ESC

A Melon’s Ego: A Record

Screenshot / YouTube

“Hi there everybody. Anthony Fantano here, the Internet’s busiest music nerd.”

With those eleven words, Anthony Fantano, the creator and face of YouTube’s TheNeedleDrop channel, has shaped popular music for the past decade.

Fantano, a bald music critic in his early thirties, has been reviewing music as The Needle Drop since 2009, when he launched the YouTube channel alongside an official Twitter account and an accompanying Facebook page.

Boasting over two million subscribers on his channel and a Twitter feed without almost a million followers, Fantano, aged thirty-four, is without a doubt the most popular music critic of the modern era.

A recent profile by The New York Times – yeah, that New York Times – outlined some of the appeal behind Fantano’s meteoric rise. It followed his early origins and his interactions with fans to this day. It also provided a generational context to his success.

Quite simply, if you’re a member of Generation Z, Anthony Fantano, or the Melon as he’s so lovingly called by many of his fans, is the only music critic whose opinion matters. That’s the thesis of the NYT article, it’s the gist of the various Spin Magazine articles written on him, and it’s only evident to anyone who follows the world of music criticism.

Basically, when it comes to album reviews, the only two that are observed are the Melon’s and Pitchfork’s. The latter, however, is a website, and while they upload day-of reviews that are quite anticipated, they’re textual posts, ranging around one thousand or more words, and quite impersonal (case in point, a different listener reviews each album).

Then there’s The Needle Drop. Fantano has managed to maintain a simple, easy-to-digest format for his whole career, featuring him speaking directly into a camera while featuring the current album behind him on the wall.

It’s a small operation, with Fantano simply using funds raised by his meme-heavy Patreon and his TurnTable link to pay for a video editor (Austin) other freelance production assistants. It’s sure as hell not as impressive as the massive teams over at NME or Complex Magazine, especially when Fantano is plugging the nifty metal-plated wallets of his sponsor, the good people over at the Ridge.

There’s more than just the video presentation, though. Fantano also consistently finishes up his reviews, whether the review lasts six minutes or twenty-seven, with a numerical score from zero to ten. He’s given out a few zeros and ones, mostly to albums like Chance the Rapper’s The Big Day and that horrid Green Day album from earlier this year.

However, it’s the high scores – and those albums that should’ve gotten higher scores – that really get his fans, his Melonheads as he calls them, in a buzz. In eleven years, Fantano has only given five ten/tens, mostly in the noise rock and hip hop genres.

There’s Death Grips’ The Money Store (2012), Swans’ To Be Kind (2014), Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly (2015), the self-titled KIDS SEE GHOSTS project (2018), and Daughters’ You Won’t Get What You Want (2018).

Yes, five albums in a decade. The man is nothing if not ruthless in his grading.

Some of his more infamous moments, such as the 6/10 score he gave to Kanye West’s magnum opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in 2010 or the measly 4/10 he gave to Bon Iver’s 22, A Million in 2016, have earned him plenty of scorn. The Melon, to his credit, has defended himself by saying that he only speaks for himself, and is fine with other people disagreeing with all of his thoughts.

However, given that he’s approaching three million subscribers and is now being covered by national newspapers, is it worth looking at some of the less-savory elements to Fantano’s celebrity by this point?

Take the “Snow On Tha Bluff” controversy from June. Following a series of tweets from multi-genre artist Noname, rapper J. Cole made a song with the aforementioned title, essentially tone policing her and questioning her credibility to speak on the issue. Noname replied with a short, one-minute, Madlib-produced diss track, telling him that right now was not the time to be throwing shots at other black artists.

Enter: Anthony Fantano, controversy coveter. The Melon himself fired off a series of tweets roasting J. Cole – an artist who he’s consistently mocked for what he perceives as being overrated in the current hip hop era – and responding defensively when pressed on it.

Was he wrong to do so? Who knows. Did J. Cole probably need to focus on police brutality instead of questioning the woke credentials of a fellow artist? Most definitely. But this fits into a pattern of online messy situations on the part of the Melon, who once was the subject of a now-infamous Fader article.

There’s also the redveil saga, in which a recent Twitch livestream featured Fantano reviewing submitted tracks by fans and users alike. When 16-year old redveil’s new EP was mentioned, Fantano began mocking and deriding what he perceived as lousy, lazy production choices, to the chagrin of many of his fans who supported redveil and disliked seeing a young artist attacked.

When pressed, Fantano went on the defensive once more, claiming he’s only ever given his honest opinion, and that an artist’s age does not mean he’s free from criticism. Today redveil has received a massive boost in popularity off that one exchange, so really, no harm no foul.

But if Anthony Fantano is being covered by the New York Times and becoming the voice of gospel to music-lovers under twenty-five everywhere, it’s worth keeping an eye on what kind of voice that will be.

The man loves music, adores it even, that much is not up for debate. From there, whether his personal biases and character traits don’t also poison the discussion around certain artists or make his social media accounts more toxic than helpful is a whole other debate.

Personally, I’m going to keep watching. After all, the man got me into Death Grips and Fleet Foxes, and as long as he stops trying to sell me those damn Ridge wallets, I’ll even forgive the abysmal score he gave Mac Miller’s Swimming.

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