Accusations of pretentiousness are incredibly common to see hurled at musicians and their work. This precedes the Internet, of course. Musical critique has existed about as long as music itself, serving as a quasi-scientific critical analysis, detachedly responding to the work of composers like a Spaniard might halfheartedly banter with a Frenchman–language providing a barrier of alienation in which both parties have neither a vested motivation nor any sort of curiosity to understand each other beyond vague interpretation to come to a consensus, if not a greater understanding, with one another. Many times, the term is thrown around with the mistakenly-held conception that it perfectly encapsulates an artist’s purported attitude toward their own work–one of a particularly navel-gazing nature–when, more often than not, both the listener’s assertion regarding the artist’s purported masturbatory tendencies as well as the subtextual belief that a designation of a piece of work as being “pretentious” is a descriptor that is thoughtfully applied in accordance with a creator’s presentation of the work, with the listener existing as an impartial arbiter, are erroneously held beliefs. Instead, “pretentious,” more often than not, is a signifier for a listener’s inability to identify or relate to the artistic intent or purpose at the core of a piece of music or of the artist behind it. Other times, it may represent a personal distaste regarding the sonic qualities or visual aesthetic of an act. However, despite these misconceptions & the common misuse of the word, pretentiousness is real! That said, its definition is reliant on the contingent and intersectional relationships between an act or a piece of work and the genre of music which it occupies, its purported audience, and its presentation.

Genre matters because it not only correlates with the audience of that genre, but of the group's position among other groups and the prominence of that genre, as well as any sort of purpose or identifiers if not customs of the genre.

Audience matters—size as well as demographics. Because music about–to use my album as an example here–deep-seated insecurity regarding economic stability, artistic expression, and aspects that make up my self-identity (see—religion, gender identity, ethnicity) that is explored using the history of Central American as a pretext as well as a narrative device will not resonate with everyone. Someone who does not relate to these things, someone who has not lived these experiences, and someone who does not care about the historical elements of the record, might hear me speaking at length on figures like Morazan or the Filibusters and come to the conclusion that the use of metaphor is stupid. Maybe they will hear me give a spoken word admission that I do not know what I will do without "making it" in the music field and that I cannot do

white-collar office work, or that I feel like I am "running out of time" in a song about the continued economic exploitation of Honduras and our people, the same song where I make a conscious correlation between the banana republic’s mass exportation of bananas to the current-day mass migration of Hondurans as well as the economic insecurity I have faced as a first generation Honduran-American in which I am precariously middle class because a lack of

generational economic stability prevents us from ever truly integrating; instability where we are making too much money to qualify for financial aid for supplemental treatment and childcare that would have benefited me greatly as a child with Autism, yet we are somehow also making too little money to be able to afford these services without aid. Situations like these throughout my life caused me, past a certain age, to never so much as dream for the opportunities afforded to those who have lived here for three, four, or five generations. Will those people listen to me speak on multiple occasions about the frustration of having people try and compare your work to someone else's without considering artistic intent just so they can inevitably draw the same aforementioned simple-minded conclusion in which they cry pretentiousness due to their

inability to relate? If they did, it would be kinda funny, admittedly–it does prove my point, but at the cost of my sanity. Many, many people continually confuse confidence in a message with pretentiousness and have a strong habit of forming their idea of pretentiousness in correlation with their own connection, as in—they correlate their arbitrary, personal definition with what they value in music, or with their own life experiences as well as if their ability or lack thereof to relate with what is being described. All of this, of course, is contingent on the audience even LIKES what is being said; it is an entire, complex definition of pretentiousness that can form and apply itself to projects without ever having to consider artistic intent! So many times, artists’ confidence in their message is completely mischaracterized as pretentious. Or, weirdly enough, and maybe just as common–people falsely assert that groups that want to experiment with song structures for fun are also pretentious! I see this happening a lot in prog rock, which, to be fair, has a fairly big problem of pretentiousness; look no further than the name itself!—Oh, progressive? Well, what constitutes as progressive? Are you integrating aspects of music theory from other cultures into rock syncretically as a means of challenging the traditional sonic palette of blues and gospel? Well, maybe a bit. King Crimson did incorporate a lot of western classical and jazz compositional and performative, improvisational elements into their super early work, as did Frank Zappa's Hot Rats, both landmark progressive rock albums that came out on the same day in 1968. Demon Fuzz did this with soul & funk music as well as jazz music, like Zappa and King Crimson, but with an incredibly passionate and persistent thematic focus on Black identity, spirituality, and liberation that manifests through the gorgeous vocal delivery present throughout the album. But by 1974-6, in the Anglo World, at least, this approach had all-but vanished. Syncretism and the compositional and thematic boundary pushing that once defined

the genre was gone, and the genre had regressed back to an increasing focus on displays of technical ability over sonic innovation and experimentation.

