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Worst. Review. Ever: On the pillorying of Jessica Andrews

by Chad Parkhill , February 12, 201319 Comments

 

Every writer writes because they want their work to be read – and in the brave new world of digital publishing, this desire takes the specific form of wanting to ‘go viral’. Virality can seem so arbitrary, so why shouldn’t a young writer pin their hopes on a piece of theirs hitting the right cultural nerve at the right time, and dream of watching the hits and Twitter mentions roll in?

If Jessica Andrews had hoped her work might one day go viral, I’m certain she did not want it to happen the way it did. It began just over a week ago, when the Irish ‘shoegaze’ band My Bloody Valentine released m b v, their first album for 22 years and the follow-up to Loveless, an album that can be called – without hyperbole – one of the most influential albums of the 90s. m b v  was released to the general public with little fanfare, a tactic which seemed only to accelerate demand for the album. My Bloody Valentine’s website crashed; in an attempt to prevent piracy of the much-anticipated album, the band put all the tracks on YouTube to tide fans over as they waited for their webstore to work again. And, as you might anticipate, music editors all over the world commissioned critics to write reviews of the new album as swiftly as possible.

One of those critics is a young Australian writer named Jessica Andrews, who either offered or was asked to cover the album for the Australian music website Musicfeeds (who approached whom remains unclear). She duly filed her copy, and on the 5th of February her thoughts about m b v were uploaded. Soon enough she had ‘gone viral’, but in the worst of ways – as the object of mockery. I first saw the review pop up on my Twitter feed as ‘some shit to behold’ – most of the people tweeting it expressed incredulity that it had been published. The comments appended to the article itself were less kind: ‘Seriously, is this the best commentary Music Feeds can come up with regarding such an anticipated release? Really?’ ‘Learn how to fucking review records, you retards!’ and, succinctly, ‘worst. review. ever.’

Badly-written and poorly-informed reviews of cultural products going viral isn’t a new phenomenon, but what happened next is perhaps more interesting: rather than acknowledging that it was perhaps not a good idea to publish Andrews’ review, Musicfeeds presented the review on their Facebook page as a joke they had been in on the whole time, with something along the lines of ‘Are we SERIOUS? An iconoclastic take on the new My Bloody Valentine album.’ (Musicfeeds has since deleted the Facebook post after it received negative attention online; I have not been able to source a screencap.)

With this manoeuvre, Musicfeeds brought their tally of editorial failures to three. Their first was to commission or accept a review of a much-anticipated album from a young and inexperienced writer. (Andrews herself admits that she ‘hadn’t heard much about this band before’ and was ‘only a toddler’ during their heyday.) Their second was to publish it in the state it was in, with no or very little editorial oversight. The final and perhaps most damning one was to betray Andrews by presenting the review as a joke when a cursory scan of Musicfeeds’ archive indicates that her take on m b v is entirely consonant with her past album reviews.

As a result of such searches – which tried to illuminate the question of whether Andrews’s review of m b v was a ‘masterful troll’ – her entire body of work has come under intense scrutiny on Twitter and the influential Australian music site Mess + Noise (where a number of high-profile Australian music journalists have relished laying the boot into Andrews’ past solecisms). These criticisms of Andrews’ work miss the point that her work would not be published in its current state if the cottage industry of Australian music writing were in more robust health. There are many Australian sites such as Musicfeeds – including but not limited to FasterLouder, The Dwarf, and AAABackstage – that source their content from enthusiastic and almost entirely unpaid amateur critics. These websites make their money through advertising, and use their content not as an end in itself but as a means to monetise pageviews. Young writers submit their content to these sites in exchange for ‘exposure’, and the quality suffers because most professional critics demand payment in the form of cash or cultural capital.

As these websites proliferate – low in cost and low in editorial intervention – they put tremendous pressures on Australia’s few remaining street presses, many of which have either been bought out by a centralised conglomerate (Street Press Australia, which also operates theMusic.com.au) or have folded. My own training ground as a critic was for Brisbane’s now-departed Rave magazine, and I owe much of my subsequent success (such as it has been) to the intervention of its final editor, Chris Harms, who spent five years not only refining my sometimes-clumsy text, but who also entered a musical dialogue with me by carefully selecting which albums I was to review. I didn’t like everything I heard, but my tastes soon expanded far beyond their humble beginnings. Crucially, those early reviews circulated in a form where they couldn’t ‘go viral’; Rave’s website hadn’t mastered SEO, and their energies were focused on the print edition. Thus when the magazine folded, my early aberrations were consigned to the dustbin of history (unless you feel like trawling through the Wayback Machine for them).

