‘The point here isn’t that Bob Dylan’s writing or music is terrible. Bob Dylan is often wonderful. But the Nobel Prize isn’t just saying he’s wonderful. It’s saying he is an apogee of American song; the one lyricist and performer deserving (so far) of the term “literature”. The Nobel crowns Dylan as a performer who has elevated his genre, and has used it in ways that have never been used before.
When you put Dylan next to Broonzy, or Chandler, or Berry, or, Cole Porter, or Joni Mitchell, or Andre 3000, that claim of clear superiority doesn’t hold up. You can love Dylan or hate Dylan, just as you can love Elvis or hate Elvis. But even if you love Elvis, it’s hard to argue that he was the King because he was somehow an exponentially more talented performer than Ike Turner, or LaVern Baker. Rather, he was the King because critics, and the public, see a white person reshaping black sources as a quintessence of creativity and cool.
In choosing Dylan, the Nobel committee cheekily subverted the usual canons of taste and literature. But Dylan as cheeky subversion is, unfortunately, its own tired trope. The power of Dylan, as an icon, is that he has smuggled the work of supposedly unsophisticated others into the hoity-toity bastion of high culture. In choosing him as the representative of American popular music, the Nobel committee shows the words of those outside the academy can be literature—when they’re spoken by the right people…’