Saturday, November 18, 2006

In The Dock: R'n'B

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

This week's subject: R'n'B

(And just for clarification, following James' comment to the post below - we're talking about R'n'B in the contemporary sense here...)

The case for the prosecution (Swiss Toni)

I am of the firm opinion that the categorisation of music into genres is probably the last refuge of the scoundrel (or Paul Gambaccini, if they’re not actually one and the same thing). If a record is good, what does it matter whether we choose to classify it as indie, or pop, or disco or whatever? My record collection is resolutely alphabetised. In this democracy everyone is equal: Mozart sits side-by-side with Morrissey, The White Stripes and Scott Walker sit alongside ‘The Mighty Wurlitzer’.

Having said that, if we are going to generalise, let me just say that I can’t abide R’n’B.

Categorisation being what it is, I should probably just be absolutely clear what I mean by "R’n’B", right? Well, I’m not talking about soul music and I’m not talking about funk music. If we’re going to draw arbitrary lines, then I’m drawing mine there and I’m saying that those are different genres. I’ve got absolutely no argument with Fats Domino or George Clinton, and I’m certainly not picking a fight with Aretha or James Brown. I’m not talking about hip-hop either. That’s an argument for a different day, but in my books, hip-hop lyrics are rapped, R’n’B lyrics are sung. Yeah I know it’s not a clear-cut thing, but that’s the thing about categorisation isn’t it? It’s never black and white.

OK. Rational argument Swiss, rational argument…. You’ll never convince anyone to vote for you if you don’t present a rational case for the prosecution. OK, well here it is: the music is shit. It’s worse than shit – it’s insipid and it’s lazy. There. I’ve said it. I’ve summarily dismissed a whole genre of music. Well, I’m sorry, but I just don’t like it. The acts are preening idiots, the videos are laughable and the lyrics are execrable. R’n’B is Heat or Hello magazine in musical form. Maybe it’s no coincidence that David Beckham is a big fan. What’s for him not to like? The ostentatious pursuit and vulgar display of wealth? The preening narcissism? The glorification of people of little or no talent at the expense of genuine achievement? It’s all there, and it’s all set to a crappy, synthesised backing track. I look forward with interest to Beckham’s inevitable foray into the genre. Maybe I could file it alongside Belly, Booker T & The MGs and Boston.

Obviously I’m generalising, but I really can’t think of any other genre of music that does as little for me as R’n’B. It just leaves me completely cold. I can see the formula, but where’s the imagination? Where’s the substance?

Here’s my recipe for the perfect R’n’B act.

1. For male R’n’B artiste - Take one young, black male. Send him to the gym until buff. Dress him in baggy leisurewear, ideally a white tracksuit. Perch baseball cap at an angle on the top of his head, possibly on top of a bandana. Provide with a song that enables maximum bragging about own personal wealth, and sexual prowess. Ensure gratuitous display of lightly oiled torso. Add guest rapper to taste. Signature act: Usher (although see also D’Angelo and R Kelly).

2. For female R’n’B artiste - Take one young, black female. Send her to the gym until buff, although not so buff that she loses her sizeable tits and her bountiful booty. Dress in as little as possible. Provide with song that allows maximum vocal showboating and a video that displays the maximum jiggle. Add guest rapper to taste. Signature act: Mariah Carey (although see also J-Lo, Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton and Beyonce).

Half-bake and serve.

The thing about categorisation like this though is that any generalising argument is nonsense. By indiscriminately slagging off a whole genre, all I’m doing is showing my own ignorance. Not only are my likes and dislikes entirely subjective, but everything that I have said here could pretty much be applied to any other genre. Aren’t all indie videos formulaic? Don’t all the bands look the same and sound the same? Where’s the imagination? Where’s the substance?

You see what I mean?

I suppose it comes down to personal taste then, which doesn’t really make for much of a debate.

"I like it."
"Well I hate it."
"Right then."

Well, my dad’s bigger than your dad… so you’d best vote for the prosecution, eh?

Besides. I defy you to tell me that Usher isn’t shit. He really is. You know he is.

The case for the defence (Del)

Syrupy slush. Power grabs. A grown man standing on top of a mountain with his shirt open, arms out stretched, eyes closed, wailing. Hmmm. Goldie Lookin Chain hit the nail on the head with their remorseless pastiche of the current townie sound. R'n'B really doesn't inspire the most flattering images, does it? Gaudy jewellery, somewhat sleazy sex and some genuinely awful artists: The likes of R Kelly, Mariah Carey, Usher, Pussy Cat Dolls and Sisquo certainly won't be going near my mp3 player any time soon. Cheesy, bland, over produced crap.

But then, but then.

