A Critic Whines About Pazz & Jop: Why Does Consensus Feel So Shitty?

pazz-jop-2010.jpg

Let's get this over with as quickly as possible:

The results of the Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop Critics Poll were released this week, and, to no one's surprise, it turned out that Kanye West released the most praise-winning album of 2010. Almost as expected was the conclusion that Cee-Lo's epically earwormical "Fuck You" was voted the No. 1 single of the year. Both crownings were emphatic; see this graph for an illustration of the approximately mountain-sized margin by which Kanye won best album of the year.

But you probably expected that. So now that the boring part's done, let's get to the self-loathing.

As you'll see from this ballot, I abetted this snoozefest anointing. Pazz & Jop voting was, for me, a fun but painful task for many reasons, the biggest of which was that I knew which song and album would top my lists from the start. No question. And I was not alone.

In fact, according to an analysis by the administrators of this torturous exercise, Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy won the poll more decisively than any other album, ever.

I'm sure there are proud critics out there holding their heads high that they didn't drink the Douchebag Kool-Aid -- the Kanye backlash may have already begun, in fact -- and good for them.

But they're wrong. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was easily the best album of 2010. I firmly believe it deserved to win. Yet I still feel like shit about helping it do so: Useless, guilt-ridden, and irritated.

Because really, what music criticism if not conviction-fueled contrarianism? Isn't the point to challenge the status quo? To find unheard-of gems, and exert a more-than-healthy skepticism toward the sacred cows?

I tried to do this to the most honest extent possible on my ballot, which placed weirdos I dig like the Fresh & Onlys and Ty Segall next to the narcotic joys of Taylor Swift and Cee-Lo. But any attempt to disclaim the awesomeness of Kanye's album proved futile. I felt like I listened to MBDTF about 3 million times in November and December, and each time I enjoyed it to a rare degree. Submitting the record to a detailed critical analysis, or whatever, only further convinced me of its superiority.

But I'm still bothered by being complicit in the collective gushing over Kanye.

Maybe it's because the album is really good -- the best of 2010, sure -- but not that good. Not all-time consensus-leader good.

Or maybe part of being a critic means I don't like to agree. Maybe it's that critical me-tooing on the level that we saw this year feels a lot like we aren't actually serving a purpose. 

MBDTF made it very difficult, even impossible, for many critics to do what we're supposed to, what we love to do -- at least if you believe the point of music criticism is to argue entertainingly and inspire spirited conversation, instead of just telling people which albums to buy/steal.

A simple nod in agreement is no proud feat, after all. Yet when it came to the absolute best of 2010, I felt helpless to do anything but nod, and agree.

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Spinning Platters
Spinning Platters

I'm glad you wrote this, because I have a hard-to-shake belief that some people voted for Kanye as the #1 album without ever having listened to it, for fear of being wrong (or possibly sheer laziness).

Before I even listened to the album myself, I was told that it was the BEST ALBUM IN THE HISTORY OF EVER, and on those terms, it fails. I think that's where your dread comes in. Because now it's earned that status, at least statistically, and you've helped it get there.

Personally, it didn't even make it on to the list of albums I considered putting on my list, but then I've never been an appreciator of hip-hop in any form, and I don't think I'm qualified to recommend any hip-hop album as good or bad. Are the rest of the voters this self aware?

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