Earlier today, Lorde took to her Tumblr to write a short blog post calling out Complex. She juxtaposed an image of Complex’s October/November 2013 issue with Iggy Azalea on the cover with our recent review of Iggy’s debut album which was titled, “Iggy Azalea's ‘The New Classic’ Isn't Really.” Lorde’s Tumblr post was short enough that we’ll quote the entire thing:
bugs me how publications like complex will profile interesting artists in order to sell copies/get clicks and then shit on their records? it happens to me all the time- pitchfork and that ilk being like “can we interview you?” after totally taking the piss out of me in a review. have a stance on an artist and stick to it. don’t act like you respect them then throw them under the bus.
The post was then reblogged by Grimes on her Tumblr where she wrote, “hahaha yes — i agree with this.” Iggy Azalea also tweeted at Lorde and wrote:
The media will beg for free tickets to your show just so they can write about how much they hate it etc etc, I wish you could all see it.— IGGY AZALEA (@IGGYAZALEA) April 27, 2014
There are several things to dissect here, but we’ll start with Lorde.
We can understand how a 17-year-old like Lorde might be bugged out by not just Complex, but the nature of the all media organizations. Reading her post, she seems to use Complex to symbolize the journalistic practices of an entire industry.
Lorde declaring “have a stance on an artist and stick to it” is a bizarre notion for an organization like Complex, which is to say bizarre for any media organization that claims to have any journalistic integrity.
Contrary to whatever Lorde may think, for Complex to give a cover to an artist like Iggy Azalea or current covergirl Jhené Aiko (or even Lorde for that matter) it simply boils down to Complex thinking the artist is someone our audience is interested in. Giving someone a bad review basically boils down to thinking someone our audience is interested in didn’t make a very good record. We can’t speak for all publications, but we imagine it works about the same way for them.
Lorde declaring “have a stance on an artist and stick to it” is a bizarre notion for an organization like Complex, which is to say bizarre for any media organization that claims to have any journalistic integrity. No one should stick to their opinion when new facts (possibly in the form of new music) are made available that can alter your views. Art and artistry are fluid things. For example, in the past we’ve defended Lorde and her hit “Royals” as not being racist because we didn’t think it was. But if tomorrow a tape leaked of her making a series of racist statements telling black people not to buy “Royals” on iTunes or come to her shows (as it happened to Clippers owner Donald Sterling this weekend) then wouldn’t we be well within our rights to “flip flop” and decide that Lorde is in fact racist?
If Complex—or the media at large—operated the way Lorde wished, it would do away with journalistic integrity altogether. Lorde—as well as Iggy—seem to confuse press as “respect” and criticism as being thrown “under the bus.” Truth is, not every media interaction will be mutually beneficial. Sure, giving Iggy a cover helped us “sell copies/get clicks” but it also helped establish Iggy as a star. When Def Jam sent its Iggy press kits around, best believe Complex’s cover and cover story were featured in it. There’s no way Iggy can say she didn’t benefit from being on our cover. Maybe she didn’t benefit from our review, but so be it. Celebrities seek attention and media coverage every time they do something great, why would the camera stop rolling when they do something not so great? And even if they do, it isn’t meant to be disrespectful—it’s meant to be critical. Like Common once reasoned on “The 6th Sense,” “If I don't like it, I don't like it, that don't mean that I'm hating.”
In regards to Iggy’s tweet, we’re left wondering: At which point did we flop about? We began covering Iggy in 2011 when we did a profile on her called “Who Is Iggy Azalea?” (written by myself) because I thought she had the potential to become a star. We continued covering her career and gave her a cover story (written by Executive Editor Justin Monroe) once we felt she was blossoming into one. However, at no point did we claim her debut album was good or bad. How could we have? We hadn’t even heard it.
Once we did finally hear it—months after her cover, years after her initial profile—we decided (in a piece written by Staff Writer David Drake) it wasn’t all that great. What opinion didn’t we stick to? An opinion about an album we didn’t hear until recently? And again, just because we don’t think her album was very good, it doesn’t change the fact we that think of Iggy as someone people are interested in and want to know more about.
Celebrities seek attention and media coverage every time they do something great, why would the camera stop rolling when they do something not so great?
I made it a point to mention the author of each of the pieces Complex has published. There’s a very important distinction between what the individual members of the Complex staff think about an artist/album versus what Complex does as an organization. As I often have to remind people I meet in real life, just because I represent a brand, that does not make me the brand. So just because David Drake didn’t like Iggy’s album, doesn’t mean Justin Monroe or I also don’t like it. We’re all entitled to our own opinions though we try and form a consensus for the purposes of Complex. This is the nature of all media organizations.
This issue Lorde highlights is an ongoing problem in music writing, one where artists seem to think of journalists as akin to their publicists, and journalists are afraid to say anything bad about an artist for fear of losing access. An artist thinking that just because they’re interviewed by an outlet that said outlet can’t then “shit on your records” muddies the difference between music profiling and music criticism. The job of a journalist profiling an interesting artist is to bring their story to life for an audience. The job of a music critic writing a review is to put an album in the proper context for listeners and, yes, share their opinion on the album. Thinking doing one means a publication can’t do the other misses the point of each entirely. Besides, anyone who actually takes the time to read both Justin Monroe’s Iggy cover story and David Drake’s Iggy album review would know that both David and Justin make similar points about Iggy and her music.
Lorde, Iggy Azalea, and Grimes are all talented young artists who we hope will have long careers. We have covered them in the past and will continue to do so in the future. And we hope they’d be down to do more interviews with us because we like hearing their stories. But we’re not going to treat artists like they’re above reproach just because we profiled them. Why? Well, because that would just be plain spineless.
Insanul Ahmed is an Associate Editor for Complex. He lives in the Bronx and has been singing the hook to Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” all morning. You can follow him on Twitter.