October 14, 2023

It’s that time of the year again, where every publication, podcaster, influencer and music journo are getting ready to put out their music lists that will define this year’s musical landscape. The fourth quarter is where everyone with a following or platform believes that their opinion on music should be taken as a holy grail or perhaps be looked at as culturally hip. For decades, year-end music lists have been a staple in the world of music journalism and criticism.  Don’t get me wrong, these lists, typically compiled by big media publications, have aimed to rank the top albums and songs of the year, serving as a guide for music enthusiasts seeking the best of the past twelve months, but there’s a certain novelty that’s been lost over the past few years. One of the novelties of the lists is how they once were immersed within the culture. 

My issue these days with year-end music lists is that they often reflect a narrow perspective from media outlets that may not be deeply immersed in the diverse and dynamic world of music. These lists are usually compiled by a small group of critics or journalists who may not have the time or inclination to explore the full breadth of music culture, but because of the legacy of their publications, their opinions are placed on a pedestal. To confine music into a few dominant genres or trending artists, is a travesty, especially when we’re in an age where the lines are blurred and interconnected. To only consider trending or chart topping artists for your lists is reductive, especially when these artists look to the “indie” scene for collaborations and inspiration. Indie artists often face an uphill battle in gaining recognition and inclusion in year-end lists. Their music might not receive the same promotional push or radio play, making it more challenging for them to catch the attention of critics and publications. This disparity perpetuates an imbalanced representation of the music landscape, with lesser-known, deserving artists often falling by the wayside

One might argue that it’s not fair to put the responsibility on journalists or publications to give spotlight to lesser known artists, because at the end of the day big names drive the conversation and clicks. And this is true, after all these are businesses, but let’s not pretend that the pandering of these lists is from an authentic place when we know it’s a capitalistic driven industry. 

Even before the digital, labels have always had an influence on who gets airplay. Remember the good ol’ payola days? I don’t think that influence has gone away, but has changed in format. The influence of labels on media has a ripple effect across the board, and in my opinion inadvertently places an emphasis on promotion and visibility rather than the actual quality of the music. Labels hardly spend time on artist development anymore, and would rather push a viral sensation to the media than help them build a credible following. The need to be on everyone’s list has created a culture that shifts towards a more formulaic approach to music  and contributes to the so-called “microwave” consumption, where listeners are more interested in quick, easily digestible hits rather than deeper, more intricate musical experiences. For example, do you ever notice how quick it takes blogs, podcasters and online magazines to give a project a classic or dud status when it’s only been a few hours since it came out? Everyone wants to have their opinion first, and they want to give their hottakes without spending enough time with the music. Imagine spending months crafting your art, only to have it bashed by someone online as a dud when they haven’t taken time to absorb the essence of the music? I’m not saying music/art should not be critiqued, but this should come from an informed place rather than the need to catch a viral moment for the week.

In conclusion, while year-end music lists serve as a valuable resource for those seeking recommendations and insights into the year’s music, it’s important to be mindful of their limitations. These lists can inadvertently perpetuate the dominance of mainstream artists while sidelining indie talent.  As listeners and music enthusiasts, it is crucial to seek out music beyond the confines of year-end lists, support indie and emerging artists, and appreciate the artistry and dedication that goes into creating music, rather than just its commercial success. By doing so, we can contribute to a more diverse and artistically vibrant musical landscape, one that celebrates both popular hits and the hidden gems of the music world.