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Friday, January 21, 2011

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

Posted By on Fri, Jan 21, 2011 at 10:57 AM

click to enlarge 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.


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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Ian S. Port


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