Death of the Critic

Expectations vs Reality

Written by: Tom Blaich


In these times, sequels are the name of the game. Finding a franchise that can be used over and over again to draw people to stores and theaters. The same can be said of music alongside games and movies, as fans eagerly await the newest release by their favorite artist. The only difference is where the name recognition lies. For games it might be with a franchise or a studio, in movies with a lead actor or director, and in music it lies firmly with the artist.

No matter what, fan expectations never change. The newest release must always be better than the last, being simultaneously innovative without stepping too far away, breaking new ground while remaining firmly rooted. It is an almost impossible request and it places artists and creators in a rather interesting position as to how to deal with it.

In the past few years, we’ve seen it happen over and over again. I’ve struggled with it myself when looking at different projects. The Life of Pablo, Coloring Book, DAMN, John Wick 2, Fallout 4, and more. None of these are bad projects, far from it in fact. I’ve really enjoyed each in their own way, yet at the same time I couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed. Even though they were all great, I found myself somehow wanting more out of them.

I missed the raps of Acid Rap and the reckless experimentation of Yeezus, the choices of Fallout 3 or New Vegas, the originality of John Wick, and the raw power of To Pimp a Butterfly. These are all standout samples partly because of how amazing their previous works were. Each was one of my favorites that I still go back to regularly, and I pushed what I loved about them into my views about their follow-ups.

I went in with a chip on my shoulder, with a preconceived notion of what I wanted these projects to be, and I was affected by it. It is a widespread issue too. As an audience, we have an extremely difficult time separating out a project to let it stand on its own. We look at it within the context that it exists within our minds, and it’s why if you gave a long time fan and a complete newbie the same piece of work they would come away with entirely different opinions.

This isn’t always a bad thing. It is an active counter to stagnation and pushes artists to try new things instead of becoming too comfortable. Without this attitude, every rap album would still be early 2000’s gangsta rap, and all first person shooters would be boring brown, modern military affairs.

At the same time that this attitude rewards creativity, it also punishes it. It doesn’t allow for true experimentation on the part of the creator. Look at the less positive reaction to Yeezus, which polarized fans by being so outside of the box, and you can see the lingering effects on The Life of Pablo, which is such a safe Kanye album.

We build this image in our minds of what the next project will be. Just like the last one but better. In the same style, but breaking new ground. Powerful moments and messages. Everything that we loved about the last one is going to be there but all of those small annoyances will be fixed and the entire experience will be elevated. It is an impossible demand, and when the title is release, we are surprised because it looks or sounds somehow different (DAMN or Fallout 4) or is too similar (John Wick 2 or The Life of Pablo).

We’ve set such high standards that they are basically impossible to meet. So somehow the new project is lowered. It’s strong points discounted. “I miss the old Kanye.” But if an unknown artist or studio had put out the exact same title, it would have been lauded.

Is this fair?

While we can’t entirely discount previous titles, we also can’t judge a piece purely based off of its preceding works. We have to look at a piece based off of its own merits. It is a hard balance to strike as a fan because we do love these works, and it is nigh impossible to divorce these feelings from our views of the newest work. What we can do is temper our expectations against the reality of creation. Judge a work next to other pieces in the same series, but wait until you’ve played all of them to do it.



Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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