I was having a conversation with a co-worker of mine yesterday. This fellow happens to share my passion of music, if not my musical tastes. In our conversation, I realized that the reason many bands receive as much hype as they do is because of the hype itself. He used Van Halen as an example. Van Halen is a band comprised of musicians that I respect for their technical prowess, but I just can't stand their music. Is there a more indulgent moment in the history of recorded music than "Eruption"? Yet people act as though this is the moment in guitar music. When I listen to it, I hear a guy playing the guitar as fast as he can, not because he wants to, but because he is able to. Technically impressive? Yes. Emotionally resonant? Absolutely not. If, then, this song could be considered overrated at best, terrible at worst, why is it held in the highest esteem in so many circles? It's because when people listen to it, they're expecting greatness. They have a pre-conceived notion that what they're about to hear is going to change their life, because Guitar World told them it would.
A few artists (Bob Dylan, Wilco, etc.) always seem to be surrounded by hype, but it's because they were able to establish themselves before they began to be built up by the powers that be. Is it possible to listen to anything (or take in any type of art, for that matter), without having any sort of expectation? Probably not. But is it feasible to minimize those expectations as much as possible, and then make an educated decision on how you feel about it? Certainly. I guess that's where this rant is going. Next time you hear a song or record or whatever, try as hard as you can to turn off any idea regarding what you're expecting, and give it a listen.