FEATURE: Nostrils, Upper Lip and Eyebrows Pointing North: The Fine Art of Musical Snobbishness and Personal Attack



Nostrils, Upper Lip and Eyebrows Pointing North

Tom Beard.jpg

IN THIS PHOTO: Florence Welch (Florence + the Machine)/PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Beard 

The Fine Art of Musical Snobbishness and Personal Attack


AS much as I love certain music websites…


PHOTO CREDIT: Phil Fisk for the Observer

and eat up every feature and interview they put out there; I often feel bad when I read the comments sections and the ‘views’ of the general public. I will quote from an interview that has just been put up concerning Florence + the Machine. It is a timely and interesting discussion with the beguiling artist: a look at her creative process and ambitions; what her upcoming album, High as Hope, is all about and what we might expect. The record is out on Friday and already garnering praise and great press. I am a huge fan of Florence Welch and have been following her career since the very start. I have seen her blossom and know how she has grown since the earliest days – less bombastic, perhaps, than the woman who scored Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) and You’ve Got the Love. Whilst the enraptured and scintillatingly powerful vocals of those songs has been replaced with something subtler and more calming; I wonder whether a sense of critical and public pressure enforced that change; maybe it was a natural mirroring of lyrical maturity and new aspects coming into her music. Eva Wiseman, writing in The Guardian, interviewed Welch and picked her brain. To see Welch in print and allowed physical freedom in photography is like seeing Kate Bush at her early peak – a free-flowing and captivating bird (in terms of wings and song; I’m not going all Essex!) who captures the eye and makes you want to dig deeper.

I may be a little biased: Florence Welch is a bit of a dream and I have limitless respect for her. What galls me is how snobbish and imperious a lot of people are regarding certain types of artists. Look at the comments section regarding the interview above and the sort of feedback one sees, from middle-aged men I assume, makes the skin crawl. I can understand if someone like Flo is not your bag: music is a subjective forum and everyone is entitled to dislike whoever they wish. I get affronted and offended when individuals feel it necessary to passively-aggressively and childishly mock certain elements of an artist. In this case, the free-flowing nature of Welch and how she comes over in interviews – theatrical at times; very open and honest at other intervals – and the assumption she is being a bit pretentious and effete. I feel there is a core of people who feel anyone with an imagination, personality and sense of expression is communistic or a bit ‘too much’! Whilst the music of Florence + the Machine can split some people’s views; to go after someone in an interview setting and criticise their motives is beyond the pale. It is rather harsh and unforgivable considering some of the revelations that came out:

“…Now 31, her hair less roaring fire, more gentle sunset, Florence Welch is a calmer woman than the whirling girl behind three number one albums who headlined Glastonbury in a silver suit. Today, removing her jewellery so as not to jangle over the tape recorder, she looks like the Lady of Shalott in blue jeans. It was during that everywhere period, when Welch could hear herself coming every time she stepped out of the house, that she started to crack, slightly.


PHOTO CREDIT: Vincent Haycock  

“That’s when the drinking and the partying exploded, as a way to hide from it. I was drunk a lot of the time, on extra dirty Martinis – my way of drinking three shots at once. I was never interested in,” and she laughs, bitterly, “a nice glass of wine.” She says the phrase as if it were an urban myth; she had always enjoyed a party. It was in the toilets of a London nightclub that, in 2006, she auditioned in front of her now-manager, becoming Florence and the Machine and breaking America three years later. In that period she rarely slept. When she got home after a two-day party, she was always in trouble. She’d get a text, typically, “Where RU?”.

The fact the songwriter has come a long way and overcome battles, recklessness and emerged the other side – it gives warning and inspiration to artists; a word about the perils of the fame circuit and how to avoid disaster. I am getting too hung up on Welch but I feel this kind of snobbishness and arrogance extends to other artists. I have been enjoying the pleasures and revelations of Kamasi Washington’s new (double) album, Heaven and Earth. Whilst most critics are drooling over the record and extolling its confidence, sheer wonder and endless beauty. I am one of those people who could listen to Washington for hours: some are of the opinion his music is a bit too adventurous, undisciplined and against the grain of ‘traditional Jazz’.


