How To Hate A Band


It used to be easier.  Before the social media boom, groups of friends would sit around and share their thoughts on albums or bands and develop a sense of their own taste by defending what they enjoyed.  The only time your hate for a band or album wasn't a face-to-face endeavor was the occasional agreeing nod or angry scoff at a published review written by someone you could never interact with.

But things are different now.  Everyone has a voice, and complete strangers can hold watered down debates within character limits.  Shouldn't we then rethink how we hate bands in a critical sense?  For this piece I will be using the word "hate" as an interchangeable marker for dislike, as I know for many of you, hate is a strong word when considering that we’re talking about a piece of art.  My goal isn’t just to better understand how we treat albums we hate, but explore my own relationship to the issue and try to figure out the best course of action moving forward.

This entire exploration began a few weeks ago when I sat down with the new Vampire Weekend album and started writing a review.  Much like the two albums that came before it, I "hated" Modern Vampires Of The City.  I began crafting your typical negative review with a bombastic opening paragraph that melted into deeper analysis of the moments of the album that offended my sensibilities.  During one of my writing breaks, I went back and pulled up my review for their sophomore effort, Contra.  In the back of my head I remembered being proud of the review and that it had been met with a polarizing response from those who read it.  But here, re-reading it, I became mortified at how awful it was.

Yes, every negative feeling that I had toward Contra was expressed, but it was a piece of writing that put snark ahead of examination.  The question of “how to hate a band” became an obsession for the next few days and I took off for a quick vacation to the southern bayou to consider this thought.  My examination began with exploring why I wrote that negative review in a snarky manner in the first place.  The reason was simple; I was emulating the writers of music blogs I admired years before I even began WLFY.  The style in question was best summarized by fellow music writer Chris Ott, who referred to it as “music writer stand up comedy hour”.  The writer puts themselves and their voice front and center as the simple equivalent to “yo mama jokes” or “slams”.  While the writer’s reasoning is still communicated, it leaves me to wonder why it’s the accepted format for writing a negative review.

Which leads us to the first way we can better “hate" a band.  Music reviewers should treat negative reviews with the same insight as positive reviews.  We should accept that it’s harder to stay level-headed on any end of hyperbole, and when crafting a negative review, even more effort is required in order to successfully provide thoughtful insight.  Today, where everyone is a 140-character critic, a writer must have something to say using long form analysis to even justify such a review.  The ultimate goal for a negative review shouldn't be to elicit a resounding angry reaction from the band’s fan-base and pats on the back from their detractors.  Rather, the true struggle is to craft a piece that offers insight and puts forward a personal voice that justifies the critical reaction through explanation.  The most important note is that all art that’s put forward, regardless of the critic's take, should be approached with the same level of respect.  It sounds like a simple concept that everyone is aware of, but it’s rare to find in today’s music journalism.

My thought process then shifted to how people who “hate” certain pieces of art have fallen victim to a completely fictitious and horrible piece of slang: “haters.”  This made-up phrase is how the supporters of such art try and dismissively group the negative critic with anyone else who might dislike the art, as if all of them are in cahoots, conspiring to sabotage the success of the act in question - and never mind if they all arrived at their conclusion differently.  At the most basic level, I dislike Vampire Weekend and their albums because they don’t satisfy the qualities that I deem valuable when critiquing music.  Where someone might hold catchiness as a top value, I’m more of a lyric/storytelling listener.  Whatever values you look for in music, there is no right or wrong answer, but we all have different criteria that comes into play to determine our final reaction.

Because of this, any grouping of people who like or dislike a piece of art is lazy and halts the possibility for proper artistic debate.  While this is a micro problem on social media where the casual debate can be shrugged off as “oh, another Vampire Weekend hater,” once such thinking creeps into music journalism, the integrity of the writer is compromised.  In the Pitchfork review of Modern Vampires Of The City, Ryan Dombal refers to the album as, “the record that is already forcing one-time haters of this band to rethink their entire lives...”  In this quote, Dombal links to four Twitter statuses that admit to liking the new Vampire Weekend album despite having previously hated the band. 

This sentence by Dombal is the perfect example of how journalists weaken their writing by grouping people into two camps rather than adding personal thought to criticism.  It becomes a who is winning scenario, where it’s us vs. them, when in reality, music and all art should be a me vs. art situation.  If Dombal wasn’t going to interview those four random Twitter users and surmise why they hated Vampire Weekend in the first place and what occurs on the new album that caused the change, then such a statement is plastic backing to drive home his own shoddily manufactured point.  Which leads us to the second fix concerning how to hate a band.  A critic shouldn’t group consensuses into two camps and quantify their reactions into positive or negative values. 

