Wednesday, July 13, 2005

"Overrated"

Lynn at Reflections in d minor complains about the word "overrated":

I've seen a couple of overrated songs lists recently. I'm not going to link to them because I really hate that word, "overrated." Look, you've got every right to hate songs that a lot of other people love and to express your dislike publicly, but when you say something is "overrated" you are making a judgement about its quality and insulting everyone who likes it. You're just being an arrogant jerk. Just because you don't like poetic lyrics and your attention span is only three minutes long doesn't mean that Hotel California, Stairway to Heaven and American Pie are not good songs. If you don't like them, fine, but that's just you.


I think "overrated" can be a useful term, especially when dealing with hype-heavy pop culture. However, I think it is often misused to mean simply "bad" or "worthless" instead of "worth somewhat less than the hype would have you believe". I also think there's a tendency among pop-cult critics to overpraise stuff: talking about the pretty good as if it were the really great. This might partly have to do with diminished expectations and relief at finding something even halfway good among all the crap out there. (I'm very susceptible to this myself.)

It might also have to do with the widespread idea that the only legitimate art-type experience is the trancendent variety. This leads to a weird situation where critics praise a movie-book-record-comic as either a Transcendent Art Work of Importance and Gravity or an Escapist Peice of Entertaining Trash, with no sense that there's lots of room in between those two extremes. (Michael Blowhard writes about this phenomenon a lot--check out the comments on this post).

An example: I like Sgt. Pepper's a lot, but I do think it's an overrated album, mainly because so many people consider it the Best Album Ever and talk about how it makes many Profound and Important Statements. Personally, I think it's a lot more enjoyable if you listen to it as an album made by some very smart pop-rock musicians who were trying to push the limits of what they could get away with in the studio. It's bright, shiny, impressive, and, thanfully, often silly.

An aside: I actually think "Hotel California" is underrated, at least by most rock music critics, who seem to have it in for the Eagles.

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