IN THIS PHOTO: Kamasi Washington/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Many prefer their Jazz en passant – translation: a little boring, rule-orientated and level-minded – and do not like these new-fangled artists coming through and getting all boisterous and physical. Maybe I am talking about a small number of people who do not want change and cannot tolerate any artist that is exciting and different. It is not only the best and most engaging of 2018 that are causing eyebrows to raise beyond the hairline and nostrils to contort and twist into all sort of ugly shapes! It seems like either area of music is in danger of pointless criticism and those who are troubled by reality and substance. I am not a massive fan of Pop artists like Dua Lipa and Taylor Swift but will never dismiss their music and think they hold little value. They both, alongside their peers, are inspirational and doing something different. Dua Lipa has been commended for her natural ability and songwriting skills; newcomers like Sigrid shows maturity and longevity at an early stage – the game is changing and we are seeing an evolution. There are many – maybe not only those who post comments with snide comebacks on websites – who feel those who do not write every morsel of their music or do not play instruments is a bit pointless. I am seeing interviews and reviews of modern Pop artists – who do not play music but can write their own songs – getting flack because they are not a one-woman/man band who can do everything and does not need other bodies. Beyoncé, for one, has been subject to that sort of snobbishness, even though she is one of the finest artists and icons of our day.



I guess the ‘art’ of sticking your nose up at anything with a strange pulse and sense of the curious is as old as time itself. Legends like The Beatles and Bob Dylan would have got some heat; Joni Mitchell divides opinion and modern-day favourites have had their share of judgement. I guess it is part of music but I get rather annoyed many feel the need to poke and criticise artists because they are a free spirit or they are poetic; maybe they are not your traditional musician or they have other people to help them write. I know music is subjective and different people go after certain sounds: we need to all be a bit more broad-minded and stop seeing negatives where there are none. Going back to the Florence interview and comments ranged from attacks at her drinking confessions (thinking she was being attention-seeking or overdoing it) and assumptions her music was all P.R.-driven and substance-free. There are those – with ears and brains – who can see why Florence + the Machine is so celebrated and one of the finest artists in the country. I wonder why people, who make such immature and stupid comments, actually listen to music and what their ‘ideal’ is. I have been culpable of being stuffy regarding new Pop and getting a little shirty regarding some Rock acts and how much power they wield.



My concerns, in those cases, concern musical credibility and the originality of their sounds. I have never gone out of my way to attack someone’s backstory or personality; have a go at their intentions and feel they are posers. Seeing great artists, in any genre, reduced to meat or subjected to snowballs or cold acclaim makes me shudder and feel ashamed. Maybe ‘snobbishness’ is not the word I am looking for: a C-worded response might be more appropriate and accurate when describing ruinous trolls and those who are never happy. There is too much negative energy around and I wonder, when reading people’s opinions regarding certain artists, why they are so put out and angered. If you do not like someone or what they are doing then why go out of the way to be negative and potentially offend them?! It seems counterintuitive being so schoolboy-like and adopting such an aggressive demeanour. I feel we all need to check our heads and how we approach certain avenues of music. I am resolved to be more open-minded regards commercial Pop and give it a chance; listen more closely to modern Rock and what is coming through – artists I have been a little distant with I shall give more heart and love to. One of the good points and outcomes of the Internet-driven pettiness is the artists being highlighted; they are gaining massive critical love and respect from the best and finest music fans.



I shall leave things here and ask whether we need to make changes and look at a negative culture that is spreading online. I guess the sort of comments that came onto The Guardian’s website today are tame and comparatively polite when you look at some of the bombs and bile that is aimed at some musicians. Perhaps being special, different and ambitious comes at a price: you have to endure the slings and arrows of outright c*nts and the victory comes with success, respect and longevity. In any case; those who feel obliged to be offensive and denigrate the worth of an artist because they dress a certain way or have had their troubles need to take a hard look at themselves. If you do not like a Jazz artist because they are avant-garde and brash then you have a very confined and narrow appreciation of music. Sounds evolve and the only way we are going to see a strong and progressive industry is to embrace those making changes and standing out from the crowd. Dilettanism and childish petulance is discouraging artists and looks really pathetic in print. I get annoyed when I see snobs having a field day and wonder, really, what are they looking for when it comes to music?! It seems, in their mind, people should be English, reserved and rather obedient. They cannot have any unique insight and lead an exciting life – if the likes of David Bowie conformed to such insane limitations then music would be so much poorer for it! If you are only looking for that kind of cloistered and dull type of artist then you have to ask the question: Are the sheer joys, variations and delights of music…



COMPLETELY wasted on you?!