I refrained from discussing this Vox piece for weeks, mainly because it was the holidays and there is no need to try to make them a miserable affair. There is also the fact that the general mission of this site is to focus on promoting music instead of finding ways to be negative all the time, so writing a critical piece on someone else’s opinion is something we would prefer to do only on rare occasions. But the calendar is no longer a concern, and since Vox has decided not to bother making any corrections (more on that later), we figure the time is ripe to tear this article apart.
The title was an immediate red flag: “5 Songs I’m too embarrassed to name Song of the Year.” It’s a fancy way of saying “I find these songs to be guilty pleasures,” when the entire concept of a guilty pleasure is a completely ridiculous notion, especially for a music critic. As a critic, you have an opinion, and we expect you to defend it; if you like a song, it’s your job to explain why you like the song. Usually we as an audience don’t have exacting standards, and will accept simple explanations along the lines as “it’s catchy” or “it has an infectious melody”; reasonable minds may disagree, but clearly this is merely a subjective assessment, and it’s hard to argue against it. The “guilty pleasure” also operates under the assumption that there is an objective standard as to what is good, when that is certainly not the case. Sure, critics like to discuss things in absolutes and will proclaim something to be good based on certain common criteria, but in the end this is a creative field that is subject to personal interpretation. If these songs are your picks for “Song of the Year,” then say so–we can’t say that your opinion is wrong.
However, one can give the author the benefit of the doubt and assume that perhaps the idea was that the article would provide a list of songs that, while not considered “Serious Art”, are at least fun or worth taking a listen. Looking over the list, I see mostly songs with which I have only a passing familiarity (beyond the expected inclusion of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” (because that’s a song and artist that now requires THINKPIECES in order to appreciate/bash)), but notice one artist that sticks out like a sore thumb from the list: Spoon. Now here is an artist that would never be considered for a “guilty pleasure,” so there has to be some unique rationale behind this selection. After reading the explanation, I can say that “unique” roughly translates to “I have no idea what I’m doing.”
The primary sin that Kelsey McKinney commits is contradicting herself between the first two paragraphs. She first states that “[t]he groovy, guitar-heavy tracks are easy to listen to, but sadly just as easy to forget” (which I would say is debatable, but hey, that’s how music criticism works), but is followed later with “[b]y far the standout off They Want My Soul is ‘Inside Out,’ a mellow, dreamy rock song…instead of the catchy, lyric-heavy, piano-backed songs Spoon is famous for.” Logically, the songs can’t all be easy to forget if there is one standout track, so that argument should probably have been woodshedded a bit longer. Then there’s the fact that somehow Spoon is both “guitar-heavy” AND known for “lyric-heavy, piano-backed” songs (we’re going to slide over falling back on the “-heavy” trope for a second, but don’t mistake that for us forgiving that sin). It’s hard for Spoon to be both of these things without sounding like a total cacophony, and even more so considering that they’re known for their “minimalism.”
What is even worse than these clumsily-constructed arguments is McKinney’s thesis that too many critics love Spoon and therefore give them a free pass: “They Want My Soul is an album with songs that are mostly passable not because they are great songs, or even good songs, but because they were released on an album that said SPOON at the top of it.” From an outside perspective, that may seem reasonable–how else to explain that Spoon has gotten consistent praise throughout their career? The idea that Spoon is actually a good band is too easy an explanation and should be dismissed, because this is clearly either a case of groupthink or an example of a massive conspiracy among music critics! No, the problem with McKinney’s theory is that this is precisely the opposite problem that Spoon has–they’ve been consistently good for too long so that critics take them for granted and as a result they try even harder to find faults. The piece’s central argument fails to hold up even under the barest scrutiny; the final point that “[p]icking a Spoon song for its production in a year where we had incredible productions from rappers like FKA Twigs and new pop stars like Rita Ora” just adds fuel to the fire, indicating zero understanding of what “production” is, especially when discussing a rock band.
Now, I could easily have let this pass and ignore this article, except that Vox kept promoting it for weeks and weeks after it was originally published. So I was reminded every couple of days of this horrible article’s existence, and I was forced to wonder once again “if you don’t care for Spoon at all, why are you saying that you’re ’embarrassed’ to name one of their songs the best of the year, when you can just leave them off the list?” Of course, that would have been too easy.
And to think, after all those promotions, they never bothered to go back and correct the spelling of the name of Spoon’s frontman.
*Also, we’re sorry for not even being able to go a day without mentioning Spoon.