Year-end lists puzzle me. Do they puzzle you, too?
Maybe it’s because so few of us listen to the same music, watch the same movies and read the same books anymore. Yes, our media consumption habits really have fractured into a million little pieces.
So, let’s talk about music. Everyone loves music. Music is everywhere. It’s on the TV, it’s on the radio, it’s on your phone, it’s on the internet. You make music, too. Everyone makes music.
I don’t think the average person has listened to most of the albums that pop up on year-end lists. I’m not sure they even knew they were out at all.
And I get that these lists are supposed to highlight things that people may have glossed over, but there is just SO. MUCH. MUSIC out there.
Given that knowledge, can we definitively say the music that makes it on to these lists is the best? Probably not. It’s just the tip of the iceberg. So, instead, we should say: HERE’S A PARTIAL LIST OF ‘STUFF’ THAT CAME OUT THIS YEAR.
And I don’t see anything wrong with that. At a time when following the myriad scenes, genres and micro-genres gets more chaotic by the day, that’s a mature and sensible way of presenting a year in music.
Really, there is just an endless supply of music being released hour by hour. You have a year-end list of the best? You’re kidding me. You are officially Neo in the Matrix. Or, God.
But even if you were able to fully grasp and get a handle on a music industry that has gone full-on fire-hose— spraying content all over the internet, all the time— I still don’t know if year-end lists have any real utility for the average listener.
Think about it like this— so much of the media we consume today lives on the internet, right? I mean, it’s not like many of us are buying CDs and DVDs anymore (although I’m sure some people still are).
So, if what we’re consuming is in some vast online pool— fuck it, let’s call it the cloud— and it’s all mashed up in there together, well, the year that something was released doesn’t make all that much of a difference, does it?
Old and new is all right there in the same place and requires the same amount of keystrokes on your keyboard or touchscreen to get to it, so in theory, it’s totally plausible that to many listeners the best album of 2014 was something that came out thirty years ago.
It’s the same with other forms of media.
Now that we’ve got Netflix, Amazon, the Kindle, all these on-demand content services, it’s way too easy to dive into something that was released years ago than it is to waste time trying to keep up with what critics, friends and big media companies are trying to sell you.
And the plus side is that you don’t waste your time with something that is just the flavor of the month, being talked about only because it’s something to talk about, because everyone needs something to talk about.
Instead, you already know that what you’re about to listen to, watch or read, is awesome. Because history has told you it’s awesome. It has withstood the test of time.
And even if it’s just some crap that got overlooked years ago, because that’s what happens to so much great art, it’s so easy to take a deep dive into it now. It’s so easy to get lost in a world that is so far from what everyone is talking about, that it makes these best-of lists seem rather benign.
I’m not writing this as a take-down of the media, or the people who make these lists. I work in media. I make these lists, too. But I’ve realized, after watching attention spans become increasingly fractured, even my own, how impossibly difficult it has become to whittle everything down to a succinct best of list.
Maybe fifteen, twenty years ago, this was easier to do. There were three television networks and cable was still a joke. You had a few major record labels, people listened to the radio and there were a handful of bankable stars. Bookstores didn’t have millions of self-published novels instantly accessible via the click of a button.
It was the monoculture, for real.
Now, it’s just not the same. When it comes to new content, we have too many choices, and those choices are too easy to consume.
If a new musician catches your ear, you don’t sit and listen to an album front to back anymore. You check out a track and if you like what you hear— maybe, just maybe— you dig a little deeper into their catalog.
Otherwise, before you even get to do that, a new song from some other new artist is headed your way, and you probably already forgot the last one.
Because who has time for all this shit, anyway?
The stuff people are really into— the real best of 2014— is much harder to pin down. Maybe we should all stop trying to.
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