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Why are top 10 lists so boring?

Mr. Miyagi enjoying a second career as a popular music critic.
Mr. Miyagi enjoying a second career as a popular music critic.

Guess what? It's that time of year again! You know, when every music critic in America assembles a top 10 list not only to tout their good taste and the like, but to let their bosses know they're not asleep at the wheel after all. They're not only on the culture bus, they're driving it too!

Top 10 lists are a great way to sell magazines, records, even to push traffic through a blog. They're certainly fun to read - you get to scowl at the terrible selections or praise yourself for having musical preferences that are perfectly aligned with the tastemakers of today.  That's all they are though - and they're certainly not any indication of lasting culture. Here's why. 

  1. Approximately 2-3 years after the creation of a top 10 list, no one cares about 75% of the songs, artists, or albums on the aforementioned list. Whatever happened to The Hives? The Cranberries?
  2. More than a few top 10s have been "bought out" by record labels and management companies - maybe that's cynical, but it's not too far-fetched, is it? How else would Bruce Springsteen's recorded output over the last decade have made the Rolling Stone list every time? 
  3. Top 10s are a great place to show you've been reading Pitchfork every day at work for the last year. Grizzly Bear live was your highlight of the year? Really? That's about as entertaining as watching paint dry while listening to a tape of my grandma snoring. 
  4. Why is it always top 10? Why not top 23, or top 14? Is 10 supposed to be a good way to limit choices so no undeserving music creeps into the list? Let's not even get started on "honorable mentions." That's basically a consolation prize. 
  5. Top 10s are just a highly advanced form of peer pressure. If you read between the lines, here's what's actually being written : "Listen to the new Phoenix record you ignorant fool! If you don't, everyone will point and laugh at you!" In situations like this one, try the broken record approach. Just repeat this line: "Sorry, I'm not interested in buying a Cadillac today, thanks."