“Criticism is not an act of dismissal.
Criticism is an act of love.
Criticism is an act of embrace.
Criticism is saying, ‘I take you seriously.’” —Jon Caramanica (June 30, 2020)
Since 2014, New York Times music critic Jon Caramanica has been hosting Popcast, a podcast devoted to exploring all things related to popular music. Each week, Caramanica uses his decades of critical experience to choose a relevant podcast topic. For example, immediately following the COVID shutdown, he created an episode asking, “What Is the Role of Criticism in a Crisis?” (March 27, 2020). A few weeks later, he observed friends stuck at home with children and their playlists, so he asked the question, “What are our children listening to?” (April 5, 2020). As public discourse focused on racism, he looked into, “The Long and Complicated History of ‘Urban Music’” (June 15, 2020). And after a coordinated effort by K-pop fans to thwart a political rally, he unpacked, “Pop Superfans Are Getting Politically Active. What Happens Next?” (June 30, 2020). His genuine curiosity and clear communication lead to one of the most helpful podcasts for Christians to understand culture.
Caramanica’s love of popular music becomes evident with the child-like curiosity he shows. He places himself as a learner alongside the listener and often includes expert guests who help color in the conversation. Decades of experience has trained him to ask sharp questions. For example, when he was exploring the music-listening habits of a 8-year-old child, he asked the father, “Do you get a sense that she understands her personal identity through her musical choices? … Is she far enough down the road to understand that there is a link between what you choose to listen to and how you choose to present yourself to the world?”
While most people would dismiss the listening choices of a child as innocent and irrelevant, Caramanica sees their importance. Christians can learn from his curious posture and seek to understand how culture shapes our children.
Popcast also stands out because of Caramanica’s clear communication. He works hard to interpret the complex ideas of his guests into simpler language because he wants his audience to follow along. He is a master of using vivid imagery that explains nuanced ideas. For example, during a recent episode on country music (Oct. 4) Popcast’s guest told a story of a folk singer whose Nashville record label added steel guitar to an album so that they could market it as country music. Jon summed up the story by saying, “It’s like they put a country snap-chat filter on her music.” Suddenly, the record label’s half-hearted attempt to repackage an artist and trick the listener became incredibly clear.
A good critic can communicate clearly and stay curious. Christians can learn a lot from the Popcast podcast and its host Jon Caramanica. Popcast contextualizes the latest cultural trends and demonstrates what loving critique looks like. When we say, “I take you seriously,” without shaming, blaming, or canceling an artist, we are performing an act of love. And loving our neighbor well is a command that Jesus makes quite clear. (New York Times Podcasts)