about the state of American politics at least! But yes, this was very much intended to be a tongue-in-cheek column, in the same spirit as Drew Magary’s Why Your Team Sucks NFL columns on Deadspin, if you’ve ever read those. We all have those bands that everyone else loves and we just don’t understand the appeal, so by all means, I encourage you to go on your own rant about any artist out there who rubs you the wrong way. I’ll run it here! And if you want to make it about Smashing Pumpkins or Ryan Adams, go for it, because I will laugh my ass off. God knows they’re both ripe for material!

  3. P.S. What was the offensive part about the 311 comment — that I said their version of “Lovesong” was better than The Cure? Or that I implied 311 sucks? 🙂

  4. What’s funny is I read deadspin regularly but have never read a single why your team sucks or the cardinal just lost their millionth game of the season articles must be getting soft in my old age! I just reread my comment and I must have been in a very bad mood yesterday. Anyway I hate to be the Debbie Downer(Feline AIDS is the number one killer of cats:( so by all means continue with the hate and I’ll try to have a better sense of humor. And you know damn well what was so offensive, in fact the only thing worse would be if Florida Georgia Line covered Karma Police!

  5. How did I miss all of this! Great picture of Sufjan, Spencer. Really drives home your point. He’s pretentious as fuck, but for whatever reason I can take him.

    Frank Ocean on the other hand is too much. Blond(e) — love the bit about him not even bothering to get the title right — fails as music. Biff’s point is well-taken about him. I think he’s been important to hip hop and RNB music. Challenged the form in many ways and socially he’s pushed the genre in the right direction, but Blond(e) isn’t listenable sober. It’s rough. I wish I liked it more.

  6. First, thanks for finally saying that about Sufjan Stevens. He’s the new Frank Zappa.
    Second, I reacted negatively on the Cure thing as that was a teenage staple. But I get it. Everything after Seventeen Seconds is probably dispensable.
    Third, you forgot Bon Iver.

    • Oh, Bon Iver may very well appear in a later edition. Though he’s a hard case, because I actually liked his first two albums. It’s this new one where he’s really lost me. It’s pretentious as hell and grating to listen to.

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