Amerie shaking it over 'One Thing'. John Legend's simple piano on 'Ordinary People'. Justin finding his soul on 'Cry Me A River'. Destiny's Child destroying the dancefloor with 'Bug A Boo'. Aaliyah breathlessly emoting on 'Try Again'. TLC setting their men right on 'No Scrubs'. Kelis effortlessly seducing on 'Milkshake'. Nelly burning up on 'Hot In Herre'. Missy electro-cuting Ciara on 'Lose Control'. Faith Evans laying down the law on 'You Gets No Love'. Andre 3000 giving it all on 'Hey Ya!' Angie Stone purging on 'Wish I Didn't Miss You'. N.E.R.D turning the tables on 'Provider'. And Beyonce turning the whole world upside down and inside out with 'Crazy In Love'.

Oh my! Redemption, surely? Perhaps like all genres, R'n'B just has its good and its bad. Its image is as misplaced as guns 'n' bling is for hip-hop, pills and fluffy bras for dance and malnourished drugged-up white boys for indie rawk. And yet, for some reason, R'n'B more than all these others has an image problem.

You can't fault the pedigree. The merging of the psychedelic funk and soul of the 70s as disco breathed its last. In the 80s it absorbed influences from electro and hip-hop, helping it take over the dancefloor. And at the turn of the century, when so much alternative rock slipped into middle-of-the-road blandness and dance music overstretched itself, R'n'B had a producer-driven renaissance. The Neptunes, Rodney Jerkins, Kanye West and Timbaland made (and continue to make) records that were forward-looking and accessible, that challenged the mind and got your arse on the dancefloor. Black people with computers are currently making some of the most exciting music in the world.

Just listen to Kelis' 'Caught Out There'. One of the tunes that kicked off the current boom. The rhythm track is just random noise and bleeps. The beat is artificial, minimal and cold. The vocal screams at you. And yet it's completely irresistible. It made Kelis an international star and The Neptunes the hottest producers in the world.

Sure there's dross, but that's the price of being the biggest sound in the world right now. R'n'B is the sound of pop. It floats from every lowered twin-exhaust Nova and mobile phone in town. Britney, J-Lo and Robbie want the cachet that R'n'B brings. Familiarity breeds contempt. But scratch the surface of the Top 10 and the latest flavour of the month, and there are some great R'n'B records out there.

In just the past few weeks I've loved Jamelia's 'Something About You', Nelly Furtado's 'Promiscuous Girl', Christina's 'Ain't No Other Man', Justin's 'My Love', Chamillionaire's 'Ridin', Gnarls Barkley's 'Who Cares', Kelis' 'Bossy' and John Legend's fantastic new album Once Again. Exciting and sexy, often wonderfully silly and fun, but also soulful and eminently danceable. The world of music would sure be a duller place without R'n'B. And without 'Crazy In Love' in my record box, how am I going to fill the dancefloor...?

* * * * *

Thanks to Swiss Toni and Del. Now it's over to you. Guilty or innocent - YOU decide. The comments box is open and awaiting your comments - you've got until Friday to make up your mind...

62 Comments:

Blogger James said...

Wow... now this has to be the toughest call yet... so I am going to get in early, but acknowledge that subsequent arguments could yet sway me either way...

First up, I have to concede with Swiss Toni that of all genres (yup - the world would be better without genres - ho hum) R'n'B has produced some of the most abominable horrors of all music history. It goes far beyond mere subjective opinion. It has stretched yet further into the mainstream the unspeakable excesses of hiphop (as identified by ST - "the ostentatious pursuit and vulgar display of wealth"), and somehow managed to pull the last remaining droplets from an already shallow pool. As a teacher, I have noticed that R'n'B - of all music - seems to encourage a wilful ignorance and shallowness. It's all about image, and exactly nothing else. I have to acknowledge - with ST - that R'n'B is not the only genre guilty here.

On the other hand, Del is spot on. The genre has produced some of the finest pop songs of the past 20 years. Credit here does go to the producers, but that is immaterial - especially when the line between producer and artist becomes more blurred.

Damn.... I really wish there were a third option - like a suspended sentence or something.

I want to acquit R'n'B, but I ask myself - if I acquit this, what won't I acquit?

I have to let R'n'B go free. But I will be watching the subsequent debates here closely... I may be back....

10:10 am  
Blogger James said...

Sorry to double post here, but ST, shouldn't 'The Mighty Wurlitzer' be amongst the M's and not the W's?

10:16 am  
Blogger Dead Kenny said...

R&B suffers from being the default genre on mainstream radio/music television, and therefore a bigger percentage of the crud gets wider exposure. But there's just been too many classic pop songs over the last decade or so for Dead Kenny to find it culpable as a whole. The likes of 'Crazy In Love', 'Right Here', 'No Scrubs' justify everything. And is R&b really a worse influence on today's yoof than hand-wringing woe-is-me emo guff?

To class such overtly sexual music as innocent seems a bit of a misnomer, so we'll just ask for, um, an 'honorable discharge' (no change there, then).

11:33 am  
Blogger mike said...

