Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Another year has passed and has been marked and graded and summarized into lists. I am a reforming pop culture addict and so I had to puruse these lists. And so I noticed that for another year, the top choices by music critics bares no resemblance to the top choices made by consumers. Why is this gap so large?

I've been thinking about music critism in the back of my mind for the last couple months as I have been, until recently, tuning into the CBC's National Playlist on a a regular basis. I started listening to the show tentatively as in general, I can't stand music critics. I hate their fanboy tendencies and their puritanism. You are not allowed to like Black Eyes Peas but its okay for them to like KISS for no one is allowed to have musical guilty pleasures but them.

Now some of the reason why the gap between critics and consumers is so large is because the will of the people is expressed and quantified by sales and box-office receipts and when it comes to mass media, the mass produced and promoted object will always dwarf independently produced projects. Another reason is that music sales are dominated by teenagers and music critics are older and need more musical sustainance than angst-rock. And of course, there is the larger issue of whether there is a difference between art and entertainment and come to think of it, do we need criticism at all? But that's way beyond the scope of this simple blog post and my capabilities at the moment.

Now the National Playlist is a curious beast as it tries to be a bridge between the two worlds of the critics and the average listener. Four panelists (made up largely of music critics and musicians) select two tracks - one recent and one favourite from modern times and then vote to decide which four tracks will be added to the National Playlist of ten tracks. Then the general public votes over the course of a week and the top six tracks stay and the bottom four tracks leave the list. It can make for some interesting and some infuriating discussions.

When I first heard the show, I concocted in my mind a a very simple formula about music: critical acclaim + popular support = classic song. But now I'm starting to think that there is no such thing as a "classic song". There are just songs that you love and there are songs that I love. And, by the way, I do love the latest Sufjan Stevens.

1 comment:

kelly said...

When I used to check out the "hotlists" on Napster (back in the day), it always surprised me that EVERYONE, no matter what their musical tastes, had a little collection of guilty pleasures/musical crap of the likes of Britney Spears / N 'Sync / etc. I'm no exception to this rule, but it always made me laugh to see the hard-core collectors of goth or country or heavy metal or country mp3s would sneak in a little Justin Timberlake. We may all pretend to be sophisticated, but there's no accounting for the addictiveness of a catchy song.