Anyway, that brings me to the aspect of presentation–obviously, there is the literal, physical aesthetic aspects. The clothing, the album covers, music videos, so on and so forth. But, there is also the abstract: how people perceive their role and their impact within a defined community. Is it in the scene they are from? Is it in a local festival? Is it worldwide?. While an underestimation or even a lack of an estimation at all could be interpreted as insecurity–which is also bad, mind you!--In artistic expression, it can just as easily be seen as a complete lack of a message or consideration of their position as an artist, which is normally uncharacteristic of pretentiousness. However, just as often, that kind of "I don’t care how people perceive me or my art" provocateur mentality is but a shield for egotistical people to never have to properly engage with legitimate critique of their work. But then again, that is, as previously stated, just a shield. That is, it is not representative of their true feelings; they see their position, and their work, as being above criticism.

By and large, the biggest and most telling aspect of pretentiousness tends to be the overestimation of peoples’ roles or the overestimation of the importance of their messages. This should not be confused for multiple other aspects of an artist's perception of their work, such as believing it to be more narratively or thematically cohesive than it really is. Continuing with The Beatles as an example, in my opinion, I would ascribe that quality to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I love that album, but I really think that it is just not as much of a complete "story" as the initial pitch and, in all likelihood, subsequent rambling courtesy of Paul McCartney regarding a concept album in which a fictional, 1910s-styled military band holds a live concert consisting of songs supposedly written by this fantastical band over a long and illustrious career would have

you believe–sorry, that McCartney might have you believe. But then again, I have not looked into the lyrics in each song, word-for-word, analyzing every aspect of them, so I do admit my potential fallibility in this example! Anyway, it should also not be confused with thinking that a message or lyrics are "deeper than they actually are," or that an artist is "better than they actually are." While a message is certainly part of it, it is not synonymous. Pretentious music and artists can have outwardly bad lyrics and not really, you know, argue against that. Not sure if that happens, but it can! But way more commonly, pretentious artists can just not HAVE lyrics! I do not have like a spot-on example off the top of my head, but I might say someone like Russ is a good example of this, where he spends so much time in his songs discussing how he dislikes the lyrical content of his contemporaries as a means of comparison, ultimately concluding that he is a far better writer than anyone else. Do I think it is conceited? Yeah. Do I think it is pretentious? Ehhh.. not necessarily, at least not with the definition I have set up. I do not think he believes that telling other people that he is a far better lyricist than them is an incredibly important message, I think he just has convinced himself that he is the shit. Which I would not really call pretentious or even necessarily unique in accordance to the genre of hip-hop. On that note though, artists who think they are better than they actually tend to also be pretentious, but again, in my opinion, context—weighing it against genre, audience, and presentation—matters when concluding whether or not that is the case. For this, I dunno, I guess Eminem is a good example? He has always done this, sure, but particularly with his output in the last 5-6 years, he has made an exhaustive effort in responding aggressively to critics that badmouth his output and creating elaborate definitions for what he sees as "modern rap" to ultimately decry as talentless in comparison to his own output and ability, when, I mean, his output just is not that good and these definitions are kind of nitpicky, if not unrepresentative, of the incredibly varied landscape of

hip-hop in the current day. It is a similar situation to the one we saw with Russ. I think this kind of stuff is just common in the genre. I would not say someone saying something to the effect of "we the greatest," in a rap song constitutes as pretentiousness. You get what I mean? Same story here, I think he is just kind of conceited and believes that anyone who does not like his work is not smart enough to understand him—which he does say in a song, outright! He calls critics "mentally retarded" and "too stupid to get" his work.