When R&B is shit, it's really, REALLY shit - and I hold the "crunk" genre responsible for some of its laziest abominations. It JUST WON'T DO to take one crass synth figure and loop it for four minutes, while somebody bleats over the top about how fantastic they are. Usher's "Yeah" and Ciara's "Goodies" were both stunning records, but MY GOD they've opened the doors to a lot of imitative crap.

But when R&B works - as it has done, gloriously and repeatedly, for the past 7 or 8 years - it provides some of the most irresistable, sexy, funky, joyous, startling, progressive and truly contemporary music on the planet.

Del does a good job of naming some of the highlights, whereas I'm afraid that Swiss Toni names and shames the wrong culprits (D'Angelo is a GENIUS - he more or less kick-started the whole modern R&B genre, and have you never heard the Voodoo album?)

Unfortunately, Del then slags off two of the same artists - Usher and R.Kelly - who admittedly have produced some stinking duds, but come on, "Ignition (remix)" is one of the best singles of the decade so far! No, I think you'll find it is!

However, despite this shocking lapse, the defence wins this argument hands down. Not guilty!

11:48 am  
Anonymous caskared said...

I'm with the defence, which surprises me. The prosecution makes very valid claims: RnB is sleazy and arrogant, the notion of bling makes me snarl. But, it;s the Crazy in Love argument I can't deny...it's great. And on the British RnB side Jamelia really is saying something important with Thank You, See It In A Boy's Eyes is a great tune, and the Sugababes rule with their electro RnB thang.

And R kelly, he is the mastermind behin the most unintentionally funny hip hopera of all time! Trapped in the Closet

4:28 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with the prosecution on this. Even though I love countless R&B tracks. Part of their appeal is that for a white, middle class, post-rockin' nerd like me, it's just not on to be listening to Arrr and Beee. It's naughty. Wrong. Dirty.

If we condone R&B then that means it's OK to like, which kind of takes the fun away.

7:49 pm  
Blogger Ian said...

I applaud Swiss Toni for his honesty, but that honesty also kind of sinks him. The point made in the comments above that we get exposed to more R'n'B, and thus more bad R'n'B, than other genres is very well taken. And Swiss Toni's admission absolutely opens the way for us to consider Sturgeon's Law (90% of everything is crap). And once you do, you need to have an argument for the prosecution other than "most of this genre is crap"...

So yeah, I've got to give it to the defence this time as well.

10:49 pm  
Blogger SwissToni said...

Nah - "mighty wurlitzer" is filed under the Ws because the Wurlitzer is kind of the point of it. It was 99p in an "our price" sale without the cover, so I don't even know who the mighty artist behind the record is!

I'll lay out my thoughts on the other stuff when the results are in. I don't want to prejudice the trial.

ST

12:06 am  
Blogger Literary Hoax said...

I call for a mistrial, since the prosecution isn't familiar enough with the evidence, which prejudices his client, and the defence counsel used the sentence "Black people with computers are currently making some of the most exciting music in the world.", which makes my eyes itch.

No further questions, your honour.

2:11 am  
Anonymous lithaborn said...

Kudos to the defence. It can't be an easy job defending modern RnB and he does the only thing he can - the "they look nice" argument. Unfortunately it's just not good enough to warrant a vote in this music lovers' eyes.

Unconscionable, irredeemable, unoriginal, chavtastic, unbearable bollocks of the highest order.

I vote with the prosecution.

9:23 am  
Blogger Literary Hoax said...

Ha ha ha. Chart R&B is "unoriginal", whereas chart rock can consist entirely of sounds that were dated 40 years ago and still win these gentlemen's approval. Now I've heard everything.

This site is so white, it's like staring at burning magnesium. Mine eyes!

12:18 pm  
Blogger Tina said...

Not guilty m'lud - mainly because Del has pinpointed the absolutely lovely John Legend, the Marvin Gaye de nos jours. He was fantastic on Later with Jools Holland the other week - I stayed up well past my bedtime just to catch him. And I'm partial to Beyonce, Kelis and Kanye West as well - and some of those young chaps look awfully nice in their tracksuits!

2:45 pm  
Blogger SwissToni said...

wasn't "See it in a boy's eyes" written by Chris Martin? You can't get much more R'n'B than that, can you?

AND I'm calling Kanye West as hip hop. So there. John Legend? Hmm. Trickier. Easy Listening?

Some R'n'B is good? So what? Mussolini made the trains run on time and the Nazis created full employment in Germany for the first time since the Wall Street Crash. Would you vote for their defence too?

ST

4:33 pm  
Blogger Del said...

It was, yes, ST. And on Brandy's most recent album she quotes Coldplay AND samples them on 2 different tracks. Chris also co-wrote Nelly Furtados current rnb ballad. R&B and Hip Hop are rarely interested in what's "cool", merely in what works. It then becomes "cool" by association. Ironic, huh?

