If the internet has taught us anything, it's that people will passionately complain more than praise. Shit smells stronger than a rose-bush plantation, and if you're trending on Twitter it's usually a sure-fire sign that you've done something wrong. Case and point: Kate Bush has not been trending, despite performing her first shows in over three decades, whereas Lauryn Hill, unfortunately, has.
This weekend saw the former Fugees singer perform back-to-back shows in Brixton to the ire of almost all in attendance. "Tonight's #LaurynHill gig was one of the most confusing experiences of my life," read one onlooker's tweet, while another read: "#laurynhill at #brixton was such a frustrating experience. Her voice is still beautiful but she killed any momentum again and again. Avoid".
Now, it'd be understandable for Lauryn Hill not to read her own reviews. It's probably right at the bottom of her to-do list right now, what with her recent jail time, recurrent financial scrutiny and haphazard record deals. She's had a hectic few months. Less forgiving though is that her audience never seems to learn. Hill has been the subject of some pretty appalling reviews for years, all pointing at the same flaws and faults: bad sound, awful punctuality and persistence to revamp her songs to the point of indistinction.
Like the loss of anything dear, the response to Hill's downfall has loosely adhered to the Kübler-Ross feelings of loss, more commonly known as the Five Stages of Grief. With that in mind, here's a gig-goer's five stages of grief of Lauryn Hill.
You've lost your first pet (one that, ironically enough, was only bought for you to come to terms with loss in the first place). You close your eyes and envision your beloved goldfish swmming around in its tank without a care in the world. You hope it may sometime return from goldfish heaven/your local sewage system. This the first stage of "denial", where "the person is trying to shut out the reality or magnitude of his/her situation" and "begins to develop a false, preferable reality".
It's exactly this that occurred for fans of Lauryn Hill back in 2011. Having toured sporadically ever since The Fugees' reunion and subsequent break-up in the mid-noughties, Hill had by now gained a less than favourable live rep. However, a series of comeback singles, and the promise of playing her classic album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in full, suspended disbelief momentarily.
"It's around 1:45 a.m., and there's a feeling that we all avoided disaster here," one review of a New York show read. "The show could've started way later, and bypassed "intimate" and headed straight for "incredibly loud and painfully incoherent." But instead, the immense frustration of the wait behind us, the dominant memory is the unremitting joy driving "Fu-Gee-La", Lauryn beaming and clearly enjoying herself in a way she hasn't seemed to in quite a while. She always makes you work for it. At last, she's started rewarding you when you do."
Here, the reviewer repeatedly tries to convince the reader, and also himself, that things aren't so bad. Just look at the language, where negatives are presented as near positives: "avoided disaster", "could've started way later", "clearly enjoying herself" and "always makes you work for it". This is classic damage limitation mode and a lesson in lying to one's self.
The feeling of denial cannot last forever; when grief progresses to the next stage it comes with almighty force. Here we see "misplaced feelings of rage and envy", with the "person in question angry with himself, or with others, or at a higher power, and especially those who are close to them".
This is the stage of grief that drives people to tweet. And tweet they will. They'll tweet bile, they'll tweet hatred, they'll blame phantom sound men who they percieve are not doing their jobs properly, despite not knowing a thing themselves about how sound engineering actually works.
This reponse was felt at a gig in 2011, which one particular blogger dubbed "Worst. Concert. Ever". "It took me until half-way through the first song to realize that I actually knew it, I was just confused by the particular ‘remix’ that was being executed on stage," the reviewer lamented. "Many people in the audience, myself and my friend included, responded to this new sound with cautious and slightly horrified looks and, at times, nervous laughter."
Anyone who's ever been hurt - whether it's your pal necking with a crush of yours, or your favourite musician conning you out of your hard earned cash - knows that anger is followed by an element of bargaining. This is "the hope that the individual can somehow undo or avoid a cause of grief." Basically, it's a cry of "please don't let this happen again!"
Following past heartache, The Guardian decided to take a more understanding view in their 2012 review. "Tonight, Hill is a mere half an hour late, not the rather implausible three hours reported in the past," the review opened, with the tone of a broken man clutching at straws. "Throughout, the restless Hill bends her catalogue into new shapes, at times abandoning song structure entirely in favour of ad-libbed tangents, elongated vowels and radically altered crunching guitar arrangements – making for an experience that, commendably, is the exact opposite of a mere nostalgic singalong."
Like with denial, this stage sees the griever trying to assess the situation in a more favourable light. If we can only trick ourselves into seeing Hill's frustrating ticks and persistent need to antagonise as artistic, ever contrary, maybe she'll just stop doing them. Classic reverse psychology right there.
The next stage is one wholly familar to anyone who's just spent €65+ on a gig ticket, let alone a Lauryn Hill one. That is of depression. "Sadly I was not at Kate Bush’s show at the Hammersmith Apollo," The Telegraph wrote of Saturday's Brixton show, "I was at Lauryn Hill’s gig at the Brixton Academy." Ouch.
And now we come full cycle to acceptance, which is where we should be at today. Life is full of inevitabilities and the final stage of grief is to be able to accept this. Well, just like the certainty of death, it's also become predictable that Lauryn Hill likes to be a bit of a troll. That will not change, but you, dear reader, still can.
No longer can gig-goers claim not to be warned about what to expect from one of Hill's live performances. There's one train of thought that a performer should pander towards the cash-spending public, but it shouldn't be this way. An artist shouldn't be expected to appease fans or adhere to a tried-and-tested formula. It is up to the fan, aware of this fact, to decide whether or not to attend. There are no excuses anymore.
Follow Luke on Twitter: @lkmrgnbrttn