Every person in this world who is working for their success will have to overcome obstacles to get there. When I started my acoustic oi! music project in 2008, I was prepared for the critics. I knew that by trying to express skinhead values by means of a stripped-down, acoustic sound I would be criticized because I was doing something different and not everyone would like it. Yet even though I was ready for and expecting the critics, I was not prepared for the haters. The struggle with haters has been one of my greatest battles on the road to where I want to go.
What is the difference between a critic and a hater? A critic is a person who provides a fair-minded, honest critique of what you are doing. A hater, on the other hand, is a person who is personally invested in exposing and exaggerating your every flaw with the aim of bringing you down. The worst thing about haters is not that they say negative things about you, it's that they want their hate to replace your own views about yourself. Haters are not satisfied simply by saying something disparaging, their ultimate objective is to destroy your belief in yourself and your joy in doing what you love so that you will stop and self-destruct. What I've learned is that the war with haters isn't won by having the last word with them or by throwing a few punches. If you're doing something interesting and getting success, there will always be more haters and more punches and words to exchange. The war with haters doesn't take place on an internet forum or at a concert, it takes place in your own mind. It's been a long road, but I can finally say that I have won my war with haters.
I preface this article by saying that I am not an expert or a professional in social theory or psychology, but I write from an honest place in saying that I have had my share of haters and got to a point where I can accept and even appreciate them. I decided to write down my thoughts on dealing with haters because I hoped that if I wrote down my own strategies it would help reinforce them in my own mind. I decided to share this article because I thought that these points might help other people who are struggling to deal with criticism or even worse, are considering holding back because of the potential for hate. It is my hope that by sharing this small bit of advice, the world might benefit a bit more from the talent that otherwise wouldn't be exposed in the face of haters. Hate is not insurmountable. At the very least, haters are just other people with other opinions. At the very best, haters can be your greatest source of motivation and a source of pride.
If You're Not Getting Shit, You're Not Getting it Right:
A few years ago I had the opportunity to travel to London to record a track with one of my greatest song-writing idols, Steve Whale. The Business's "Welcome to the Real World" is still one of my favourite albums, and I was more than excited to meet with Steve to get his advice on writing songs, playing music, and living the dream. One of the bits of advice I wanted to gleam from him was guidance on how to deal with haters and criticism. Even though the Business and the Vibrators are landmark bands, I was sure that in his long career as a musician Steve had also experienced his share of critique. What he said, however, surprised me. Steve warned me that as I got better the critics would get worse and that the more criticism I got, the better. He said that the amount of haters you have is a measure of your success, because in the end "If you're not getting shit, you're not getting it right."
Being criticized can be an immensely difficult experience. If you are doing something creative, your work is an extension of yourself and therefore a critique of your work can feel like a personal attack. Hate against yourself and your work can feel like an all-out war. However, I've come to appreciate that Steve spoke the truth - criticism is a sign of success, and haters can be a sign of greatness.
If you think about it, everything worth creating in this world is interesting. Everything interesting is by nature controversial. Controversy implies critics and opponents. Therefore, anything worth doing will be criticized, and criticism is in fact a gift. Critics must take time out of their lives to take notice of what you are doing, and then formulate and share a reaction. Criticism takes time and effort. Not every artist or every project has the power to generate a lot of criticism, meaning that these projects and artists don't have the luxury of having an audience that takes the time and energy to think about their work and to generate a response. For haters to invest even more time and energy into hating you, your work must have evoked a profound emotional response in them in order to make it worth it to invest so much in getting back at you. Thus, if you have critics and even haters, think about how interesting and provocative your work must be. Critics, and especially haters mean that your work is something worth thinking about and responding to.
Steve's comment that "If you're not getting shit, you're not getting it right" is absolutely on the mark. If you're not getting criticism then you're not doing something interesting, and not doing something worthwhile. The more intense the critics and the more intense the hate, the more interesting your work is and the more worthwhile it is for people to invest themselves in reacting to it.