And just to qualify my point about black people "making the most exciting music in the world". It is, in fact an almost direct quote from Garry Hulholland in his book This Is Uncool. And he's mixed race. So that's ok. I'm just playing the role of the white man ripping off the black man. It was supposed to be ironic... Honest!

Yes this site is very white, but I'd rather people were honest than insincerely politically correct or Ali G. And these things cut both ways. One of my mates who is an internationally respect Hip Hop DJ and record label owner has Mike and the Mechanics on his Ipod.

4:44 pm  
Blogger SwissToni said...

...just to back up Del's point there, it's not like this site prohibits comment or contributions from all colours, creeds and genders is it?

5:50 pm  
Blogger Damo said...

Defense. Absolutely.

There isn't any genre you can dismiss en bloc. There's good and bad in nearly everything, as Ben Folds once said. Why are we hearing so much of 'the bad stuff' (quotes used due to subjectivity of all opinions)? Funnily enough, I get to prosecute Radio One in the new year so I'll leave it until then.

8:27 pm  
Blogger Mark said...

RNB, even only for the generic, bland big-up onemanupship lyrics about how great "insert name of artist" is, about bling and bitches, and other, utterly boring and one dimensional boasting. Don't forget to add an enormous amount of cars and shaking booty in the video, and repeat until bored.

Oh, and don't forget R Kelly In The Closet..

RNB THUMBS DOWN.

8:47 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

... or does Literary Hoax just mean the webpage is so white?

Funny, no-one ever complained about the colour of paper...

11:39 pm  
Blogger Pete Ashton said...

Against my instincts I'm going with the defense for two reasons.

1) The Coldplay / Oasis argument: that the most visible and popular representations of a genre are fucking annoying doesn't mean that genre should be discarded. This is more to do with stupid people liking stupid artists than the fundamental style of music itself.

2) Having found myself dancing like a tit to Beyonce at ATP, of all places, I'd be a hypocrite not to.

7:25 am  
Blogger JonnyB said...

"...made the trains run on time..."

That's clinched it. Guilty.

10:25 am  
Blogger Lord Bargain said...

If we go with Damo's "you can't dismiss any genre en bloc" argument, that's pretty much curtains for this feature, isn't it?

If the Sugababes are R'n'B then the London Boys must have been thrash metal. Heaven forfend.

Del - fill the dancefloor with "Don't Stop Movin'" or "The One And Only" or "Man! I Feel Like A Woman" or something.

Sorry, it's unexpurgated, lazy w*nk of the highest order and it's as guilty a musical thing as I will ever find. Hot in here my arse.

4:19 pm  
Blogger SwissToni said...

Damo - "there's good and bad in everyone"

Surely that was said not by Ben Folds but by Stevie Wonder (feat. Macca) on "Ebony & Ivory".

Does that count as R'n'B? How many more reasons do you need?

ST

7:14 pm  
Anonymous caskared said...

Hey hey, so, the thing about the Jamelia boys eyes song shows that R'n'B-ness doesn't wreck a good tune regardless of who its by!

ir the Sugababes sure have a twang of R'n'B...glossy vocals over synthetics, check Angels With Dirty Faces...ah the tricky business of classification! And I'm sure I remember London Boys collaborating Extreme Noize Terror...um, can't substantiate that one...but I'd like to see it!

8:59 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

It's in the nature of the beast that the person presenting the prosecution case (and, to a similar if not identical extent, the person presenting the defence) has to choose whether or not to ignore things that counter the thrust of their argument. Ignore them and it makes it seem unrealistically black and white, cut and dried. Acknowledge them and you're undermining your own argument.

So, credit to ST for his honesty, but he sows the seeds of his own downfall in the course of making his case. You CAN'T write off a whole genre (though hopefully you'll have forgotten I said that when it's my turn to do just that in the new year...). (Incidentally, Lord B, I don't agree with you on that one - for a start, the topics up for prosecution are not solely or even mostly genres or sub-genres. In The Dock will go on!)

Down to the specifics. As far as I'm concerned, superficiality and braggadocio are far more closely connected with mainstream rap / hip-hop than mainstream R'n'B. And even if it was an R'n'B trait, I'm faintly amused by this suggestion that it's corrupting the morals of the nation's youth - the influence of dreary autopilot soul-baring cack like Keane is what young people should REALLY be protected from...

As a self-confessed pop fan and proud of it, Lord B, I'm amazed you can write off R'n'B so dismissively. The genre has had a monopoly on great pop songs in recent years, as Del points out - 'One Thing', 'Superstar', 'Goodies' and, of course, 'Crazy In Love'.

To anyone who's gone for a guilty verdict I prescribe repeated listens to Kelis' Tasty.

10:36 pm  
Blogger Lord Bargain said...

Ben - I know the topics are not all genres, but you take my point, surely? And just for that, I will *ensure* I remind you when it's your turn. Heh heh heh.

There may be some good pop songs amongst them, but then Harold Shipman might have had a nice beard. The overall picture is one of clear guilt.

who's Kelis Tasty?