In any case, this overestimation can come in multiple ways, and of course these ways, in themselves, are subject to contextual bias because of the customs of the genres from which they originate. Like I said, bragging about yourself, your importance, your output and so on in

hip-hop, in my opinion, does not really constitute pretentiousness. The most apparent is a lack of awareness or respect for artistic predecessors. I brought it up before, but there is a clear distinction in how The Beatles saw their connection and their duty to Motown and Black American musicians which they were incredibly inspired by, and how Led Zeppelin saw their connection and their duty to blues and Black American musicians that they were incredibly inspired by—by stealing their Black contemporaries’ work and passing it off as their own. While not always as explicit and unavoidable as Jimmy Page's racist shenanigans, that act—knowing, implicitly or otherwise, that you owe an incredible deal of gratitude to those who inspired your work, and knowing that you did not just pull your output out of your ass, or that God himself implanted this knowledge and theory in your brain, and pretending as though you have created something entirely new—is pretentious. I do not think genre matters; this is likely universal.

Regarding the audience: as an artist, lying forthright about your accomplishments and about your inspirations (or lack thereof), I hope would be perceived as, at the very least, an incredibly dishonest and self-aggrandizing thing to do. Lastly, regarding perception—this act comes from

people's belief that their work is far too important to be humbled, or that having to pay homage to those who came before them as a sign of respect is beneath them.

Going back to progressive rock, with the dilution of the genre in the early 70s. While that dilution is happening in the Anglosphere, but, on the other hand, prog rock ripples into Latin America, it ripples into Asia, it ripples into Africa. Which brings us to the second method of pretentiousness–it is important to note that there is nothing inherently wrong with diluting the essence of a genre over the course of time, as long as you do it critically and with purpose to your position in respect to the people who come before you. Here is the issue—you can still do that without having respect for those before you, and not in the other way where you do not acknowledge their existence. It is pretentious to act or outright claim that you are better than those who came before you. This is also pretty contextually dependent, yes. Above all, though, there is a clear distinction between denying the existence of an inspiration and claiming your superiority. If the former is ignoring their existence, the latter is spitting on them as acknowledgement. For example, again, with The Beatles, since it is just too easy to bring them up, John Lennon, particularly post-breakup, struggled with this; well, hold on. I say that as if he wanted to get better, or as if it was an addiction he was seeking treatment for. He did not want to get better, and he sure as hell was not seeking treatment. At this point, considering John Lennon is going to serve as a sort of vessel to the end of this essay, I should also mention a third aspect of pretentiousness in music, which is quite simple—people writing on experiences which they simply have no insight on and pretending they have something to say or that they are qualified to say it. To be forthright with you right away, while this can manifest itself as like, "wow this Irish band wrote about the British massacre of the Irish from the perspective of the.. British??

What??" as U2 did, regarding regional issues contained within that region, or maybe it can show

up as a white guy pretending to understand the struggle of Black people in the US and making a song about it, as though he experienced those things, but it is more common to see this with international situations—a white guy singing a song about white guys thinking they are sympathetic to the struggles of people in the Third World while, in reality, they fundamentally misunderstand the people they want to support. You know, real "were you the one who had to say this?" stuff. Not necessarily wrong (although it can be!), just tone deaf. These are both quintessential to John Lennon's ego.

To start with the latter, yeah I have to talk about “Imagine.” I do not want to say much, you know it. I know it. There is something so condescending about a white guy from Great Britain suggesting that if religion, states, and private property were abolished, then the world would be at peace, world hunger and wars would end. I do not necessarily disagree with.. maybe some of those aspects. But it is so non-confrontational in the ways where it actually matters, e.g. "Why did these wars start in the first place? Is it simply a consequence of religion? What about ethnic tension? What about the effects of colonialism on the Global South and arbitrarily defining social structures? Why is there greed and hunger? Is it really just because there is private property?

what about the fact that we have enough food to ensure people do not go hungry, we just do not distribute it and let people starve?" It is just... so wishy-washy. You are a dreamer? And you are not the only one? I would surely expect not! Sure, the song is about Vietnam, but this came out in 1971, and Nicaragua around that same time was preparing for their revolution, except they were not listening to John Lennon, as it were, as the ideological basis of their revolution was syncretized Marxist doctrine with Christian theology—liberation theology. Looks like the world cannot be as one because of these idiots, sorry guys! They could not get with the program.

Anyway, so the other part. Right, so in mentioning the Beatles and how they aided Motown. If you do not know, before they exploded on the scene and basically turned the radio charts upside down, brill building, a style of kitschy rock n roll/pop, defined by girl groups who played songs written by black people whose work was deemed uncommercial for the white majority—think of like, fr example, The Ronettes. But I imagine you already know of this. Anyway, Phil Spector, right, I imagine you know the guy: really polarizing producer. He is debatably the biggest proponent of brill building & was a horrible and consistent abuser all throughout his life.

