Issue May 20, 2014

Completely Obsessed

Kill yr idols

How seriously are we allowed to take the fan/artist relationship? Sure, there is an obvious line, like stalking. Or, alternately, getting creepy with fans over Instagram (I’m talking to you, James Franco!). On the less physical side of the line, we can be pretty vocal about our opinions of what is essentially their art. Is that fair? On the one hand, it’s something personal to them. On the other, they put it out for sale and we invest in it.

Should we hold artists responsible for their work? Not in a Tipper Gore way, but from a fan’s point of view. It’s not as easy as it sounds and — spoiler alert — probably doesn’t have a right answer. Still, it’s something I think about from time to time, especially when one of my favorite musicians comes out with a record that doesn’t hit the mark with me. You can hear their lack of effort, or maybe a failed attempt to try something different. When you hold a band that close to your heart, it can be easy to take it personally. We put all this time into them; who are they to not give it right back?

But why should they? They’ve never come to my house and personally asked me to be a fan. More likely, they went through their day, did their routines, got together with some friends, one thing leads to another, and a record is born. Suddenly, we’re screaming murder (said the anonymous online commenter) because it doesn’t live up to the bar we’ve set in our minds. I could sit here and defend them, but I’m guilty of it, too. A lot.

Still, it’s a dance — a strange dance, but a real one we’ve created. If we don’t hold them responsible, then we’re not listening, right? If we’re not complaining, it’s because we don’t care. If that’s the case, they could churn out whatever mediocrity they wanted to and hope their album ends up in Cracker Barrels and truck stops.

I guess the question is, how much influence do we have with our passion? And when does it become a whining demand? There are obviously some artists who have to create, regardless of the audience. Sometimes we get lucky and it’s a masterpiece, firing on all cylinders. Sometimes it’s a derailed think piece that’s better left for critique than repeated listen. Either way, it’s something they have to do. I’ll never knock an artist for trying, but what a letdown it is when it misses.

A good recent example is Arcade Fire. Three albums in and coming off an Album of the Year high, they threw a curveball on Reflektor. Some fans couldn’t get enough, while the rest sat bewildered at what to do with it. To this day, I’m torn. Sure, it was a smart move, for the key to longevity is to keep people talking and never rest on one sound. It’s a trick that can keep you in for the long run, as long as you’re OK with losing fringe fans along the way. But those fans don’t have to go down without a fight.

As a guy who’s spent more than a healthy amount of time listening to Pearl Jam, I’ve had my moments with them, too. I don’t think anyone should expect a band to knock out five-star records decade after decade, but what about when you can just tell they phoned a song in? Is it fair to call bullshit then?

So where is the line? Or is there one at all? Are we allowed to hold our bands accountable for their work? The world turns either way, so at the base level, it’s a silly game. It’s one of the most ridiculous outcomes of art, the way we complain about it. Enjoy it or don’t and move on, right? Or swallow the red pill instead and lock in.

I suppose the positive way to look at it all is that this art, even at its most forgettable, instills a passion of protest in us. There are lots of forces happening in the world that are there to keep us sedated. Thankfully, we’ve got music. And fandom. Just know when to not take it so seriously.

Kyle Meredith is the music director of WFPK and host of the nationally syndicated “The Weekly Feed.” Hunting bears was never his strong point.