Love Him Or Loathe Him, Anthony Fantano Shaped Music Criticism In The 2010s
Thirteen years into his tenure as The Internet’s Busiest Music Nerd, Anthony Fantano’s influence isn’t showing any sign of abating.
If you’ve ever scrolled aimlessly through YouTube, scoured the archives of Rate Your Music, the r/music reddit thread, or even the Facebook group Patrician Music Chartposting, you’ll have heard of The Needle Drop.
The 2010’s had a rough relationship with “tastemaking”. Between streaming algorithms, social media, and Gen Z’s increased disillusionment with traditional media, demanding the attention of the masses became more difficult than ever. However, despite this overwhelming freedom of choice, the voice of The Needle Drop — that is, Anthony Fantano — played a huge part in transforming the way young people consume, discuss, and discover music over the decade.
As YouTube’s reign as the content platform of choice continued, the Internet’s Busiest Music Nerd became an essential vehicle for criticism and a trusted authority on bothunderground and mainstream sounds.
Launching in 2007, his reviews and discussions have amassed 525 million views across 3,100 videos, and with over 2 million subscribers in tow; the reach of his opinions is vast, spreading further every day thanks to his cult-like following.
So what is it about the “Melon” that has made him a crucial voice in modern music criticism?
The Internet’s Busiest Music Nerd
Fantano was one of the first critics to jump on the unstoppable YouTube train, allowing him to carve a niche and offer an alternative to traditional outlets. His reviews are engaging, often funny, and disseminate musical elements in an easily digestible manner. His scoring system — a “light” or “strong” number ranking out of 10 — made it exceptionally easy for fans to gauge what is “good” and “bad” (or as of 2017, “not good”).
Unlike many critics, who desperately try to retain an air of objectivity, he became a relentless champion of certain acts and genres — without his support, Death Grips may never have infiltrated the mainstream as strongly as they have, modern hip-hop’s dynamic impact on culture may not have permeated internet discourse with such speed, and PC music might have remained a wacky, obscure offshoot of pop music.
Industrial rap monoliths Death Grips’ rise is a prime example of Fantano’s enduring influence. The collective’s 2012 album The Money Store was the first record deemed worthy of a perfect 10/10 rating by The Needle Drop, and remains one one of five albums to have ever received the honour.
Fantano was undeniably Death Grips’ first high-profile stan. His love for the band became a running joke amongst his tight-knit fan base, with memes and Facebook pages honouring his fandom for the off-kilter act.
If you take a peak at Death Grips’ related artists on Spotify, Fantano’s curative power is clear — experimental rock outfit Swans, grind-noise purveyors Daughters, lofi-acoustic group The Microphones, and art pop legends Xiu Xiu all appear. Musically, these acts share little in common: their commonality is the high scoring Fantano has given to each artist in the past. While Fantano continually covered major mainstream acts it was his penchant for “cool” artists that enticed young music lovers, hungry for alternative clout.
Over time, his fanbase became critical of his reviews. Fantano famously bestowed The Weeknd’s (excellent) 2011 mixtape House Of Balloons a three — the video accumulated over 5300 dislikes, fans still occasionally comment on videos that it’s his “worst review of all time.”
The albums he disliked became as memeable and popular as the albums he adored: Kid Cudi’s infamous 2015 offering Speedin Bullet 2 Heaven spawned a sad zero rating, in turn, fuelling a meme machine that would last for months. His honesty has often resulted in frank rankings of universally acclaimed records — Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was controversially branded a six, Kendrick Lamar’s 2017 masterpiece DAMN. a seven, and Childish Gambino’s Camp an abysmal two. These reviews became running jokes among fans, helping to foster the community.
Fantano’s no-holds-barred approach to critical darling acts made his reviews essential viewing for all hyped releases (especially in hip-hop), with fans even attaching the colour of his flannel worn in the video to the rating given (if he wears the yellow flannel, it’s generally a good review).
Recurring segments like YUNOREVIEW and Let’s Argue genuinely allowed fans a space to interact and feel as though their opinions mattered to his operation just as much as his own did — a humanising, connective element often missing in traditional music writing.