Putting it Into Perspective:
After talking to a few friends in bands who have dealt with criticism, we all agreed that sometimes it feels as though there can be 100 compliments on a video or a picture or a song, but the one negative comment is the one that haunts us. Most of us have grown up in families and with friends who have been supportive of us, and therefore we are more used to receiving supportive comments rather than hateful comments in our day-to-day lives. Negative comments, especially deeply hateful comments, can come as a shock and it is these comments that we then focus on and obsess about when we think about the audience's reaction. However, by focusing on the negative we lose perspective.
Chances are, more people like what you are doing and support it then the ones who hate it. If this seems optimistic, then at least accept that chances are that more people are neutral to what you are doing then people who hate it. It takes a lot of effort to really hate something, and therefore haters are likely the minority because most people are too busy or are too invested in doing something else. I am guilty of having looked over some of my Youtube videos and seeing dozens of kind and supportive comments, and then reading the one comment "F*** you b*** I hope you die" and coming to the unfair conclusion that everyone totally hates me. However after taking a step back I realized that any rational person would look at the feedback and see that quantitatively, there is more positive or neutral commentary then hate. Therefore, it's an emotional response to come to the conclusion that everyone hates it. Again, if it's interesting it's controversial, and if it's controversial then by definition not everyone is going to like it. The important thing is to remember that not everyone is going to hate it either.
Another point where I think that we lose perspective when it comes to haters is that we sometimes value the opinions of the critics more than we value our own. Continuing with my example above, there was a moment when I read a Youtube comment that stated "She is retarded. She doesn't know anything about the skinhead scene, what a joke." After reading this comment I started to doubt my value as a person and the value of my project. This comment cut to the bone, but eventually I came to realize that what this person was saying wasn't the truth, it was merely an opinion. Criticism isn't an objective truth because everyone's reaction to art is subjective. So what makes other people's opinions more valuable than your own? Think about it. You know yourself and what you are trying to achieve way better than an anonymous person on the internet, and therefore your opinion should matter more because it is a more informed opinion. You know more about yourself and you matter more to yourself than anyone else, so naturally your opinion about yourself should matter more to you than anyone else's.
It's also important to remember that ultimately, it's the product itself rather than the negative reaction to it that lasts. Galileo had a lot of haters when he proposed that the earth rotates around the sun. People literally wanted to hang him, but is that the first thing we think about when we hear his name? No. We think about his contribution to the scientific world because that is what changed the world. Remarks shared between haters are forgotten over time, internet forums and threads are deleted, and the world moves on. At the end of the day, no matter how many haters you have, their hate doesn't last. However, you have the power to make your own creations immortal.
A final thing to keep in mind when you are gaining perspective is that the bigger your project gets, the more hate you will likely receive. This draws on the point that Steve Whale made when he said that as you continue down the road, you are likely to get more and more critics. The larger your venture becomes, the more people you are going to reach and therefore you will be creating a greater number of opinions about what you are doing. Again, if it's controversial then there will be people who don't like what you're doing, and statistically speaking this number of critics will grow as your audience grows. Therefore, if you see your number of hate mail or haters go up, ask yourself - "is it that my project is getting worse, or is it that my project is getting more popular"? An increase in your hater and critic count can be a sign of success.
Constructive vs. Deconstructive Criticism:
There are two types of criticism, and one of the best ways of benefiting from criticism is to know the difference between the two. Constructive criticism is positive in that it tells you what you could improve upon and gives you clues on how to improve. An example of constructive criticism is "This song has a very interesting theme but I think that the tempo is so slow that it drags, and the lyrics are clichéd." By receiving this criticism, the musician might be motivated to think about ways to improve the song and in particular, might try changing the tempo or the lyrics. This criticism is positive because the critic is taking his or her time to really think about the song and to honestly point out what could be improved. Ultimately, positive criticism leads to progress.
Deconstructive criticism is criticism that is offered only to bring the artist or the work down. It is usually offered by an individual who didn't take the time to appreciate whatever is being criticized in an objective light, and who has no interest in helping the artist or the work get better. In other words, deconstructive criticism is the type of criticism that is offered by haters. An example of deconstructive criticism is "This song totally sucks and I hate this singer." This criticism doesn't reflect that the critic listened to the different elements of the song and thought about how they come together, it doesn't specify what is wrong with the work, and it doesn't offer fair judgement of why and how the work could be improved.
