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On Sunday, April 27, Lorde called out Complex via Tumblr, taking aim at the magazine for profiling Iggy Azalea and later publishing a review which "shit on" the rapper’s latest album. Azalea responded in angry agreement, calling the industry "spineless," and the Internet is still talking about both artists' complete disregard for journalism. Though that conversation is worth having, beyond Lorde's apparent inability to distinguish members of the press from publicists, there’s an issue of celebrity entitlement at play here.
Before we continue onward with the misplaced umbrage of Lorde et al, let’s touch briefly on that discussion about journalism, because it’s not unimportant. Lorde is wrong to think criticism equals a lack of respect. As Complex wrote it in their response “If [we] -- or the media at large -- operated the way Lorde wished, it would do away with journalistic integrity all together.” Or, as Tom Hawking put it over at Flavorwire, “you might as well just have publicists send out press releases straight to fans and be done with it.”
With the ethics of journalism safely intact, we can start to unpack the issue of celebrity entitlement. What exactly is Lorde talking about when she says the word “respect”? What does she think she (or any artist) is owed by the press or fans in general? The stupid and easy response is that she is a 17-year-old “adult baby alien” and probably we shouldn’t even be listening to anything she says. But the (again, stupid) immaturity excuse doesn’t work for Azalea and definitely doesn't apply to 35-year-old James Franco, who called Ben Brantley an “idiot” and a “little bitch” after a less than laudatory review of “Of Mice and Men” in the New York Times.
Perhaps our capacity for legitimate criticism has waned as a backlash to our constantly-shaming culture. (The trend we see with body-shaming is a great example that applies across the board.) At least part of this is a direct result of the parenting and schooling of millennials, in which there is a prevalent sense that everything gets a gold star, to the extent that Generation Y has been referred to as "trophy kids" (full disclosure: I am a millennial / got lots of gold stars). But, whatever the cause, in becoming hyper aware of the impact of criticism, we’ve also become intolerant of critiques that are intellectually and artistically valid.
There is plenty of crappy shaming on the Internet, but let's be plain: artistic criticism is really definitely not shaming. Our sensitivity to negativity should not impede our ability to think about art (or any version of work) and famous people do not get a pass to evade criticism just because they are famous (read: have lots of followers on Tumblr / Instagram / Twitter).
There is an ongoing debate over the extent of the Gen Y issue of entitlement, but when you're dealing with celebrities, the effects are cast in an even sharper relief. If someone insulted Lorde's appearance, we’d rightfully rally behind her in exclamatory outrage. Her work, however, is fair game for critiquing, and that critique does not always require rainbows, butterflies or reverence for her fame. The normalization of hyper-sensitivity to criticism is a whiny trend at best, and at worst, a genuine threat to the free exchange of ideas. So, for every thin-skinned celebrity or Gen Y delicate snowflake out there: mind the gap between catty meanness and critical thinking -- in the realm of music journalism, but also in life.
Follow Lauren Duca on Twitter: @laurenduca