Memes As Marketing
Fantano capitalised on booming meme culture early in the game. His videos are drenched in typical meme tropes: droning audio, extreme close up shots of his face, and exaggerated colour saturations became an essential element of his criticism, increasing their online shareability and propelling his popularity on internet shitposting sites like 4chan (more on that later).
His alter ego, Cal Chuchesta (who he appeared in character as at his live talk in Sydney in late 2016) propelled Fantano’s penchant for absurdity and showcased that although he spent a great deal of his time analysing experimental harsh noise records, he didn’t take himself too seriously — an essential quality for internet content creators.
If you needed any more convincing that Fantano continues to remain at the apex of internet meme culture, he appeared in the video for Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’ remix early this year as an AREA 51 guard. A more succinct summation of what it meant to be online in 2019 could simply not exist.
Do You Love It, Do Ya Hate It?
While his shitposting expertise may have helped garner a fanbase of equally committed music loving meme-makers, it has left traditionalists asking whether Fantano is really a credible critic.
Fantano’s 2017 review of Lorde’s world-beating pop megalith Melodrama showcases his aversion to the traditional “review” form. The video displays a sophisticated musical analysis of the record, diving into how gripping tension is created, vivid descriptions of production embellishments and harmonic elements that elevate the emotion.
However, like most of his reviews, it is presented as a stream of consciousness, with strong emphasis placed on elements he personally “likes”. Throwaway comments like, “I wasn’t at all impressed at the lyrics on Pure Heroine” when looking into Melodrama’s themes could cause the casual critic to wince.
Fantano focuses heavily on context, rather than the musical and lyrical ideas present. In 2017, Fantano scored Lil Pump’s flash-in-the-pan self titled mixtape a seven (meaning it was better than Kanye’s MBDTF). In his review, Fantano discusses Pump’s importance to the burgeoning SoundCloud rap movement and the “culture” at large. The assessment was laughable.
His reviews could also be perceived as unnecessarily harsh in an attempt to plant the seed for meme-spiration to his rabid audience, the most recent example being Chance The Rapper’s The Big Day dismal “0” scoring. While fans at large were disappointed with the record, the ongoing online savagery lead to Chance disturbingly tweeting about how he had the “feeling that people want me to kill myself,” in a response to the backlash.
Over the last ten years, he’s also frequently offered a surface level approach to some genres — most glaringly by brushing off the impact of mainstream metal and punk artists.
Over the last ten years, he’s also frequently offered a surface level approach to some genres — most glaringly by brushing off the impact of mainstream metal and punk artists. Instances like comparing seminal emo revival act The Hotelier to Third Eye Blind, and referring to ’00s emo legends Senses Fail as “Senses Fall”, may have caused many to sharpen their eyeliner sticks.
There were more serious criticisms: in 2017, The Fader published an article accusing Fantano of using his (now defunct) side channel ‘thatistheplan’ to pander to the alt-right through Pepe the Frog memes and potshots at ‘SJWs’. Fantano strongly refuted the accusations in a lengthy video, arguing the channel was satirical, and The Fader pulled the article offline a short time later — the matter having been settled privately.
Apart from anything else, the incident highlighted the tension that exists between Fantano and ‘traditional’ music publications and critics. But Fantano has powerful supporters as well: revered critic Robert Christgau praised his success, noting that he “seems to have figured out a way to make some kind of living by disseminating his own criticism in the online age. That’s an achievement”.
His self-branding as “The Internet’s Busiest Music Nerd” may not pass as a qualification to music journalists who exist in traditional media, however as Vice pondered in 2016 as to whether the album review was “dead”, Fantano’s left of centre approach to the form has proven its enduring relevance.
What Would Ya Rate It?
Fantano ends each review with the simple reminder: “Y’all know this is just my opinion, right?”.
Those simple opinions have carved out a mini-empire and made him the most famous music critic on the planet. Whether you love him, rate him, don’t know what to rate him, the fact that his unfiltered discussions continue to capture millions proves that fans are more eager than ever to dissect the nuances and intricacies of their favourite artists.
Thirteen years into his tenure as The Internet’s Busiest Music Nerd, Fantano’s influence isn’t showing any sign of abating.
Bianca Davino is a writer and critic based in Sydney. Follow her on Twitter.