No such mercies are available for Jessica Andrews, who now lives with the notoriety of having written the ‘worst. review. ever.’ Musicfeeds seems unscathed by the attention, and are probably quite happy with the pageviews Andrews’ piece has garnered. In the meantime, I’d urge young writers to think carefully before publishing their work in exchange for ‘exposure’ – it’s worth remembering that that word also refers to what happens when parents leave an unwanted child out in the cold until it dies.

 

Chad Parkhill is the Festival Manager of the National Young Writers’ Festival. His work has appeared in The Australian, The Lifted Brow, Meanjin, and The Quietus, among others.




  • pedant

    Entirely consonant? :)

  • Chad Parkhill

    Hi ‘pedant’! Believe it or not, consonant is a perfectly cromulent adjective to use there—it means ‘being in agreement or harmony; free from elements making for discord’.

  • http://www.jmdonellan.com Josh Donellan

    Great analysis Chad. God I miss Rave (I used to work for them too). One of the tragedies of the digital age is that is seems to encourage sensationalism over substance so that things like this are inevitable.

    I saw someone make a similar comment over the ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ ad where they pointed out it doesn’t matter how many people have the song on their ipod or watch it on youtube, if it doesn’t actually change rail safety behaviours it hasn’t been successful at all.

    Also, I’m sick of writers being asked to write for ‘exposure.’ You can’t eat exposure for breakfast and you can’t pay your rent with it.

  • Jackson Angel

    If Chad has anything to do with young writers their futures will be ruined…he clearly has little understanding of new media and online journalism.

  • pedant

    Oh well at least you know I read it!

    (And I enjoyed it)

  • Jodi

    I just went over and read it. Look, I’ve read worse. I’ve probably written worse. And I agree that she’s been thrown to the wolves in a big way. I hope she can brush herself off and try to get back on the horse again. I know personally I got burnt out from the trolls and the general negativity and people attacking my writing constantly for shits and giggles. Lots of empathy.

  • Greg Lebetha

    I don’t disagree with you at all about publishing an article that quite clearly shouldn’t have been published in the first place. But having dealt with Music Feeds a little bit (I play in a band, they’re happy to to cover our tour pressers from time to time) they really don’t seem like the type of people that would want to exploit someone.

    Maybe you should just email them with your concerns rather than pick the most negative scenario and then write a blog article about it as though its facts.

    ‘Musicfeeds seems unscathed by the attention, and are probably quite happy with the pageviews Andrews’ piece has garnered.’

    Thats the truth now, because that’s what your opinion of the situation is.

    ‘I’d urge young writers to think carefully before publishing their work in exchange for ‘exposure’

    Maybe you should encourage young writers not to jump to conclusions, injecting their criticisms and then write articles in a public forum before gathering some actual facts.

    • Daz

      Here come the Musicfeeds apologists.

      I’m confused by your logic Greg – because they’re willing to publish your band’s PR material that somehow puts them above exploiting their writers? Is that what you’re saying.

      Actually I get it, bands have a vested interest in sites like these paying writers nothing to file copy as well. How else are bands going to fill out their future press releases?

      I believe Chad already covered the way musicfeeds deal with criticism of their content – by lambasting the author on their facebook site through posting the mbv review as parody. Using that as an example, I’d be willing to argue that they would not have been overly concerned about Chad’s personal opinion had he contacted them direct.

      You suggest that Chad should be the one encouraging young writers to write their reviews in a bit more pro fashion. So, like, say an editor of a freakin music publication might do? Is it up to the reader now to be the editor and that publications, online or otherwise, have no responsibility to both their contributors or their audience and are free to reap the benefits of all that advertising money that rolls in. That is one fucked up world view.

  • http://1songday.com Jonno

    Musicfeeds, like many of their ilk, seem exactly like the kind of medium who would exploit someone. Having had a similar early writing trajectory to Chad, I can safely say that without street press my life would have been far worse off. I am yet to find an Australian web property that deals with music which doesn’t care exclusively about the bottom line. FL has gotten better, but it took them one hell of a long time. Musicfeeds deserves to be relegated to the back pages of Reddit. This girl should go write for her uni newspaper. At least there she’ll get proper editorial guidance and the trolls will have to wait a whole week to respond.

