Gerrick D. Kennedy
Music writer, Los Angeles Times
Gerrick Kennedy has perfected the artfully constructed, yet playfully catty insult. In cool-kid parlance, the 2015 Kiplinger Fellow is master at serving up the tea — the “truth” — on pop music performers.
The Los Angeles Times pop music critic has sauced Ciara as “a master of style and flair over depth.” He declared a recent performance by Drake “off” and “unremarkable.” He sassed that the song lineup for the Billboard music awards was “meh.”
But the snark usually is cloaked in enough praise that Kennedy pulls off the fragile balance of “all tea, no shade” — gossip sans snittiness. It’s a talent that has served him well since he took on the intimidating beat not long after graduating from Ohio State in 2009.
“What helped me actually was my background in hard news and features. I slowly carved a niche for myself and used my youth to an advantage,” he said. “ … even though I constantly battled with my own confidence as I was surrounded by talented veterans and I was a kid fresh out of college.”
It didn’t take him long to find his voice. The National Association of Black Journalists named him Emerging Journalist of the Year in 2012. The LBGT-interest magazine Advocate also named him one of its 40 Under 40 in 2014.
He’s landed interviews with a “who’s-who” of pop music: Drake, Mary J. Blige, Nicki Minaj, Usher, TLC and Carrie Underwood among them. He hyped Sam Smith a year before the British crooner broke out in the States. He has smoked Cuban cigars with Nas and — true story — was harnessed and whipped onstage by Britney Spears. He tagged along with EDM star Zedd to a 2 a.m. gig in Vegas and chitchatted with Jennifer Lopez over pizza.
One of his more mind-blowing assignments trapped him on a rowdy music cruise to the Bahamas with rap sensation Kid Rock. He had spent months reporting on the then little-known world of A-list performers who give fans the ultimate experience of a weekend floating concert.
“It was the definition of adult spring break,” he said. “Women were topless, men were drunk and obnoxious, the musicians partied hard and I chased Kid Rock at 3 a.m. one night for an interview that never happened.
“It was an incredibly challenging story that combined business and culture and it allowed me to show my chops early on. It was also a great feeling to see a number of publications tackle similar features a year after my story hit.”
Some of his freshest insights come in the form of his sharp, chatty tweets of live events.
• At Rock in Rio: “Ugh is Taylor really lip synching right now. On the first song?!”
• Also at Rio: “Jessie J smashing right now. WHY IS THIS WOMAN NOT A SUPERSTAR.”
• At the Billboard Music Awards: “Gosh certain people really hate Kanye still. Whole aisle in front of me just cleared out. Whatever. More space to dance.”
His methodology for social media is simple: Be yourself, always.
“My social media presence . . . carries the same attitude and tone as my daily life and my writing. Who I am on Twitter is who I am in person and in my writing. I try to tell journalists that the easiest way to thrive on social media is being you.”
He’s noticed that many reporters have a different voice on their Twitter accounts than they do on Facebook and in their published work.
“While I don’t think it’s a bad thing, it doesn’t work for me. I’m much more comfortable speaking in my voice.”
His candor about performers such as One Direction, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga has generated a Twitter backlash from “stans” — overzealous superfans who obsess on their favorite stars. He’s become very liberal with the “block” button.
“I have received death threats, been called racial and homophobic slurs, body shamed and have had fans attack my friends on social media,” he said. “I’m human, and some things roll off the back easier than others but my favorite line of defense is gently reminding the aggressor that not only am I being paid to share my opinion and will continue to do so freely but their hatred of me isn’t being bankrolled by their favorite artist.”
A recent tweet: “I love stans. They are so delusional. And never want more out of life than to argue on social.”
Summer concert and festival season gives him ample opportunity to snark and be snarked at. His spring schedule kicked off with a “furious pace”: He covered the two-weekend Coachella music festival in mid-April; flew to Columbus for the weeklong Kiplinger Fellowship; returned to L.A. on a Monday; boarded a plane for Las Vegas that Wednesday for the first weekend of the Rock in Rio festival; folded in the Mariah Carey show, did an interview next day, then went to the festival Friday; came back to L.A. the next Monday; flew back out to Vegas that Thursday for the second festival weekend; covered the Billboard Music Awards before returning the next Monday.
“This season presented both a logistical challenge and was a wonderful test of endurance,” he said.
He’s still catching up on sleep, but didn’t miss a beat. He was tweeting about feeding french fries to Beyonce and Nicki Minaj the next day.