In order to separate out the deconstructive criticism from the type of criticism that can help you improve your work, it is important to ask a series of questions and to be honest with yourself. The first question to ask is "What exactly is this person saying"? For example, a critique on one of my music videos is "I don't like her or her music. It's too fresh." When looking at the critique, it seems like the person is saying that he or she doesn't like me and my music because I have not been in the scene long enough to get respect or to become authentic.
The honestly comes in when you take a clear look at what you are doing, what you want to achieve, and whether the critic has a point. Put yourself in the same position where you receive criticism that your work is too fresh to be good. Although it is easy to take this to heart and to take it as a personal attack on your credibility as a person, stop and ask yourself a second question - "Is what they are criticizing important to what I want to achieve"? If, for example, you are trying to create something new and that has quality to it, then does it really matter whether you as an artist or your music has been around for a long time? You might conclude that every single project and person has a beginning, and therefore it appears to be a bit ridiculous to criticize a person for starting out and being at their beginning. Moreover, you might think that the quality and authenticity of music or an artist should be determined by things such as lyrics, passion, and intensity rather than their duration. In that sense, you could say that this criticism is not helpful in getting you to where you want to go and dismiss it. However, on the other hand, if you think about it and determine that being "not fresh" is something that is important to you and that does factor into how you feel about your authenticity as an artist, then you could take this criticism as a means to motivate yourself towards longevity. There are no right answers to the questions, however the answers that will be able to help you are the honest answers that relate precisely to what you want to achieve.
Consider the Source - An Insult from an Asshole is a Compliment in Disguise:
Another important point that is related to the constructive/deconstructive criticism divide is to question not only what the critic is saying, but who the critic is. If the critic is credible and knowledgeable about what you are doing, then you might want to listen to him or her. If the critic is an idiot, you might not want to take it to heart. In fact, some criticism can actually be praise. In 2011 I traveled to Holland to discuss a recording project with my friend Tim Steinfort. Out of curiosity, I asked Tim how he felt about some of the negative remarks that were written about him and his band in a recent fanzine. Tim replied - "I love being hated by assholes. That is the biggest compliment." In other words, if a critic or a hater clearly has bad taste, his or her critique might be an indication that you're doing something right.
Often times, criticism and hate is given anonymously over the internet and we therefore cannot identify who gave the criticism. However, we can ask ourselves "what does this person's commentary say about the critic or hater?" More often than not, what a person says about you and how they say it will reveal as much about this person as it does about you. For example, a critique of my Birds of Prey album that I found online stated "This album is reminiscent of a mixture between '77 punk and glam-rock. I liked the overall upbeat nature of the songs, however rhythmically all the songs on the album are the same and Jenny used similar blues scales for all guitar solos which was boring." After reading this critique I was able to deduce that 1) the critic knows enough about music to put my work into context 2) He or she knows something about guitar work 3) He or she has a level-handed critique that specifies the areas of improvement. As it would seem that this person has credibility as a critic, I decided to use the critique to help me improve my work.
On the other hand, another critique I saw on the internet was a poster with my face on it and the sub-text "Mongoloi!d." It appeared as though the critic was trying make a critique that drew a connection between my acoustic oi! music, my Asian heritage, and also trying to make a point that I was mentally retarded. From this picture I was able to deduce that 1) the critic likely has a problem with Asian people (as he or she used the racist term for down-syndrome which relates the condition to people from Mongolia) and that 2) he or she likely views having down-syndrome as something negative. Not only did the critic not have anything constructive to say about the music itself, but I concluded that I didn't want to take to heart anything stated by a racist, bigoted person. This design, along with a "Rock Against Jenny Woo" design were eventually made into t-shirts. Does this offend me? No. If assholes want to take their time to create hate and wear it, I thank them for the free publicity because everyone worth respecting would realize that only an asshole would do something like that. The fact that my music evoked such a strong reaction from these people with such poor taste is a sign that I'm doing something to get under their skin and pick at their prejudices. Their hate is praise in disguise.
