Algorithms get a bad press. Once an obscure computing term for a sequence of steps, the word has acquired a sinister connotation in the era of Big Data. We imagine algorithms enmeshing us, invisibly shaping our behaviour as they process information about us, slotting each person into place in a network of marketable personality types. “Algorithmic” is assuming the same pejorative meaning as “generic” and “formulaic”.
Pop music is particularly prone to such sentiments. Ed Sheeran is a “pop algorithm”, the New York Times notes sniffily of his new album, “able to produce reasonable re-creations of a whole range of styles.” Writing about The Chainsmokers last year, the music website Pitchfork said that the critically reviled but highly popular “tech-bro” duo use “a finely tuned algorithm” to write their EDM hits. It was not intended as a compliment.