Caskared - that made me laugh. I can just see "London Nights" reworked in a thrash metal styley.

however, if R'n'B is "glossy vocals over synthetics", did Stock, Aitken and Waterman pioneer the R'n'B movement in the UK?

11:28 pm  
Blogger Del said...

'Man I Feel Like A Woman'?! I'd rather play R Kelly.

Yes.

You heard.

11:33 pm  
Blogger Damo said...

Damo - "there's good and bad in everyone"

Surely that was said not by Ben Folds but by Stevie Wonder (feat. Macca) on "Ebony & Ivory".

Does that count as R'n'B? How many more reasons do you need?

ST


Actually it was Ben Folds, but I should put my hands up and say that having checked, I got the words a little wrong. So let's call it my quote rather than his. It's certainly something I believe.

And I really do believe you can't dismiss a genre en bloc, and no, that doesn't nullify this feature. Songs with dance moves aren't a genre. Radio One (my next one) isn't a genre. And so on. If you can dismiss R&B in one go, surely you can do the same for pop ("it's all like Aqua")... rock ("it's all like Limp Bizkit")... 'indie' ("it's all like Menswear")... hip-hop ("it's all like Goldie Lookin' Chain")...

Ah, wait a minute. I love the GLC.

11:44 pm  
Blogger SwissToni said...

Damo - I'm only teasing!

Ben - Whilst I agree that only a fool would completely write-off an entire genre, I do believe it is possible to pick exceptions out of a mire of shite all night. It just doesn't get us away from the fact that it's still mainly a mire of shite. And yes, I know that applies to all genres. You can vote for the prosecution here and still like "Crazy in Love". Hell, I voted against the Beatles and I own heaps of their stuff. (The Levellers I just hate.)

I just think that R'n'B has more shite than most genres, and is thus GUILTY. In my white, middle-class opinion anyway. Don't get all right-on about it - stop pussy-footing around and just vote with your gut instincts.

ST

9:00 am  
Blogger Ben said...

ST: I'm not sure R'n'B's a mire of shite, though. And even if it is, the quality of golden nuggets you can pluck out of it justify its innocence.

No fear - gut instinct it was that swayed me, though of course I engaged rationally with the arguments too...

12:27 pm  
Blogger Paul said...

Nice to see everyone so fired up about this one...

Despite going into this siding with the prosecution (aRse Kelly being a prime example of everything I can't stand about R'n'B) I've got to hand my vote to the defence.

Del's done enough to convince me that it's worth wading through all the rubbish for the occasional diamond.

To condemn something simply because it isn't to my taste is only going to take us in one wholly unappealing direction. Although as Swiss Toni points out, at least the trains would be on time to take us there.

2:03 pm  
Blogger Martin said...

Hmm. I don't like a good 90% of the RNB I've heard, but I don't actively dislike it. I just can't be bothered with it. I'm not a fan of anyone who spends the majority of their time singing about how great they, their clothes, their car or the people they sleep with are (so I'd better rethink the metal fixation; I'll get back to you on that one) but my gut instinct says that the occasional song I like brings me in line, albeit through gritted teeth, with the defence.

Did somebody mention Keane earlier? I'm going to have to make up some new swear words if we start debating their merits (or lack thereof).

1:37 am  
Blogger Lord Bargain said...

I will be in a minority of one if "In the Dock" ever has Keane as the topic, and I dont care what anyone thinks.

I don't get these arguments at all.

"We'll defend R'n'B as we dont really like it but there is the odd good song".

When we did the Beatles, it ended up being a draw. But everyone likes at least a few Beatles songs, so they should have been clearly acquitted, surely? Have the rules changed?

I like the odd R'n'B song - indeed I own a Black Eyed Peas album - but I still hate the rest of it enough to prosecute the lot.

(hums "somewhere only we know")

10:58 am  
Blogger Ben said...

Lord B: We agree! I think the Beatles should have been acquitted for precisely the reason you specify. The fact that it ended with a hung jury bemused me somewhat.

At least we can both say we were being consistent, voting for the prosecution and defence respectively on both occasions...

11:29 am  
Blogger Martin said...

Lord B: Nothing personal re Keane, obviously, and you've got a good point regarding the Beatles debate.

I'm a little disappointed by my attitude regarding this one. I think for the purposes of argument it's perfectly acceptable to dismiss an entire genre and would hope it continues that way to stimulate lively discussion. It's preferable to my own fence-sitting in this case and I wish I had a clearer-cut opinion but regarding RNB I haven't yet, although there are some good points on both sides so I could change my mind by Friday. At the moment my stance is built on not having made the effort to know more about RNB than I've heard on the radio, and therefore not really having enough of an opinion. Or is that enough?

So my contribution thus far is to declare that I'm not fussed enough to prosecute the genre. Must try harder.

