Blue Check Twitter and Co. has struck again, this time with a scathing review by Pitchfork, a music journal, of rock-revivalist Greta Van Fleet’s recent major label debut “Anthem of the Peaceful Army.” Then came the hive mind of self-entitled “patrician” music-lovers who remain secretly glad that a large, mainstream media outlet actually vindicated their lack of understanding of the greater musical world.
As a generation lost in the streaming age, musical discovery can be a tricky world to navigate. Anything highly marketed appears inauthentic. As the Pitchfork generation comes of age, and sees a losing battle fought against Gen-Z-ers and their affinity for antic-based hip-hop, those who considered themselves avant-garde for listening to Passion Pit in 2011 begin to feel a little disillusioned.
Innovation in music is dominated now by self-marketing antics and absurdism, such as Kanye West’s Twitter shenanigans, or artists like Lil Pump who have dominated rap and hip-hop through intelligent self-branding. Artists with initial mainstream success seem suspect, as marketing firms and advertisers use algorithms and streaming sites to push what they think users want to hear. These problems have spawned a generation of entitled music critics desperately intent on appearing unique in their taste but eventually all sounding the same.
Greta Van Fleet makes rock ’n’ roll for people who like rock ’n’ roll. They have not presented themselves as anything more or anything less. They are not self-entitled revolutionaries. They are not who Pitchfork senior editors want a young, successful band to be. But their music can be polarizing for those who previously believed they understood the greater musical world. Suddenly, bursting uninvited into their echo-chamber comes an anomaly: a young band with a rabid following, initial billboard success, and a sound that maintains limited originality and yet branches off from conventional hip-hop, pop-rock, or avant-garde alternative. The people who find their music boring are completely right: their music is boring, or at least, boring to those who unadmittedly have never listened to classic rock past “Stairway to Heaven” and perhaps “Sweet Child o’ Mine” in their lifetime.
The generation who remembers Kanye’s “Yeezus” scoring an unprecedented 9.5 on Pitchfork has something to say about innovation and evolution. We watched as Taylor Swift went from cutesie country girl to full-blown popstar. This transformation has since been celebrated, as Swift developed her sound while retaining her quality. We have watched countless artists assume this trajectory to the point where if we don’t see it, we write the artist off as “boring” or “unoriginal.” These attacks were once aimed at Mumford & Sons, a folksy rock band that has also done poorly on past Pitchfork reviews, including a 2.6 out of 10 on their debut effort. But Mumford & Sons has gone on to sell out show after show and record two more No. 1 albums. They did this by using a simple formula: making music that is both suitable and enjoyable to their demographic.
Greta Van Fleet also makes music suitable to their demographic, be that baby-boomers who grew up with Zeppelin, or young kids who are looking for something new to play in the car. Either way, Greta Van Fleet will do just fine. The hive-mind attacks, vindicated by the official-opinion-brought-to-you-by-pitchfork.com will subside, and Greta Van Fleet, a young band with many years of success ahead of them, will keep writing music for the people who like their music for its own sake. Those who want to fetishize Neutral Milk Hotel and Wilco can continue to do so. The rest of us will keep having fun.