Prepare yourselves. I’m about to get a little rambly (though if you’ve been following this blog, I assume that’s a thing you’re okay with?).
I know some people like consistency. When they listen to an album they like, watch a movie they enjoy, or read their favorite book, they hope to see more of something similar from the musician, director, or writer who produced it. It makes sense from a logical standpoint. After all, I eagerly eat chocolate because I have eaten chocolate in the past and it has proven to my taste buds time and time again that it is delicious. The difference with chocolate, though, is that it is a generic product produced by scores of companies all over the world, and has been for some time. Unless it’s being featured on the food channel, chocolate is not generally considered a form of art. And when it comes to art, consumers must be flexible.
The recent release of the new Paramore album [Wikipedia link] is what got me thinking about artistic growth, but, since I’m a fan of multiple types of artists, as most people are, it’s popped into my head more than a couple of times (more on that later). For those who don’t know, this album, though it is the band’s fourth, is the first album Paramore created without two of its original founding members, former guitarist Josh Farro and former drummer Zac Farro. Both Farros brought wonderful things to the band–Josh was responsible for writing many of the songs that have touched my heart, and Zac’s an infectious drummer–so it was inevitable that this album would be different.
Boy, is it ever. They’re exploring multiple genres in this album and the lyrics have a kind of optimism that, while it bubbled under the surface of their third album especially, nobody’s ever seen from them before. I never thought I’d hear a ukelele or a gospel choir in a Paramore song before giving this album a listen. And I can’t describe the unadulterated joy this album brought me the first time I heard it all the way through.
I was just as excited when they released their third album, brand new eyes, in 2009. But I remember that, while I enjoyed the songs immensely, I had trouble telling many of them apart. Only after a couple weeks could I hear the beginning of a song and go, “Okay, this is ‘Looking Up,’ not ‘Where the Lines Overlap’.” With this album, the self-titled Paramore, I know what song I’m listening to instantaneously, and I adore almost every one of them. I imagine part of why I’m so obsessed with this album is because I know it took risk to make it. They needed to grow as artists and, while they knew their experiment might not work out, they gave it a try, anyway. I admire that in any artist.
Hundreds of Facebook commenters don’t agree with me. I won’t post any actual quotes so as not to oust anyone, but here are some examples that capture the gist:
“What the hell is this pop shit? Bring back the Farros!”
“Wow, what happened to the REAL Paramore?”
“Guys, it’s over. Paramore no longer exists. They’ve totally sold out.”
And, my very favorite: “How could they do this to their fans?!”
Uhh, okay. Neil Gaiman once wrote a wonderful blog post called “Entitlement Issues” [link to Neil Gaiman’s journal] when someone asked him if authors owe it to their writers to speed up the process of finishing their books, speaking specifically of George R. R. Martin, author of the Song of Ice and Fire series. Here’s an excerpt from Gaiman’s response:
Look, this may not be palatable, Gareth, and I keep trying to come up with a better way to put it, but the simplicity of things, at least from my perspective is this:
George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.
This is a useful thing to know, perhaps a useful thing to point out when you find yourself thinking that possibly George is, indeed, your bitch, and should be out there typing what you want to read right now.
Though Gaiman was speaking about fans expecting artists to meet certain deadlines, I believe this applies to artistic growth as well. Of course any good artist cares about his or her fans–without the fans, the artist wouldn’t have success. Of course they want to make the fans happy. But that does not mean the artist should be expected to compromise whatever vision they may have for their art in order to please others. The ideal is when what the fans want and what the artist wants align with one another, which, in the case of Paramore, actually seems to have happened [link to billboard.com article]. But sometimes they don’t, and the (good) artist produces whatever’s bursting from their soul either way. Power to them.
Obviously, plenty of people disagree with this. That’s fine. Personally, complaints about how an artist has “changed” drive me crazy. In fact, if I keep up with an artist and I don’t see any growth whatsoever after a while, if I’m just listening to/watching/reading the same old thing over and over, I lose patience with that artist. Having some recurring themes across the years is one thing, and can be fun to track. Producing the same artistic product over a lengthy period of time is tedious and pointless. This probably comes from the same part of my personality that rejects the idea of sticking to one genre for my entire life. There’s a reason that after I finish my fantasy series, I desperately want to write a contemporary novel. I don’t like boxes very much, or figurative ones, anyway.
A similar thing happened in September when J.K. Rowling released The Casual Vacancy. Everyone was all excited that J.K. Rowling had written something else. I know people who wished their local Barnes and Noble was throwing a midnight release party for it. What happened when they read it, or started reading it? “This isn’t Harry Potter!” they exclaimed. Did…did you expect it to be? Did you not see the title? Or the description? Or the fact that it is in the adult section? What the hell did you think was going to happen? You’d open the book and the title page would be like, “Surprise! This book is actually called Harry Potter and the Casual Vacancy. Here’s a drawing by Mary Grandpré.” ?
And I loved The Casual Vacancy. I got attached to several of the characters and had trouble sleeping the night I finished because the ending shook me up so much. It proved to me that Rowling is a powerful writer who is capable of branching out. Sure, when Deathly Hallows came out, I had expectations. I wanted desperately to read the scene where Ron and Hermione finally kissed. What would I have done if she hadn’t included that scene? I probably would have thrown a fit, but that’s because I was fourteen years old and ridiculous. Regardless, there would have been nothing I could have done about it. If Rowling didn’t write it, it meant it wasn’t part of her vision. And every artist has a right to putting his or her vision out there. It doesn’t mean they’re not grateful for their fans. In fact, usually it’s their way of saying, “Thank you for loving my work! Here’s another thing I poured my heart into, and I hope you love this one, too!”
Essentially, let people do what they love. For all I know, the next Legend of Zelda game could completely toss out their usual get-a-cool-item-in-a-dungeon-and-use-it-to-beat-the-boss formula and give Link a machine gun, or Paramore’s next album could be made up entirely of rap songs. What is the worst that happens to me? I don’t like the game or album, am a little disappointed, and don’t buy it. Then, oh my god, my life continues. If you are an artist taking a risk for the sake of growth, I respect you immensely, and I hope I can have the courage to do the same all throughout my life.
Also, will people shut up about Hayley Williams’ (lead singer of Paramore) bangs? She could shave her head and tattoo a gorilla on it for all I care, because her hair doesn’t make the music I love.
*Avatar by Charlavail