After my discussion with Tim in 2011 we decided to write and record a duet about being hated and proud. The idea behind the song "Outlaws" was that it's better to be the hated minority when the majority is in the wrong. It's better to be hated by the assholes of the world then loved by them, even if this means that no one accepts you. Ironically enough, the album on which the song was released sold out within a month.
Why People Hate:
When it comes to any phenomenon - be it music or politics - enjoyment, support, and critique are all normal human reactions. Hatred, on the other hand, is an extreme human reaction that involves a lot of time, energy, and effort. In order for people to invest so much in hating something, there must be a reason... Why do people hate?
The first answer that might come to mind is that haters honestly just extremely dislike a certain artist, music, or whatever else for whatever reason. However, hate is not the same as dislike. Even if a person really honestly dislikes something dislike is not enough to motivate a person to invest their time and energy in creating and spreading negative remarks aimed at destruction. For example, I sincerely dislike electronic dance music. I don't understand this genre. This music annoys me, I think it has no soul, and I simply cannot listen to it. However, I don't hate electronic dance music or its heroes. I don't go on the internet and actively search for Youtube videos to write hateful comments or join facebook groups dedicated to making nasty remarks about it. I just simply cannot invest enough time into hate because even though I dislike it, I don't have enough emotional drive to motivate me to invest myself more into reacting negatively towards it.
Hatred is more than dislike because it involves a deep emotional attachment. I think that there are a number of reasons why a person becomes a hater. Perhaps the person has a deep resentment or jealousy for what you are doing because he or she didn't have the courage to do something interesting themselves? Perhaps this person is really unsatisfied with his or her life and therefore he or she is attempting to bring themselves up by putting you down? Perhaps what you are doing reminds this person of a deeply traumatic incident in his or her own life? Maybe what you are doing is challenging this person's deepest values and beliefs?
Although every hater must have a deep-seated reason for hating, more often than not you will never know the real motivation behind your haters. You can never get inside other peoples' heads to figure them out, and often times reasons for hate are so subconscious the haters may not even know their reasons themselves. The important thing to remember is that hatred is not simple dislike. If you have real haters who go out of their way to systematically make extreme comments about you on the internet or to bring you down at length in social situations, then they have a reason beyond dislike that is provoking an extreme emotional reaction. In this case, it's not your work itself that is bad, because if it was simply a question of being bad then they would simply dislike it. Don't focus too much on why it is that haters hate, because chances are their reason goes far beyond who you are as a person or an artist and therefore figuring it out will not help you to improve in what you are doing. If people are haters, then feel sorry for them because they are investing their own time and energy into an activity that ultimately provides little satisfaction and reward. The will to hate can be a person's own worst enemy.
Remembering What Matters:
The people who give up in the war against haters are the people who either weren't into what they were doing for the right reasons, or people who forgot what matters. Ask yourself why it is that you are doing what you are doing and want to share it with the world. If you are in it for the right reasons, then you would answer that what you are doing empowers you as a creative person, that it gives you personal fulfillment, that you believe sharing it will inspire others positively and that you can connect with and empower others through what you are doing. If these are your reasons, then the fact that you have haters should have absolutely no impact on whether you should continue your project or not. If doing what you do gives you personal fulfillment, then why should the opinions of others matter to you? If you want to touch other people in positive ways with what you are doing, then you will connect with some people on this level and the other people don't matter.
If you are doing what you are doing in order to gain personal popularity because you base your self-esteem on gaining attention and on what other people think of you, then you will never win the war against haters. Again, criticism is a part of life and if you allow this criticism to define who you think you are as a person, then you will forever be controlled by the people who hate you. If you are into this for the wrong reasons and you aren't doing it for the love of doing it in itself, then you should seriously question whether a life controlled by haters is a good life to live.