As the way we debate art changes, we can learn from how techniques of discussion evolve.  With Twitter, often times someone will make a statement about a band/artist and then immediately be challenged with an agree or disagree follow up from another person.  Instead of this, we need to be asking why someone likes or dislikes a piece of art.  Learning from this, the new goal for the modern music journalist becomes clear: an honest, insightful critique of the artistic document through the personal exploration of why the critic arrived at that conclusion.  If the journalist proposes favor or disapproval, the entire support should only concern itself with a justification of why without any semblance of greater right or wrong.  We all acknowledge music is subjective, but then quickly push it aside without a second thought if objectivity can strengthen our voice for or against an album. 

It’s not about winning.  It’s not about proving you’re right and someone else is wrong.  It’s not about being on the right side.  It’s only about the artistic document.  When I look back on my Contra review, everything I argue against in this piece was present.  Be it a Twitter commenter or a writer for the biggest music publication in the world, we all need to evaluate how we hate bands and reconsider the approaches we employ in communicating that hatred.  I hope I look back on my writing in five years and feel dissatisfied because that means I’m improving as a writer.  With every post, I’m still learning how to be a better music journalist and I know rethinking issues like this is the key to growth.  So, how do you hate a band?  There are many ways, but I know from experience, if your entire goal is to express your distaste and not to inform intelligently without outside implications of grouping, you might just end up hating your own critique more than the album you hated itself.


  1. This is why We Listen For You continues to be one of my favorite blogs. Good work.

  2. Hating a band or album is simply counterproductive. In the time you give to writing something negative, you could be writing about something you actually care about. I understand why people think it's important to provide a counterpoint to an album that's otherwise getting glowing reviews, but at the same time I'm a firm believer in all press is good press (well not all, but a majority). Name recognition is a key to selling a product. There are many consumers that forget whether or not what they've heard is positive, but they do remember that people are talking about this thing. And in this insane social media-heavy time period, everyone wants to have an opinion in this endless conversation. Enjoying an album no one else is familiar with makes you an outcast on social media. You become a social media loner. Meanwhile there's a group of people all hating on that new Daft Punk album you haven't heard and you begin to think, "I'd like to be part of a discussion for a change, so i'm gonna check that album out"

    1. I derive true enjoyment from hating a band like Vampire Weekend.

  3. More writers need to open up like this.

  4. Great thoughts on how to "hate" a band. I agree with you that many negative reviews do indeed come off as "snarky."
    As you said, there is no "winning" in reviewing an album...or any piece of art. Any review, whether positive or negative, is subjective. An album is only as good or bad as the person reviewing it believes it to be. There are no absolutes in art. Name an album that you believe to be flawless and you're bound to find countless people who think it is utter garbage. Who's right? Essentially, everyone...because all they're really telling you is how they feel about it.
    All you can do as a reviewer is to put an album in context so that readers can decide if it's something that they might enjoy listening to.

  5. Pretty sure I agree with all of this. But can this also mean that we're going to get a substantive review/critique of MVOTC from you instead of the twitter-isms you've been sharing? I'd enjoy reading it.

  6. Hmm, nicely transparent. :-) But isn't it all about 'who' and not about 'what'? It's not the hating, nor the liking... It's about who likes or hates. If my favourite blogger hates (by objectively giving his or her opinions) I'm more likely to hate that song as well. Though I'll always check for myself. :-)

  7. I used to blog about music and i went through this exact issue. you cant just say you dont like an album or it doesn meet the sometimes very specific qualifications music needs for you to love it or listen to it again. thats not a critique, it's just a highly personal opinion. a critique is different from an op-ed, it's deconstructing a piece of art and that takes a lot of understanding of a lot of different types of music and how music works. you can hate an album, but if it's just not what you would put on your ipod then it deserves more than just your opinion, it deserves a type of respect for what a band is doing and if they succeeded in doing what they set out to do, if it qualifies as a well-made piece of art, and that means mroe than your personal opinion. one time for a music blog i had to review a new hanson record, and while i hated it, i gave it a decent review and applauded the band's growth and genuine incorporation of world music. it was a lesson for me, just as the vampire weekend albums were a lesson for you. as a music fan and a vampire weekend fan, i want to read an open review, one that understands where they came from and if they've succeeded. if i read a reviewers past reviews on their albums and seen the snarkiness, it's the equivalent of badly hidden bias in news media - worthless unless you share their opinions, essentially an op-ed. on my light and personal music blog, i stayed away from reviewing music i didnt like and instead only said positive things. this didnt work from a critiquing standpoint, because critiquing is interesting and a good critique begs for discussion. i dont want to say the word hate because that infers the personal opinion when a reviewer should be deconstructing the art form. a good critiquer is veryyy hard to find on the internet, and i agree a lot of music journalists need to learn the difference between fan and reviewer. also, im interested in reading this newfound wisdom on your vampire weekend review.

  8. Thank you for living. Don't stop.

  9. Great thoughts, thanks for sharing and opening up the discussion.

    However, I think this ignores a really easy and effective way to "hate" a band, which is to just completely ignore them. if I don't like an album/band, I just won't write about it/them unless I feel like I have something to add to the discussion. It's a simple filter, and it's more effective than trying to make that negative review "work" somehow.