  • Former Feeder

    Music Feeds at least offers a chance for young writers to get something published, it’s their fault if they write rubbish, and the website being a content fuelled business means that they will publish it because, as you pointed out very accurately, they’re happy with the page views. Having worked with Music Feeds closely in the past I can tell you they would be very happy with this result, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they posting the review as a joke just to further fuel the fire. The fact of the matter is though, magazines like Frankie and Vice are spewing forth a much more refined stream of rubbish and ill informed opinions, and for that matter most of the media outside a few very select publications, and in Australia the field seems to be overly populated with debutante journalists who think the sun shines out their ass because they have a free pass to fucking field day, one can count on their hands the amount of music critics worth reading in this country, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.

    • Chad Parkhill

      The problem is that if you adopt the attitude that ‘Music Feeds at least offers a chance for young writers to get something published, it’s their fault if they write rubbish’, then you can’t reasonably expect that the number of ‘music critics worth reading in this country’ will increase. Every music critic worth reading started out as a bad or mediocre music critic and developed their skills through editorial feedback and intervention, which is exactly what sites of Musicfeeds’ ilk don’t provide.

      • http://www.radarmusic.com.au/ Zoe

        As a writer (who also started out in print), I also fear for the demise of good editorial and the death of the feature writer in exchange for cheap clicks & misleading sensational headlines with all the right keywords. I also agree re: Music Feeds. I think you’ll find their directors are better at giving advice on SEO techniques (also important) rather than editorial ones. But as record companies keep giving MF exclusives due to the amount of monthly UB’s they scrape from pieces like Jessica’s (one I’m sure they were more concerned in publishing first, than the quality of writing) I can’t see the music media in this country improving.
        Great article btw Chad.

  • C Longman

    What puzzles me is why there are so many people who take such a huge amount of pleasure in pouring scorn. The collective jeer she was greeted by suggests that many are insulted by the fact that Jessica was brave enough to try her hand at something she hasn’t already been given some kind of unspoken right to do – how dare she stick her neck out? – whereas I admire her for having a go. If it was a hopeless effort, why not give her supportive advice so that she might get better at writing, rather than shout her down with sneers and howls of derision? But I suppose I should just get off here and get back to reading Pollyanna a few more times.

  • Mav

    I miss Rave too Chad. Every Tuesday I still go looking for it.

  • http://www.notaphoto.com Ed

    Ultimately the buck stops with whoever pressed the publish button and if musicfeeds themselves have poured scorn and treated it as joke review, I hope anyone who contributes to them considers if these are the sort of people they want to be contributing to.

    But if Jessica was a toddler when mbv were relevant, that makes her an adult woman. Much of the commentary I’ve seen on this matter has be in relation to “young writers”. Obviously you can be in your 20s and a new/inexperienced writer but surely if you’ve made it into your 20s, you know that if you’re going to write something about anything, that 2 minutes on Google puts you in a much better place to make a start. (Even as a photographer and not a writer, I research recent photos of bands I’m due to photograph to get a better idea of the stage set-up, who stands where, what the lighting is like, etc, just to be be better informed in advance).

    I guess I hope this experience hasn’t put Jessica off writing, but also hope that she has learnt from the experience, particularly that she might want to find someone to write for that treats her a whole lot better and doesn’t hang her out to dry.

    Finally, I’ve never really understood the attraction with the whole websites-giving-young-music-writers-a-chance-to-write. If you want to write/review (or photograph) then just go and do it. There is nothing stopping you from doing it yourself and it’s easier than it’s ever been and only getting easier. Do it yourself and do it for yourself. That way you (a) keep it enjoyable; (b) can work on your own style and develop a portfolio of work; (c) if you find you have a knack for it and want to take it further, you have something to show editors. Self-starting and doing stuff off your own back is an attractive trait.

  • Mick

    “…where a number of high-profile Australian music journalists have relished laying the boot into Andrews’ past solecisms.” That is because they are arseholes. A little more encouragement and a little less masturbation over their own work would go a long way.

    Also, a comment made on Music Feeds would never be worth losing sleep over.

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