A Note on Bad Reviewing!

A Note on Bad Reviewing: Responding to Anthony Fantano

Like clockwork, this conversation seems to come up on the internet every year or so: some online personality with the ability to reach a large audience announces how much they detest electro swing, and the ES community finds themselves frustrated with rushed responses to clichéd representations of the genre. The latest individual to do so is American YouTube reviewer, Anthony Fantano.

Now Fantano is an interesting character. I was already somewhat aware of his work, having watched a few of his reviews, and some of his ‘Let’s Argue’ series. I believe the first time I came across Fantano was through his review of Aesop Rock’s The Impossible Kid (link), and to be honest, I thought the review was quite decent. Fantano is clearly familiar with the work of this artist, and gave what I thought was a very satisfactory review. The problem however, is that Fantano seems to jump into every review that he does with the same level of false confidence, regardless of how familiar he actually is with the artist being discussed. This is no more obvious than in the aforementioned ‘Let’s Argue’ series – an interesting concept in which Fantano speeds through various opinions on a wide variety of music and musicians – which can at times be almost painful to watch, due to Fantano’s clear lack of understanding around certain topics.

(As a side note – if you’re not already familiar with Aesop Rock, you should definitely get yourself acquainted – his music is fantastic (link)).

As an example of Fantano’s eagerness to act as an authority on things he has little to no awareness of, on June 26th he would post the following tweet:

Written by Chris Swinglis Date: 2019-06-28

Following on from this, he would go on a bit of a Twitter frenzy, sending out a large number of – what I can only imagine he thought were – hilariously original tweets, elaborating on how much he hated this genre:

Now I want to make clear here:

I genuinely couldn’t care less about how someone feels about electro swing. I’ve never really understood those who get offended when someone possesses a different music taste to their own, and if Fantano doesn’t like the music that I appreciate, he’s entirely entitled to that opinion. A similar instance to this happened in 2015, when journalist Angus Harrison would infamously write an article entitled ‘Electro Swing is the Worst Genre of Music in the World, Ever’ (link); however this article was largely intended to be comedic, and later on when I got the chance to interview Harrison, I found him to be a lovely, charming guy, and got on with him. My problem with Fantano lies with his approach to reviewing, and – as somewhat of a spokesperson for the electro swing community – this seemed like the perfect opportunity to air my complaints.

His attitude can be summed up perfectly by his first tweet: “I just found out about electro swing”. By his own admittance, Fantano is speaking on a topic that he has literally only just discovered, and yet proceeds to immediately pretend that he knows everything there is to know about the style. This is a type of pretentiousness that I find incredibly off-putting, and one which I’ve encountered several times before with people who seem totally unaware that there is nothing shameful about admitting your ignorance on a certain topic. But people like Fantano can’t seem to see past their own arrogance, seeing ignorance as a kind of defeat, and refusing to admit that there could ever be anything that they’re not able to immediately understand.

When Fantano reviews someone like Aesop Rock, whom he clearly does understand, he does so quite well. But I don’t believe one can make accurate judgements on what makes a style good or bad when they don’t have the understanding necessary to appreciate how that style works in the first place. There are many genres which it would be inappropriate for me to attempt to have an authoritative discussion on, and I wouldn’t insult that genre’s audience by attempting to do so. Unfortunately, Fantano does not appear to share this mindset.

Fantano is very good at what he does, however what he does – in this sense – is create online media that appeals to a large number of people. Through his use of bright colours, garish editing, and meme-heavy content, he’s been very successful in attracting a large audience to his YouTube channel. However, with few exceptions, this success hasn’t translated over to the quality of his reviews. In this specific instance, I strongly suspect that Fantano has listened to a few Parov Stelar tracks, and maybe the Great Gatsby soundtrack, and has determined that he is therefore now completely qualified to judge an entire genre. I can guarantee he’s never listened to Smokey Joe and the Kid. I can guarantee he’s never listened to Boogie Belgique, or Dutty Moonshine, or Tuxedo Junction. And most importantly, he seems to have forgotten one of the golden rules of music criticism: never dismiss an entire genre. Otherwise, you’ll just come off as ridiculously narrow-minded. Dismiss certain artists and songs to your heart’s content – provided you’ve sufficiently familiarised yourself with them – but you can never say that an entire musical genre is to be viewed in any one particular way, full stop.

I’m disappointed with Fantano’s judgment, but having already seen some of his content, I can’t say that I’m surprised. I just find it disheartening to think that an impressionable audience will think that this is the way to approach music discourse. Through a lack of nuance, a lack of intricacy, and a lack of self-reflexive humility, Fantano has provided a perfect example of how not to do criticism. But – this is what’s getting him the big views, so is he going to change? I sincerely doubt it.

Chris Swinglis Socials