11:49 am  
Blogger SwissToni said...

rubbish. I'm going to remember this. Radio one is going to get my vote because I quite like the weather reports.

1:18 pm  
Blogger SwissToni said...

..not that I'm embittered, obviously.

1:37 pm  
Anonymous caskared said...

On the R Kelly matter - his stuff is terrible terrible terrible, but R'n'B should be saved because of how much his Hop Hopera made me laugh. Just listen to The Adam & Joe podcast and tell me that any genre that could make someone laugh quite so much isn't worth having.

2:03 pm  
Blogger Martin said...

ST: Calm down, dear, it's only the internet!

Caskared: Thanks for pointing me at the podcast which I'll listen to in a bit. The "it's so crap it's good" thing is pulling my back to the prosecution.

2:07 pm  
Blogger SwissToni said...

grr!

4:20 pm  
Anonymous Russ L said...

This wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it might be. The main article has kept blessedly far away from the always fun “Aren’t these chavs and negroes distasteful and crass?” game, even some of the comments have leaned towards it. I’m dreading hip-hop coming up, though.

Last week we came frighteningly close to the tedious old ‘everyone has qualitative opinions, ergo they must all be seen as equally important” line of thinking. I hate that. Even if they are equal, that doesn’t constitute any reason not to voice them or to claim that they’re not important. Clearly, though, they’re not all equal. An opinion that is well thought-out and well argued opinion is worth far more than one that isn’t either.

Comments have thus far centred around ‘dismissing’ an idiom as an amorphous whole, which I think is only half of the question. I turn off when anyone says they ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ a named genre, as though it presents some sort of gestalt entity. Such an argument generally boils down to “It’s all like this. Except for the bits that aren’t, but we won’t mention those.’ The problems presented are generally found on examination to be problems with a specific sets of aesthetics. In some cases be considered arguably acceptable, but only if they are universally applicable features. If you “Don’t like the sound of guitars” I’d consider that a bit strange and arbitrary, but to say you don’t like rock music wouldn’t seem like a logical leap. In this instance, the counsel for the prosecution is delivering a blow to an entire style of music that doesn’t necessarily involve the features he’s citing ( http://www.okayplayer.com is a handy link for a bunch of examples, if you refuse to believe me).

The obvious response to that is to suggest that I’m merely playing semantics and that your objection concerns that type of R’n’B and that type only, but I don’t see a problem with wanting you to use language suitable for the point you’re trying to make. I know saying “The type of R’n’B that… etc.” is unwieldy, but this is a pretty basic concept that anyone who isn’t an arsehole learns early on in their life. It’s the difference (on a linguistic level. Before anyone pulls out the obvious strawman argument, I’m not for a moment trying to suggest a moral equivalency) between “Muslims are evil” and “There are some Muslims who are evil.”

One assumes, therefore, that Swisstoni is either ignorant of what else is out there or just being intellectually dishonest.

Even if we’re playing the game of happily ignoring the bits that don’t suit the prosecutions point, he can’t get his own stereotypes straight. There’s one pretty glaringly obvious reason why Mariah Carey is not a good example of his “female R’n’B” archetype.

Plus, yeah – songs. Lots of great ones. This is where we step into pure subjectivity, I realise, but the good-to-crap ratio of R’n’B has certainly worked for me in recent years, as has the ‘innovation bought to a mainstream level and played all over the radio and telly’ (slim pickings in any idiom, but I’m willing to take Timbaland circa a few years ago over most).

I vote for the defence with as much vigour as I can muster.

7:39 pm  
Anonymous lordbargain said...

Russ - an opinion is an opinion. At what point was a qualitative measure to opinions introduced?

Your piece also infers, pretty strongly, that the prosecution is "an arsehole" which, in an argument about semantics and the use of language is particularly ironic.

8:23 pm  
Anonymous Russ L said...

Qualitative opinions about music as opposed the surrounding hoopla - last week Damo led off on the argument that since some people like the Levellers and some don't such opinions aren't worth bringing into the argument. I disagree, and while I'm glad we seeing the employment of such arguments here I don't think the prosecution's was at all a very good one.

'Arsehole' was rude, I admit. I got a bit carried away there. I offer a sincere apology to Swisstoni.

9:06 pm  
Blogger Damo said...

I think I was trying to say that no one opinion is definitive, but some people are far more articulate than me at spilling the thoughts in their head onto paper. The fact that I was writing the defence obviously meant I had a view to convey, so I can appreciate that this muddied the waters.

Anyhow, I lost. :-)

10:15 pm  
Blogger SwissToni said...

Apology accepted Russ, and of the options available, I'll happily choose "ignorant". I did try to make my views on prosecuting a whole genre clear, and I have to confess to being a bit non-plussed by the vehemence of your comment. Mind you, you do make an excellent call on Mariah Carey there, and I throw my hands up to a crass mistake.

Your vote still only counts as one, right?

