Ted Goia is a jazz critic and is, I believe, in such a snit that his occupational niche, music criticism, seems to be in danger of vanishing all together that he over- reads the tea leaves. In fact, it's not that music criticism has devolved into lifestyle reporting, it is merely being replaced by editors and publishers by a species of celebrity journalism. Musicians replaced Hollywood movie stars in large part as famous and rich folks that fans of popular culture obsess about and, as it goes, in a world where media is now a 24 hour concern, filling up those column inches on line and online and , for the love of god, all over those cable shows, the fastest and most ready bit of material for reporters to bring to a drooling public's attention are the trivial doings of what these people do in their daily lives.
In an atmosphere where everything is up to the minute, the second, the nano second, music criticism only takes you so far. I was a music editor for a number of years and I know the dread of having holes in your section layout--that is , no stories,no reviews, no ads to fill up a gaping white space on the page your trying to ready for publication. As much as I wanted to maintain my integrity and reserve my editorial copy to matters of considered cultural criticism and the arguing for the greater good of all, as a practical matter my standards had to be modified when I decided to run a substandard, gossipy, trivial bit of celebrity worship on my pages. Nature abhors a vacuum and so do editors.
The Village Voice, Down Beat, Rolling Stone, Filter, Pitch Fork, Jazz Is, all present straight forward criticism of musicians and their work, and the quality varies publication to publication, of course. A basic consideration, though, is that back in the day, when music, basically rock and roll, was considered a force for change by the media that tried to understand it, we saw a rise in earnest young intellectuals--Paul Williams, Griel Marcus, Robert Christgau, Jon Landau, later Lester Bangs--who took the music seriously and attempted to essay forth the underlying movement of history in the notes being played and the rhymes being sung. This gave us a particularly potent kind of literary commentary; there was a lot of good writing that came out of that. Also, though, much more nonsense was written in the name of music criticism and it seems that readerships no longer believe that music, as such, represents a Hegelian transformation of History; it meant a good time, period. The basic message is that cultural commentary of the highest regard will dominate the arts pages of general interest publications, on line and off, only when the zeitgeist has us believe that music and art in general have a meaning and direction that is more, much more than the technical achievements .
It makes for a dull time generally , I suppose, and limits nuanced discussions and general intellection on guitar solos and the genius of lyrics to a smaller, shriller, more adenoidal crowd of folks, but that is the spirit of the time we live in.The element of discovery is out of the equation, since no one has to look neither long nor far for music that might interests them, the new sounds, the new vibe. Critics are no longer the explorers or explainers of new sounds . Everything is already found, and the smaller circles of pundits , it seems, find themselves aggressively agreeing with one another, give or take an instance of ritual snark.