Marcelo Contreras column: Taylor Swift and the fan dictatorship

Gustavo Cerati treated me as an “idiot” via Twitter in 2009 with accumulated anger at my reviews. To this day sporadic trolls like to remember the idol’s tantrum every time my signature generates controversy. Having the former Soda Stereo frontman read my reviews confirmed what I always think every time fans argue that stars slip from stuntmen.

The interest of an artist in the professional judgment of his work in a mass media is quite obvious. The verdict of the critic integrates the narrative of art. They were different times. A musician of that size could go to the trouble of expressing his anger directly. Now the fans get the job done. Taylor Swift’s latest hit album, Folklore, the reason for records and praise, has attracted attention not only for its indie twist, but also for the harsh reaction of its followers who have threatened to kill the editor Jillian Mapes of the site Pitchfork, for not giving it a 10 but an 8, qualification that affects between several to reach 89 points in Metacritic -universal claim-, although at a distance from the maximum 100. The Observer critic had to face a similar scenario, while The Guardian wrote a lengthy analysis of the phenomenon.

I was trolled for three days by my review of Folklore in these pages and I received hacking alerts. I think it’s his best album since 1989 (2014), in turn one of the best albums of the past decade. For the fans it was not enough.

At the height of the Cerati episode, I had been calling for a decade with motherfuckings, threats of beatings and maneuvers to leave me without a job. Many times it was the artists themselves who would pick up the phone with swear words like a drugged idol from La Nueva Ola, or the lead singer of a rusty band from the 80s. Each episode had no more relevance than adding to the anecdote shared with colleagues. Occupational hazards.

With Facebook and Twitter, hosts of fans arose ready to battle giving life to the stan culture, Anglo-Saxon definition for the tribes of popular culture that defend their idols and genres with an exaggerated passion to conquer clicks, the bargaining chip in the RRSS market. In the case of pop, each novelty is celebrated to the death between Barbz, BeyHives and Swifties, the followers of Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, respectively, between various figures with their respective legions. They hardly see media trials that do not agree with the absolute surrender to the admired figure, the threats and disqualifications where the issuer and his message are invalidated, rage like a long bombardment. The concept is inspired by “Stan,” Eminem’s 2000 hit with the story of a self-titled fan who sends him letters. The term defines a “fan obsessed with a particular celebrity or celebrity.”

The actions of the enraged fandom are transversal in the entertainment industry. Online bullying against music, film and series critics is childish compared to the video game industry, with iconic cyberbullying cases like the 2014 Gamergate. Zoë Quinn, a programmer and developer, designed Depression Quest, a role play to combat their depression, provoking angry reactions among gamers reluctant to the twists in the usual narrative, an incident that escalated to involve other developers, sites and flagged journalists. Quinn was threatened with death and rape, her details were published and her accounts were hacked. Until today, the high level of toxicity in its communities and the use of technological twists and turns to impose an aggressive environment with misogynistic and racist characteristics is an unsolved problem in that industry.

Yoko Ono was probably the first victim of an intolerant fandom with a discriminating air, encouraged by the press for a crude explanation of an inevitable fate like the separation of The Beatles.

On the other hand, artists persist who consider professional criticism invalid if it does not come from a musician. In 2019 the singer Lizzo reacted to the 6.5 that Pitchfork assigned to her last album Cuz I love you, claiming that critics who don’t make music should be “unemployed.”

The professional critical exercise does not depend on the dichotomy I like / I do not like, nor does it guarantee its value if the pen behind it knows how to play more than the bell. Eventually it provides information and specific expertise, but at no time is a guide with journalistic rigor to understand works and artists with more tools, highlight their value, or point out objections. Can’t criticism be criticized? Absolutely, pointing out ideas and arguments if it is lazy or capricious.

That fluffy world that the fanatic aspires with with the armored and unquestionable star lacks appeal, suggesting a flat story, where every work and action of being idolized is wonderful and intense. A boring, dictatorial fantasy, where heterogeneity dangerously disappears.

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