There’s nothing wrong with Ryan Gosling.
Gosling is a household name, face, and body. Fashion-forward straight men love him for his style and everyone else loves him for his everything else. From The Notebook to Half Nelson to Blue Valentine to Drive, the blue-eyed Canuck has dabbled in quite a few corners of the movie — and music — business and done a damn good job of it.
There’s nothing wrong with Radiohead.
The band entered the music world’s consciousness in the early- to mid-90s with a timely brand of Brit-rock, equal parts sneering and sincere. Through the years, Thom Yorke and the band expanded its sound to include nods to genres as disparate as classical, jazz, American rock and IDM, building up acclaim and reverence at every turn. Radiohead stayed in the mainstream while adding enough wrinkles to its easy accessibility to impress critics, tastemakers, and everyday listeners.
There’s nothing wrong with Ryan Reynolds.
The musclebound Canadian is famous enough that pretty much everybody knows who he is. Reynolds is thought of as funny (Waiting…; Van Wilder), sensitive (The Proposal; Definitely, Maybe), and sexy (People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive 2010; The Change-Up). Over the past decade-plus, Reynolds’ films have grossed nearly $850 million combined. He’s doing pretty well for himself.
There’s nothing wrong with Coldplay.
Chris Martin and friends have written more than a decade’s worth of generally unoffensive pop music. At times, Coldplay is very good. Other times, Coldplay is overly cloying. But the Brits’ music is never wretched – it’s usually just there. You hear it, you might think “hey, cool,” once every few minutes, and you go about your business.
At this point, you might be asking yourself/your computer screen, Clay Davis-style, “Sheeeeeeeeeittttt. What the hell is this guy writing about?”
I’ll get to that…now.
Why do Radiohead and Ryan Gosling garner the kind of respect that results in the consensus that there is literally nothing wrong with them, while Coldplay and Ryan Reynolds get the “sure, I guess there’s nothing wrong with them” treatment?
I think it has to do with curation.
Consider the career arcs and creative output of the four artists in question. Ryan Reynolds kicked off his career with some now-hilarious TV shows and movies* (Sabrina The Teenage Witch, The Odyssey), as did Ryan Gosling (Breaker High, Young Hercules). As he grew up, Reynolds got burly and hot and starred in quite a few popular films, none of them terribly good or substantially better than the last. Gosling got burly and hot and appeared in some less-popular movies, the quality of which generally trended upward.
*Ryan Reynolds, at 17, apparently played an Indian kid named Ganesh in a Canadian film called Ordinary Magic. I’d pay a lot (okay, like $8) to see this movie.
Now it’s 2012, and Reynolds’ films have grossed nearly twice as much as have Gosling’s, according to Rotten Tomatoes, but you wouldn’t know it from the way each is regarded by critics and the public. Reynolds’ 2011 included a super hero flick, something called Fireflies in the Garden, and a formulaic DUDES HAVING FUN! comedy.
Gosling, meanwhile, out-joked comedian du jour Steve Carell in the smart Rom-Com Crazy, Stupid, Love, out-shone sex symbol du jour George Clooney in the tremendously well-written and acted political drama The Ides of March, and out-badassed any actor in the past decade in the flawlessly stylish Drive. If you want to go back a bit further, consider 2010’s Blue Valentine, the most real and raw film about relationships since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Gosling has appeared in fewer films and reeled in less box office dough, but by picking his spots with care, he’s become the subject of fantastic Esquire features, the guy every girl wants to be with and the guy every guy wants to be.
Coldplay and Radiohead started from roughly the same point. They both made accessible music for young adults that the mainstream quickly latched onto. Big hooks, big British vocals, big guitar sounds and plenty of plaintive moments. Somewhere along the bands’ career arcs, Radiohead started curating while Coldplay chugged along.
Radiohead threw a few big curveballs — structureless 6-minute anthems, drunken piano/robot duets, ambient chord-free trips — into its third album, OK Computer, before really getting serious about music as art on record number four. Kid A and sister album Amnesiac were, and still stand as, ingenious and essential works. Radiohead took its pop blueprints, fed them into synthesizers and sequencers, added touches of jazz and classical, and came out on the other side with a few disgruntled fans and the respect of the music world at large. Since those albums, Radiohead has jumped forward at every step, building a discography as carefully measured as it is comprehensive.
Meanwhile, Coldplay kept writing solid pop songs and kept selling millions upon millions of albums. After authoring a front-to-back masterpiece in the immensely popular A Rush of Blood to the Head, the band has spit out three albums that I’d be hard-pressed to name or tell the difference between, and I’ve listened to each extensively. The band tried to push the boundaries by employing ambient-music mastermind Brian Eno and electronica guru Jon Hopkins and sampling Kraftwerk, before finally giving up and bringing Jay-Z and Rihanna in for totally incongruous guest spots.
Coldplay has sold more than 50 million albums. Radiohead has sold in the neighborhood of 30 million. But two decades from now, I think we will connect Coldplay with a particular point in time and hold onto a historical memory of a time when the band was a big deal (think KISS or the Bee Gees). Meanwhile, Radiohead’s chapter will most likely be a living memory — we’ll still interact with and study the band’s albums on a more time-neutral plane (think The Beatles or The Smiths).
Ryan Gosling isn’t necessarily better than Ryan Reynolds. Radiohead isn’t necessarily more talented than Coldplay. There isn’t a cut and dry answer when it comes to something as subjective as art.
There is no answer, just a question: To be liked by more or loved by fewer?