ST

11:51 pm  
Blogger Lord Bargain said...

no, ST, it was a well informed and argued opinion so presumably counts for more votes than the ignorant ones....

8:19 am  
Anonymous Russ L said...

One vote, but (as noted) a vigorous one.

Well, unless Ben lets me have more. I can't see that happening, though, no matter how much I bribe him.

Lord Bargain - here's an example extreme enough to be useless, but it illustrates the point: If we stick with music, do you consider two people's opinions about a song to be equal if one of them hasn't heard it?

We reject a variety of things people say every day, be it because we think they haven't thought it through, they don't know what they're talking about, they're biased or they simply aren't making any sense. There's no reason why there has to be an elitist air to it, as you appear to be implying.

9:03 am  
Blogger Lord Bargain said...

Russ - nope, dont subscribe to that. They may be more informed having heard it, but as long as they take ownership of their opinion and their viewpoint, it is as valid. One opinion cannot be worth more than another. They can be more balanced, or better proposed, or rooted in more fact. But not "worth more".

10:33 am  
Anonymous Russ L said...

Those are exactly the reasons why it's worth more, in my eyes. I suppose that here we've hit the point where we have to agree to disagree, though.

It's nevertheless difficult to imagine you (obviously I don't know you and know little about you) genuinely paying equal heed to everyone's opinion on every matter. It's hard to see how someone could go through everyday life like that, in terms of not only believing it but also acting as such. At best I can imagine the supposed equality of all opinions being a purely abstract concept. If it's a question of theoretically holding to an ideal of all opinions being equally valid but still in practice ignoring/shouting down the stupid ones then I don't think your position is as far away from mine as you'd like to believe.

12:29 pm  
Blogger SwissToni said...

We're way off topic now, but the thing is Russ, who decides what the *right* opinion is? Who says what is acceptable and what is not acceptable? Who defines what is true and what is false?

What makes (say) your opinion better than anyone else's?

The answers to those questions can only ever be subjective. You might not agree with someone else's opinion, but you can't deny that they hold it or definitively say that they are wrong.

You like R'n'B. Fine. Other people don't. Also fine. You are entitled to your opinion, they are entitled to theirs. No one is right. No one is wrong.

End of story.

ST

(this is a pet topic of mine actually, you should get yourself off and read a spot of Michel Foucault or Jacques Derrida. They're the kings of this kind of thinking. Why is a tree called 'a tree'? what is it about it that makes it inherently 'a tree'? The french call it "un arbre". Are they talking about the same thing? Are we right or are they right? How do we know?)

1:57 pm  
Blogger Damo said...

"If a tree falls down in the forest and nobody's there to see it fall, does it make a sound?"

Answer: yes it does.

The language barrier explains why the French never eat more than a single egg in one sitting though. It's because one egg's un oeuf.

Not only have I got my coat but I'm already halfway out the building.

2:19 pm  
Anonymous Russ L said...

Woah there. I don't "like" R'n'B any more than I dislike it. We've been into that above.

Moving aside from that - of course it's subjective, like every other utterance to leave the human gob. It's a fairly cackhanded strawman to imply that I'm trying to say is that there is one solidly determinable measure of right or wrong views, and (I suspect) well you know it. I'm not talking about the truth (or lack thereof) the opinions purport to relate to, I'm talking about the opinions themselves.

Just as one is free to see R'n'B as good or bad (or deem that a saft way of looking at things, as I do), however, the next individual is free to see any given train of thought as good or bad similarly. If an argument doesn't work on a logical level or is full of holes, one will hold it in disdain. If it supports itself well, one will consider it more highly. Opinion A can be better than opinion B in the way that (to your mind) indie (or whatever-have-you) can be better than R'nB.


You can get medical opinions from a trained professional and you can get medical opinions from some raving wino on road. I bet I know which you'll pay more heed to. If you then want to tack rhetoric over the top of that about how they're all equal really then you can, but it doesn't generally affect the way you'll respond.

3:04 pm  
Blogger SwissToni said...

so are you the R'n'B doctor and I'm the raving wino? Is that where we're at?

hmm. maybe that's not so very far from the truth!

If it's okay with you, I'm going to draw a line under our debate here. I agree entirely that my prosecution case above is a product of my own prejudices and (lack of) knowledge of the wider genre. That's fine, and Literary Hoax and Mike both called me on that above. What I don't particularly like in your first comment was what I took to be a rather high-handed attack on me personally (for which you have partially apologised and I have accepted). It's perfectly okay to disagree with me and to not be swayed by my case. I just don't think there was any call to be quite so aggressive about it (I'm still not sure what you were going on about, either, to be honest).

Besides, I think we agree about the silliness of genre-wide criticism anyway.

I haven't deliberately set out to upset anyone with my prosecution case here (except possibly Usher), and I'm sorry (if a little confused) if I did.

ST

(Damo - that's terrible!)

3:20 pm  
Anonymous Jen said...

R'n'B is generally bad and seems to be getting worse BUT it has to get off because there are some really good songs out there. I only ever seem to hear R'n'B at the gym, when the video is normally on as well. Let R'n'B off the hook but ban all videos (of all types of music) that aren't approved as female-friendly by Germaine Greer.

5:46 pm  
Anonymous Russ L said...

Swisstoni - I (similarly) haven't meant to upset anyone, and while standing 100% behind my points I apologise if I have been offensive or aggressive. That was never my intention.

Let us share some of your wino's meths and my doctor's clinical-strength morphine to celebrate this newfound peace.

I quite like the phrase "The R'n'B Doctor." It sounds like a particularly crap local radio DJ.

6:25 pm  
Blogger Del said...

Jeepers, if Germaine Greer is the filter, I'm voting with the prosecution. Heehee.

And I should certainly clarify that my argument is not "well, most of it's shit, but a few bits are worth saving it." My argument is that most people get the perception of R&B fixed on the worst it has to offer. I think it has a lot more to offer than that. But if you still hate it, for goodness sake vote for the prosecution.

I have friends who dismiss entire genres because they don't like them. It's not a problem. I don't watch ITV cos I hate the vast majority of it's programming. The fact that it shows the odd Champions League game does not save it from my contempt.

If we go down the road of deep analysis, I won't be able to use stupid reasons to vote one way or the other. And that's half the fun.

6:27 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

Crikey it's been a bit lively on here today! Argue away by all means (and vehemently too), but let's avoid any name-calling eh? (Cheers, though, RussL for having the good grace to apologise.)

I could pitch into the debate about the relative value of opinions - I don't buy the idea that one opinion is in ALL circumstances as valid as any other - but, as ST points out, we're in danger of straying from the point, and in any case there's been a line drawn under it. And no RussL, in this instance your opinion counts for one - the same as ST and Lord B's! Though if you were to stretch to £20...

Del: Don't worry - Jenni's currently digesting 'The Female Eunuch'. My guess is that she might have more to say when we get round to "misogynistic hip-hop"...

7:11 pm  
Blogger SwissToni said...

Russ - I like the phrase "the r'n'b doctor" too, actually. In my head, that is forever more going to be your handle!

Are we all friends now? Hurray!

ST

*passes round the meths*

7:19 pm  
Blogger Betty said...

Er ... is it safe for me to vote for the defence now?

It's difficult to be objective about the type of music you like, and certain genres have never appealed to me. It's tempting to play up the negative, stereotyped aspects of those genres, and I've probably done that too. So I can see where a lot of people are coming from in their opposition to R'n'B.

However, at its best it's a genre which has consistently provided some of the greatest and most innovative hit singles in the past few years. I think it's always been the case with black pop music. No doubt Motown's singles were dismissed as production line chart fodder in their day, but in retrospect so many of those singles have been acknowledged as classics. Maybe some music can only be appreciated with the benefit of hindsight!

Sorry if this argument's a bit lacklustre. I think most of the essential points have been discussed already.

8:19 pm  
Anonymous drmigs said...

To me, the modern watered down R&B is just the same as soft rock for a different demographic; it's hormone music. It's not necessarily even music for the heart, it's primariliy written for a whole different set of muscles altogether (if you get my drift ...). In Victorian terms, if it's not being vulgar - it's being smutty.

So, now I'm left with quandry? Do I prosecute it because it ain't my thing? Or do I say live and let live, and let R&B survive? What's the rules?

Actually sod the rules, Trapped In The Closet, and the fact that I now have to judge it the same way as I would judge Soft Rock, is enough for me to prosecute it.

I agree that only a fool would prosecute a whole genre, but sometime it's fun to be a fool. Hell, I won't be missing out by prosecuting it ...

ST, I applaud your brass.

10:17 pm  
Anonymous jonathan said...

Damn- what a heated debate! I have to admit to a pretty near ignorance of R'n'B outside of the ubiquitous top 10 stuff... but I have always been vaguely aware that there was a much more credible, authentic scene, with a real pedigree, going on away from likes of J-Lo... and Del makes the case for that scene with admirable clarity, detail and authority. So I'm going to vote for the defence- with somewhat more certainty than I expected to muster at the outset of the debate.

(Oh- and I've just sent Ben in my defence of Belle and Sebastian ready for next week.. I do hope the Glaswegian indie popstrels will ignite such fervour for and against, these debates are Thursday Night entertainment to rival Question Time...)

11:35 pm  
Anonymous Russ L In A False Moustache said...

Good morning, gentle folk. My name is... erm... Smith, and I would like to vote for the defence.

9:37 am  
Anonymous The Polyphonic Spree said...

like, wow - we're just completely bowled over by the power and righteous majesty of SwissToni's argument. He sure is a wise old bird.

We vote for him.

All of us.

And there's a lot of us.

That means he wins, right?

Peace.

TPS

11:01 am  

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