Musicians & artists of all mediums are constantly inundated with criticism. That’s the nature of the beast. You put your work out there for the world to judge, and sometimes you like the feedback you get… and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes it’s constructive, and other times it’s just outright mean. I can handle mean. Someone being mean about your art is someone who is being mean to themselves about — who knows what. That’s easy to brush off. I can handle constructive, too. If someone who has earned my trust has a helpful comment to help me improve in my life & in my art, I’ll take that. I appreciate that. The kind of criticism I can’t handle is an unsolicited word of advice about what kind of artist I *should* be.
It happens all the time.
“You should write happier songs.”
I smile and basically apologize. “You’re right. I’ll try.” I’m sorry for my art and what it made you feel.
But wait. Am I really sorry for that? Isn’t that exactly what I wanted when I was writing that song? Wasn’t I feeling really emotional when I wrote “Mary-Ann”, a memorial for a beautiful woman who had just passed away? Wasn’t I feeling really angry when I wrote “God Knows I’ve Tried”, or reflective when I wrote “Lullaby”?
Well, yeah. That’s always why I’ve written songs. Because I’m feeling way too much stuff to bury, and need to express it somehow. Music has been my language for the really sad, the really angry the emotional moments that need release.
And why did I get into music in the first place? Because I was listening to acoustic emo music in 2006, and it helped me cry my way through puberty. And because I heard an amazing song by Katie Herzig when my Grandad died in 2008, and it helped me grieve. Because there were break-up songs that I needed when my first boyfriend dumped me. Because music helped me move through my emotions and helped me get back on my feet. Every time something hard happened to me, I would look for a song to hold my hand through it.
And that’s what I want to do when I write music. I know that my sadness and anger and emotion will bleed into this piece of work and hold someone else’s hand through it. I know that, even though it sounds like a sad song, it will give people hope. It will make people feel less alone. Just like it made me feel less alone in the times I really needed it.
So am I really sorry? Am I really worried about making sure folks are experiencing the right amount of happy when they listen to my albums? I’m not. Because you know what I’m learning? I’m not here to make everyone happy. I’m here to make art.
Maybe it’s important that I’m writing this today on International Women’s Day. We women are taught to be quite sorry, aren’t we? I’ve been in gaslighting relationships, manipulated into thinking I had to be something perfect for someone else. I’ve been sorry for being myself, for being too much, for being too little, for being too loud, too quiet, too funny, too intense. I got broken up with once for being “too sad”. And every time I was called “too much” of something, I would try to manipulate and squish myself into being the perfect *whatever* for *whoever*. The contortion act of being the perfect *something* for *everyone* isn’t just difficult – it’s totally impossible.
And so I’m all done. I’m calling it quits.
Isn’t it the divine calling of the artist to be too much of everything we humans are? To take that “too much”ness and channel it into art. Isn’t it a blessing there are those in our midst who are brave enough to tread into the intensity of life? Was Picasso too intense? Was Van Gogh too sad? What about Frida Kahlo? Probably. (And let’s never ignore that many great artists could’ve benefitted from professional help for their mental illnesses.) However, the art they created from the intense volume at which they experienced life gave us some of history’s greatest work. Beyonce’s Lemonade is one of the best albums of this decade and, while it may have some fun upper songs & a few “downers” – it’s never apologetic. Beyonce ain’t sorry and neither shall I be.
Many of us are afraid of creating because we are afraid of who will be happy with our art. We sit down to write a song and we throw it out because it’s too sad. Or it’s too fun. Too cheesy. Too happy. Maybe too angry. Maybe too honest.
Beethoven was a pretty depressive & angry guy, and that didn’t stop him from creating. I’m sure plenty of people didn’t like the intensity of his music, but plenty of people did and nobody really remembers the haters now, do they?