- Sfio Cracho / Shutterstock.com
- A critic contemplates life as a click-bait magnet.
In this era of fake news and unbearable pundits, even the media have come to hate the media. And that goes double for critics, who were never particularly well-liked in the first place. In fact, music fans today appear more likely to be swayed by Facebook friends than album reviews. And the same goes for year-end critics lists, whose primary purpose at this point is to serve as click-bait and trolling fodder.
Even so, there are shiny bits of wisdom to be gleaned from 2016's largely indistinguishable motherlode of Album of the Year lists. Here are five of them:
1. No good music ever comes out in December.
How do we know this? Because most year-end Top 10s are posted in late November or early December. This year, more than 50 widely known and reasonably respected media outlets had delivered their final verdict on or before December 7. Among them are Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, The Washington Post, Fuse, The New York Times, Noisey, The Quietus, Classic Rock, Mother Jones, Revolver, American Songwriter, Esquire, The Irish Times, Cracked Magazine, KCRW, Stereogum, the Chicago Tribune, The Independent (U.K.), and Paste Magazine.
The fact is, that from a music industry perspective, December doesn't even exist. Major labels traditionally drop their best-known releases well before the holiday shopping season gets underway. Critics, meanwhile, are eager to get their own year-end lists online before everyone else does.
2. Everybody loves a dead rock star.
Take, for example, the above publications. Nearly one-third of those critics chose the late David Bowie's Blackstar as either their No. 1 or 2 picks for Album of the Year. It's been said that death is the ultimate career move, which, it can be argued, is literally true. It's also doubtful that many music critics would be able to name even two of the 10 other studio albums that Bowie released after 1983's Let's Dance.
3. All critics basically like the same music.
That's why all the lists your friends share will include several of the following albums: Bowie's aforementioned Blackstar, Beyoncé's Lemonade, Frank Ocean's Blonde, Radiohead's A Moon-Shaped Pool, Solange's A Seat at the Table, Nick Cave's Skeleton Tree, Chance the Rapper's Coloring Book, Kanye's The Life of Pablo, Car Seat Headrest's Teens of Denial, Bon Iver's A Million, Leonard Cohen's You Want It Darker, Rihanna's Anti and Iggy Pop's Post Pop Depression. If for any reason that turns out not to be the case, then your friends are too self-consciously hip and need to be replaced.
4. Music fans are hopelessly obsessed with critics' Top 10s.
Need proof? Share a link to a high-profile Album of the Year article on Facebook. Then sit back and watch as it draws more comments and emoji than your most heartfelt, soul-baring posts.
5. It's still a major label world, and the rest of us just live in it.
See sections 1-4.
Following is a list of the albums that most often appear on this year's Top 10 lists, as aggregated by the website Metacritic.
1. Blackstar by David Bowie
2. Lemonade by Beyoncé
3. Blonde by Frank Ocean
4. A Seat at the Table by Solange
5. A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead
6. Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper
7. Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
8. The Life of Pablo by Kanye West
9. We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service by A Tribe Called Quest
10. My Woman by Angel Olsen