Saturday, May 28, 2011

Why I Don't Like The Pitchfork 500 - Part I

Some people know more about music than other people do. However, it's not the knowledge itself, but what we choose to do with our knowledge that truly separates the ignorant from the enlightened. If you are one of these knowledgeable people, and you come across a person who is less knowledgeable than you, do you A) try to share your knowledge with that person in the hopes of making him or her happier, or do you B) boast about how much more you know than that other person and try to cultivate within yourself a cheap sense of superiority? If you answered B), then you may be a writer for Pitchfork Media.

The Pitchfork 500 is not just "Our Guide To The Greatest Songs From Punk To The Present." It's also "Our Guide In Which We Point Out To Lazy Mainstream Music Fans How Little They Know About Every Indie Subgenre Of The Last Thirty Years." In short, it's the snobbiest list of music from 1977-2007 that you've ever seen in your life.

Sure, I can understand. It's annoying to see a list like, for example (to talk about the '90s for a second), VH1's Top 100 Songs of the '90s. This list looks for all the world like it was compiled by a record executive. There are no weird choices, no surprising choices, no idiosyncratic choices. This VH1 list asks nothing of the reader, fails to challenge the reader, fails to expand his or her taste in music. It's a list that seems to be pitched toward the typical UCLA sorority girl. I would not recommend this list to a person unfamiliar with the music of the '90s and say with confidence that it would be a handy guide to the best music of that decade.

But, alas, one can also go too far in the other direction. Enter Pitchfork. I don't think the Pitchfork 500 was created with the purest of intentions; I think it was created as a reaction to lists like VH1's. You can smell the calculation dripping from every choice. It's not just "Here are 500 songs you might like," it's "Here are 500 songs we know about and you don't." It's "Ooh, look at us, we're including all these tracks that most people wouldn't have been smart enough to include." It's, "Ooh, look at all those big, era-defining hits we're not including." Dear Pitchfork writers: some people do not know as much about music as you do. Accept it, and move on.

Here's the thing. I'll bet these writers all have mp3 collections filled with much cheesier mainstream music. But they've chosen to pretend they don't, and that their taste only conforms to the songs that it's "OK" to enjoy, lest their fellow writers be looking over their shoulder. It's the Taste Police. And, to paraphrase N.W.A., fuck the Taste Police.

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