Anyway, their commercial success basically, like, puts him on the sidelines for a while. Until The Beatles break up, that is! I will say, both him and Harrison worked with him post-breakup for their own solo records, but John Lennon and him were real buddy-buddy. Anyway, that context

is important because of what I am about to get into, which is just going to be one example. This one may be a little more abstract, but I think you will get what I mean. So, John Lennon reads into Irish socialist James Connolly, and he happens upon a quote from him, which reads "the female worker is the slave of the slave." And he gets to work, and he writes a song called, get this, "Woman is the [N-Word] of the World." Now, like, again. Are you the one to say this? Ok, maybe you are not. But are you going to justify that title? Not really. Sure, he has a point. The song is about the sexist expectation of women to be mothers and submissive before anything else, likening their marginalization to that of a slave, but, I mean, this was 1972. Like–you are late. And the funniest part is that this is literal 50s style brill building, because he had Phil Spector working on this. So not only is it, like, “ok, why are you writing this?” It is also “well, ok, you have said nothing of value” as well as “ok, this sounds like I could have heard this 20 years ago.” It is tone deaf, it is stuck in the past, it says nothing of value to justify its shock, and probably worst of all, you KNOW he really thought he was pushing the envelope with this. The

guy is working with a known abuser who would treat the artists he worked with, many of whom were women and more than a few of whom were black, like, get this! Slaves! Wow! It just rubs me the wrong way, everything about this song seems unreal. Comparing 400 years of slavery and dehumanization, you know… of an entire race… with women! I get what he is going for, sure. It is meant to shock you. But that is all it does. To me, it seems like a slap in the face to the Black musicians who have inspired him throughout his life. And to work with Spector–he knew the way this guy acted! He was aware–is a slap in the face to Black musicians of the 50s who were either undercut and humiliated by having their works licensed at a discount since they were not deemed “commercially viable” due to their skin color, despite being talented enough as songwriters to have their work be covered by these girl groups, or, maybe even worse, were commercially viable and had to endure the direct ire of Spector and his dehumanizing, abusive tendencies. This is already racist, preceding the song title! It just does not get any better.

Genre-wise, it is rock. It is 1972, this shit sounds stuck in the past. It is saying fuck all. Todos Juntos by Los Jaivas came out that year. Vida by Sui Generis, Pescado Rabioso’s debut record, as well as Eduardo Mateo’s solo record, and Arco Iris’s Sudamerica o El Regreso a la Aurora all came out that same year, all from South America. This is pathetic in comparison. Sonically, thematically, compositionally, the worst song on any of those records mops the floor with this.

But anyway, regarding the audience, this thing was, surprise surprise, incredibly polarizing. It just seems irresponsible of him to suggest this approach to his audience; he is not the person to be saying this, and in a similar way to how he both wants to be seen as a revolutionary, and a progressive, and a free thinker, and so on like in “Imagine,” his arguments are like five or ten years too late to have any staying power or relevance to the world at large. So he is singing this to people who, for all intents and purposes, may not only already believe the point he is trying to

make, but have heard them being thrown around and expanded upon with much greater nuance years before this song came out. So, take that as you will. Just seems behind the times to me—The Feminine Mystique came out in 1963. This does not even come to those levels of analysis and critique of the role of women in Western society. It has been ten years. Lastly, perception. I know I do not have to say anything, but I will. This guy probably thought this song was the most important thing ever. It is not. He is not a philosopher. He is not good at this. He had this air about him ever since the comment on Christianity, maybe even before—"we're more popular than Jesus now; I do not know which will go first—rock 'n' roll or Christianity"—which, you know, the backlash was fucked up. And then he got killed for it, when people just did not understand what he was trying to say. I do feel bad about that. But at the same time, I liked this quote better when Nietzsche said it 200 years prior to him. Anyway, that is just my scorn of the guy coming out. Back to the main point, those are just a few examples of pretentiousness. I use him as an example because, well I mean the guy was so obviously full of himself. But I think it is a good point of comparison to start from. Obviously there are more ways to be pretentious, more ways to think you are God's gift to humanity personally sent down to preach about some stupid bullshit. I think that those are three big ones, though. Entitlement, self-aggrandizement, and sanctimoniousness. Maybe it is not all-encompassing, but it is a pretty good summary of most cases.