I hate speaking negatively about writers, or musicians, or directors, or artists of any kind. Not because I think artists are better than regular people (HAH!), but because there's almost always an inherent risk when creativity is involved, and attacking an artist when he or she fails almost always sounds like chastising someone for even attempting something risky, for putting themselves out there, and that's not a business I want to be in.
That's why I'm trying not to outright insult any of the people on this list. In fact, I'm only writing about them because I genuinely think all of these artists are great. Talented and important, and so forth. I just think they maybe lost their way, and this is my humble attempt to say, "Hey, great artists who lost your way: Be quiet and go hide somewhere for a little while."
#4. Tim Burton and Johnny Depp as a Team
In the last 10 years, Johnny Depp has collaborated with Tim Burton on five films. He wore pale makeup and crazy hair in four of those five (the fifth was Corpse Bride, where Depp's character, while made of clay, still had a pale face and weird hair), and while he was always enjoyable to watch, no character really stands out as particularly iconic; they're all mostly just eccentric, and they sound funny.
In this span of time, Depp has created only one character that (almost) everyone unanimously agreed was instantly iconic, and that's Capt. Jack Sparrow (from a film Burton had absolutely nothing to do with), and I'd argue that his only other great movie in this period was Rango, which a) was awesome, b) also had nothing to do with Burton and c) was really awesome. The Pirates movies made more money at the box office than his collaborations with Burton by a wide margin, and I haven't found a single critic who thinks either Burton or Depp have made their best work together in the last 10 years. I'd go as far as to say that Burton's last great movie was Big Fish, which is suspiciously the only move he made in the last 10 years that didn't feature Depp.
I really love this movie, you guys.
So, you know. Maybe knock it off for a while, guys.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not faulting them for not doing their best work together lately; no one can be expected to be constantly making their best work, and the fact that they struck gold once with Edward Scissorhands is impressive enough, forever. I am saying that when you enter into a creative relationship that is so comfortable and enjoyable, one of two things happen: 1) You challenge, enhance and bring out the best in each other, becoming greater as a pair than you ever were solo (McCartney/Lennon, the Coen brothers, Trey Parker/Matt Stone) or 2) You agree and support each other so much that you lose objectivity; you can no longer gauge your ideas on their merits, because you've turned two talented artists into each other's personal Yes Man (Ferrell/McKay).
Burton and Depp seem to be in that second camp. From the outside, it looks like they're engaged in some kind of self-perpetuating circle of unflinching reassurance and back-patting, which is dangerous for creativity. It's worse than creating in a vacuum; it's creating in a vacuum that thinks all of your ideas are great and don't need to be edited or revisited or even questioned at all. It's one thing to have a collaborator that you're comfortable with and whose rhythms you understand and quite another to have a nodding mirror image of yourself. A disagreeing voice is one of the most valuable things to have in a creative environment. It's a good way to keep one's head out of one's ass, and it's why no movie has just one guy completely in charge of everything.
That rarely works out.
Johnny Depp creating an eccentric, pale character for Tim Burton featuring Helena Bonham Carter is one of the most bizarrely specific cliches I think I've ever come across. All I'm suggesting is a little creative break. Each artist should spend some time exploring other things, maybe having a different collaboration or two, then perhaps one day, after they've had some time alone to really figure themselves out, they can get back together and collaborate again, armed with new knowledge and experiences.
Plus then Johnny Depp will have more time to make the Rango 2 movie I'm writing.
#3. The Red Hot Chili Peppers
At no point in the middle of practice one day did one of the Red Hot Chili Peppers stand up and say, "Hey, is anyone else just sick of playing Chili Peppers music?" I mean, other than the one drummer and the three guitarists who quit. Obviously.
When they first hit the scene, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were new, and they had an energy that almost no one else could touch, and asking them to quit now must sound crazy. Every single member of the band is great. Flea is incredible and insane, but really he deserves a ton of credit, if for no other reason than because he's probably the only bassist that an average person could actually name.
These might be three awesome bassists or just three random dudes. You don't know.
I've always maintained that Chad Smith was one of the most tasteful and dependable drummers in rock and roll, John Frusciante (who recently got just as sick of Chili Peppers music as me, and quit the band again) will certainly make every top 20 greatest guitarists for the next several years and Anthony Kiedis ... I don't know, sure has had a lot of different haircuts, I guess.
They're all so talented, and it's wonderful that they found each other, but ... come on, guys, that's enough.
Years ago, the Chili Peppers were slinging this rap-rock-funk-fusion thing that, to this day, no one else has even attempted. Honestly. I can't think of a single other band that is even trying to imitate RHCP music, because the style is just so clearly theirs. They own it.
Unfortunately, they haven't really grown in the last, at least, 15 years. They're still just writing Red Hot Chili Peppers music. Funky rock songs with awesome bass about California and fucking. That's it. And that's fine, in doses, but they've been doing it for almost 30 years. I can't name one band that should have still been playing together after 30 years. Not one.
The smartest thing that R.E.M. did was break up. It was clear that they'd reached a point where they realized, "Hey, these later albums aren't as good as our other ones. Obviously, we've already recorded all of the best R.E.M. songs. Let's just call it quits." Every artist in every field reaches a point where they exhaust their own limitations. The Simpsons was great right up until it was terrible, and it was terrible right after they'd finished making all of the great Simpsons episodes it was possible to make. If Michael Richards was still doing Kramer today, it would be the saddest thing ever. That's just the way things go, nine times out of 10. An artist is great, but if he misses the brief window where he can back out with grace and dignity, he'll just humiliate himself and end up Favreing the whole end of his career.
The Foo Fighters are a great counterexample. That's another rock band that's been around for a long time, and they're still making new music, but they haven't overstayed their welcome. The difference is that the Foo Fighters seem to be growing and evolving with every album. Their latest album is stylistically a world away from their first album, but it is still a distinctly Foo Fighteresque sound. It has everything that makes Foo great while still feeling fresh.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers have had, like, four different amazing guitar players quit the band, but they're still going. If losing two of its founding members isn't going to stop the Chili Peppers, and if they aren't going to grow and evolve (they're not), then they should really think about taking some time off.