by carl wilson

Cap'n Jackin' Pop Will Get You High Tonight
(in the Statistical Rankings, That Is)


As the Times reported yesterday, the newbie Idolator website has stepped up to offer an alternative to the Village Voice's long-running Pazz & Jop annual critics' poll, by creating the "Jackin' Pop" poll. The move comes in response to calls from many in the critical community - including me, both on this site and on the I Love Music online message boards (currently on hiatus) - for a boycott and replacement of P&J; since the Voice fired both the poll's creator, Robert Christgau, and its presiding spirit of recent years, Chuck Eddy, earlier this year. The Voice was for decades the hub of intellectually rigorous and musically wide-ranging pop criticism in North America. The new owners' move was explicitly to get rid of the intellect and the range, so to my mind they've forfeited the credibility to be the place critics collectively "meet" to assess the year past.

I do think that function's important, partly to perpetuate dialogue and partly for the historical record: The P&J; serves as the best marker of critical reception we've got: If you want to suss out the profile of a year in pop history, you look at the Billboard charts and the P&J; for that period and you've got the best quick time capsule you can crack. Sure, maybe in the future something like Metacritic will turn out to be the true substitute, but P&J; so far has had a bigger sample and a grittier, grainier texture, with all of the correlations to critics' individual ballots and their comments. And on the consumer side, I still know plenty of people who use it to pay catch-up on the previous year's releases. Music fans still like lists, and P&J; is the list of lists.

The initial talk of a boycott was met with predictable "it's not worth politicizing" complaints, but from a critic's point of view, there's also a straightforward professional issue: If you play along with two of the most respected and senior voices in the entire rock-crit field being treated this way, you send publication managers the message that you're a doormat. Freelance and staff writers get plenty of opportunity to show editors and publishers how little power we have on a daily basis - why reinforce that imbalance by volunteering to do unpaid work to help a writer-hostile publication put out one of its highest-profile and most prestigious products of the year? It just seemed blood-stupid.

I thought Pitchfork might be the ones to raise their hands, but on ILM they said that they considered it then decided to stick with their own staff poll, preserving the site's default insular quality (which isn't entirely a bad thing). I've been agnostic on Idolator so far in its few months' of existence - it's an entertaining site, with decent taste in music, but the quick-hits-and-gossip model inherited from its Gawker parent, plus mp3s, isn't exactly a direction I'd cheer as the future of music criticism. I really hoped that Paper Thin Walls would volunteer, as the place where Chuck Eddy and some of his stable of writers have migrated sinice the Voice firings, and one with a more essayistic bent. In general, it'd be more comforting if the new poll were happening in a venue with a bit more of an established berth, one that you could feel more sure would still be here next year.

Still, Idolator has started off right with a name paying tribute to the lame-o handle of the poll's predecessor, and Idolator made an especially savvy move by picking Michaelangelo Matos, the former music editor of Seattle Weekly and the text portion of Emusic, to oversee Jackin' Pop. Not only is Matos a total list-head who'll apply scrupulous, persnickety math to the exercise (which is a necessity), he's a widely respected writer (viz his super book in the 33 1/3 series on Prince's Sign o' the Times, among many other great pieces), and someone deeply embedded in the critical community. Unlike GW Bush, he really is a uniter. In fact, as a younger person with more of a dance-music background than Eddy or Xgau, he's likely to broaden the base of critics, to get more non-rock people, which may help make the ultimate results more varied and surprising - maybe Bob Dylan and the Hold Steady won't win after all. Many thanks to Matos, who has reportedly been banned from Village Voice Media/New Times, his former employer, for his troubles.

It remains to be seen how many critics participate - people from the daily newspapers and regional weeklies who don't get as involved in intramural discussions or dabble on the Internets. (Did Eddy take his contact list with him, and is he going to share?) The Voice has resolved to keep holding P&J;, so this year at least we'll have two versions to compare and contrast - all more grist for discussion, which is the true pleasure of these rigamaroles in the end. And maybe they'll convince Christgau to present his annual dean's address as part of the package, in his inimitable oft-convoluted but always insightful manner? Everyone bitches aout it, but I'll miss it if it's gone.

Speaking of lists, by the way, the new issue of Exclaim has their annual best-of list, one of the more comprehensive in Canada. And here it is December. Let the games begin.

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Friday, December 01 at 11:23 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)



Speaking of ilm, did you see the thread on this?

Posted by nicko on December 2, 2006 9:37 PM



Great news that Pazz & Jopp is getting a new home. I have to catch myself every time I reach for the VV bookmark on my Firefox, remembering just in time that all the brilliance I used to read there is long gone. Folks should know too that former film ed Dennis Lim is reviving the Voice's equally valuable film critics poll on indiewire.

Posted by jason on December 1, 2006 5:07 PM



Agreed that Matos is a great choice for the new Pooh-Bah. And I hope Christgau does his essay -- I always look forward to it.

Posted by john on December 1, 2006 4:43 PM



hear, hear.
the village voice deserves a full-on boycott from everyone in this profession for the way they've treated valuable employees and leading lights in the last year. go and listen to back episodes of "democracy now" for interviews with those involved. it's impossible not to see the situation there as a harbinger for the death of arts journalism in the urban weeklies.
this is about much more than a list.

Posted by barclay on December 1, 2006 1:44 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson