It all began with a review of Fetch the Bolt Cutters, Fiona Apple’s fifth studio album, which was released just over two weeks ago. I loved this album. I was completely blown away on my first listen, and I have only grown to appreciate it more. I wrote a fanatic Test Spin about it. And, for a while, I was absolutely sure that my opinions were sound. The release garnered a sea of positive reviews. Pitchfork awarded its first 10/10 in years and Rolling Stone gave it 4.5 stars, calling it a “triumphant statement” and the “best work of her career.” Then, Anthony Fantano gave it a 7 out of 10.
YouTuber Anthony Fantano, self-declared “internet’s busiest music nerd,” has built an authority in music criticism over his 13 year YouTube career. His channel “The Needle Drop” has over 2 million subscribers, and he has cultivated a cult-like following complete with inside jokes and memes galore. Fantano bends the rules of music criticism. Somehow, his opinion holds an authority comparable to some of the biggest traditional media outlets. He doesn’t seem to be concerned with being controversial, and he is known to have given some lackluster scores to critically acclaimed records.
To be honest, I have been swayed by Fantano’s reviews countless times in the past. As a subscriber to his channel, I’ve found myself completely changing my opinion in the span of a ten minute video. The opposite has been true as well. When Fantano shares my opinions on an album, I feel validated. I must have good taste. I know I’m not alone in this feeling, as I’ve seen countless tweets, Tik Toks and YouTube comments about it. If Fantano says you shouldn’t like a song, you can’t like it. But the review of Fetch the Bolt Cutters was different. My friend, who had read my review of the album, was the first to inform me about the 7 rating. My gut reaction was not to watch the video. As someone who is easily swayed, I feared my opinions would change. I didn’t want to see the flaws in this album. I didn’t want to question my own judgement. But eventually, I broke down and watched the review.
Full disclosure, it made me angry. He described tracks as “stale,” “grating,” “messy” and “underwritten.” There I was, flushed and speechless, ready to type out an impassioned rant in the comments. He misunderstood the choices in percussion, he misinterpreted the lyrics, he failed to give this groundbreaking album due diligence. But after enduring the “strong 6 to light 7” rating, I took a deep breath and realized: My opinions haven’t changed. I love this album, from start to finish.
I don’t feel the need to challenge Fantano in the comments, as many fans have. Receiving backlash is a part of being a critic. But Fantano’s disclaimer in the video description reads “Y’all know this is just my opinion, right?” Maybe that’s just it. He has his opinion, and I have mine.
We live in an age where everyone can be a critic and opinions are shared readily on an endless number of platforms. The pull of objectivity in reviews in waning, and the opinionated Fantano is capitalizing on this shift. He opens his channel up to debate, and his proactive stances fuel the conversation among his fans. Music review in 2020 is no longer about technical musical knowledge or authority; it’s about the effective dissemination of opinions. And Fantano has locked that market down.
The real question is, how do we learn to trust our own opinions when there are so many to choose from? At the end of the day, music is an inherently subjective experience. There is no universal listener opinion. So trust yourself. Feel free to disagree with anything I say. Be a champion of music that speaks to you. That is exactly how Anthony Fantano has become such a massive success.
Music criticism has its purpose. It fuels a discourse, it contextualizes the songs we love, and it pushes us to reflect on our malleable opinions. But ultimately, the value of an album or a song or even a simple melody is what it makes you feel. And Fetch the Bolt Cutters made me feel. So I’m not going to let the music nerds of the world get me down. And neither should you.
Anna Canny is a junior in the College of Agricultural Life and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.