If you have something that you are passionate about, something to contribute to, and something constructive to say, then you've already got the foundation of a fulfilling life. You are lucky to have what you have, and you should pursue it and enjoy it. This is what matters. Don't allow your enjoyment and fulfillment to be curtailed by the negative views of other people, which in the big picture really don't matter.
Losing does not Make you a Loser:
Most of us have a tendency to define our value as a person by our own personal successes and failures. Modern society dictates that "if you lose you are a loser, if you win you are a winner" when in fact this is not the case. Human beings have value as people regardless of whether what they do is a success or a failure. Human beings have the capacity for love, kindness, hope, and a variety of other such elements that give value to who we are and our existence. We should not be judged by our failures or successes, but rather by who we choose to be.
I am currently writing and recording a new album which I hope will be the best work I have ever produced. Sometimes I get nervous that people will not like the new music, and I worry that I will not sell a single copy of this album. I'm worried that the critics and the haters will hit the internet and the fanzines and the concerts and ridicule me. But in the end, what's the worst thing that can happen? If I don't sell a single copy of this album, does this make me a loser? No. It would mean that I don't have commercial success, but it wouldn't mean that my value is decreased as a person. If people think that my music is boring, stupid, inauthentic, and overall disgusting then does this decrease my value as a person? No, because my value as a person is defined by so much more than the quality of the music I make.
Haters will try to diminish your value as a person, but insofar as you remember your value as a person is beyond their critique and beyond your perceived "successes" and "failures," this can never happen. If you accept this as the truth, you will likely also not be afraid to try new things and put yourself out there because you will not be afraid of failure diminishing your worth. Failing at something does not make you a loser, but not trying something you want to do means that you are losing out.
The Eagle Approach: Rising Above Hate
In the face of hate, it can be so tempting to slap the person back, to give up, to return the profanities. However, the high road is the right road on your journey to success and I strongly support rising above. A few years ago my friend and fellow artist Louise Distras and I decided to release a clip and song "Stand Strong Together" which had a message of unity, feminism, and staying true in the fight for what you believe in. After the clip was released, the comments were riddled with hateful messages about our sexuality, our body shapes, and our talent. I asked Louise how she dealt with the hate and she replied "I think about eagles. While all other animals run for shelter when a storm strikes, eagles use the opportunity to rise above. Eagles rise above storms and fly the highest."
It's so easy to scream something hateful back or to throw a few bottles or punch a person in the face, but at the end of the day this only brings you down to the same level as the haters. In the skinhead subculture, the values of pride, integrity, and respect are of ultimate importance. It often amazes me that people who call themselves skinhead would post joke videos of me or anyone else getting raped, or would make comments that a person deserves to be murdered. I understand that every person has a right to dislike something, but what kind of a person wishes for a human being to get raped and killed? For me, these comments and these actions are outside of the realm of skinhead values. Sometimes I fantasize about writing back scathing comments or throwing a few punches in return, but I know that by doing this I would be breaking my own honour code. At the end of the day, who I am means more to me then what other people think about me, and I would never jeopardize my integrity for the short-lived thrill of "getting back" at a few haters.
Furthermore, a response to haters legitimates the hate. After all, why would you take your time to respond to hate if there wasn't something about it that bothers you? And why would something that's clearly not true bother you to begin with? Responding with hate only proves the point the hater is trying to make. It also gives the hater what they want. Haters want you to surrender your time and energy to them, because this means that you are distracted from doing what you love.
You may try to reason with haters, to talk with them, and to understand them. I discuss with my critics constructively and ask questions on how they think I can improve in order to help me grow as an artist. I think it's useful and shows ambition to discuss critiques with critics. But remember that hatred is irrational and therefore a conversation with haters can be irrational and lead to only more frustration. In my opinion, the best way to react to haters is to try to put everything into perspective, to understand that hate is just hate and that there are more important things in life. Have faith in what you are doing and who you are as a person, and don't waste your time hating on haters and the ultimately inevitable criticism. If you fight haters, you will be fighting a long, and useless battle. Even worse, you could become a hater yourself. Use haters as an opportunity to be the bigger person and save your time to do the things that give you pride and fulfillment.
In the end, if you still feel like you need to get revenge on haters and that you need to make them pay for hating on you, then remember that what the haters want is to evoke a response from you. They want you to respond because they want to know that you care what they think. The ultimate revenge is to live your dreams and to live well, without thinking twice about what other people have to say about it.
Using the Hate to Motivate:
Sometimes it can be too hard to put hate into perspective, to let it go and to move on. As I mentioned earlier, our creative efforts are a product of who we are and the hate we receive because of these efforts can pierce the human heart. It's a normal reaction to feel frustrated, angry, and hurt. However, in line with my above theory that the best revenge against haters is to live your dreams is the advice that you should use these frustrations creatively. Being hated can be a great inspiration, and as this aggravation is very human, any product born out of this feeling will likely have an empathetic audience. By using your hate creatively you can better understand your own reaction, and you can heal the wounds by reminding yourself why it is that you love what you do.
My favourite song that I have ever written is called "Marching On." I wrote this song during one of my darkest days after reading a thread in an internet forum which ripped my music and my soul to shreds. I was on the verge of packing up my guitar and heading over to the local pawn shop when I decided that rather than give up on music I could use music to heal myself. I picked up the guitar, and straight from the heart I wrote the lyrics "They tried to push me to the ground, but I'm stronger than that and I'll never back down. They may say that I will not succeed, but I'll just keep on marching on and they can just wait and see."
The biggest test that I have been given in terms of dealing with haters was playing the Back on the Streets festival in Germany in July 2013. I played a set at 1:00am on the Saturday night, right after the Swedish band Perkele headlined and my acoustic set was intended to calm people down after their show. At 4,000 people it was the biggest audience I had ever performed in front of, and I started my set right after Perkele finished their encore. Needless to say, I was quite nervous as this was one of the biggest nights of my life and a dream come true. As I started to play some people in the front row started to throw glass bottles at me and shout sexually derogatory statements. By this time, I had been used to receiving hate but I was not prepared for this situation to arise just as I was about to live one of my proudest moments.
As I stood on stage I thought about throwing my own beer bottle into the crowd of haters, and I thought about throwing down my guitar and shouting something back. However, I looked into the crowd and realized that there were still at least 3,000 people who weren't hating and who wanted to see the show. I realized that this was my moment and that it was up to me to make the most of it or to give up and live with my defeat. I started to sing my own songs that I had written about strength, integrity, and self-pride and it became clear to me that these songs and this feeling of sharing what I had to give was what mattered and what gave purpose to my life. I realized that if I was the kind of person who wrote those songs to begin with, then I was the kind of person who could live through this and rise above. I dodged the bottles, I sang louder, and I sang prouder than ever before.
That was one of the best nights of my life because it was at that moment that I realized that I had won the war against haters. I was able to put it into perspective, to consider the source, to remember what matters, to stay motivated, and to rise above. After it was all over, some people congratulated me on the energy of that performance and on the strength of survival that I showed on the stage. More importantly, I know that I gave it my 100% and I am proud of what I had to give. That night I saw one of the girls who was throwing bottles briefly after the show, and although I recognized her she could not look me in the eye. I thought about saying something, but I was ultimately too busy selling records, meeting new people, and living my dream to bother.
I still have hard days and hard times dealing with haters, but overall it is a struggle I have overcome thanks to the realizations that I have outlined above. For those readers who are battling their own haters or their own self-doubts, I encourage you to go forward, to try out new things and to use constructive criticism to build yourself up. I encourage you to dismiss hate as somebody else's problem and to focus on yourself and your goals. To try something, to do something, to love doing something is winning the war. If the consequences of winning the fight are having a few haters, then you should use haters as your trophies. Do what you love and be hated and proud.
By Jenny Woo
Hated and Proud: How to Win the War Against Haters
By Jenny Woo
Listen to "Outlaws" by Tim Steinfort and Jenny Woo.
Listen to "Stand Strong Together" by Louise Distras and Jenny Woo.