The Problem With Pitchfork’s Top 200 Lists

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The Problem With Pitchfork’s Top 200 Lists

Denis Mardesich, A&E Editor

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In early October of 2019 Pitchfork released their 200 best songs and albums of the decade lists to a negative public response, this is what they did wrong.

 Pitchfork is a music website that gained notoriety in the 2000s for its music reviews and large influence on the shape of the indie music of the last decade. Despite this, they still have been the subject of a lot of controversy over the years, mainly due to misrepresenting artists and giving them a bad name through their reviews. The site has also been criticized for favoring albums and artists with progressive themes in reviews, putting less of a focus on the actual quality of music. Their new lists have many of the same problems, and show many of the issues that the site has.

For starters, both lists don’t do a good job of actually representing the sonic variety of this decade. They completely disregard certain genres like metal, noise, drone, post rock, and industrial music despite their being many releases in al of those genres that are among the decades best. The lists seem to be ignorant towards experimental music, turning a blind eye towards landmark releases in the world of experimental music to give another spot to a Drake single. Despite the occasional pick of a stand out record like The Money Store, artists like Xiu Xiu, Swans, and Daughters are completely absent from the spotlight because of their non-accessible sound.

This lack of experimental and underground releases tends to result in artists getting heavily overrated with their placements. A great example of this is Robyn getting multiple spots across both of the lists, despite the fact that her music isn’t great, and that there are better releases in the same genre that aren’t getting any attention on this list.

Whenever an artist is given a deserving spot on the list, it seems that Pitchfork picks the wrong album or song. Selecting detroit rapper Danny Brown’s XXX mixtape was a great pick on Pitchfork’s part but it came along with a complete disregard for his other, far better record Atrocity Exhibition.  This happens multiple times on the albums list, also happening for artists Young Thug and Car Seat Headrest. 

Detroit rapper Danny Brown’s 2016 album Atrocity Exhibition received a lot of critical praise, but was missing from Pitchfork’s album list, making it one of the many projects that were absent from the Top 200.

Another issue that is apparent on this list is that a lot of the music selected by Pitchfork is bland or unoriginal sonically, and quality is something that is a pretty important factor in a best of list. Although there arguably is an absence of truly terrible music on both lists aside from maybe a handful of singles, there is a majority amount of mediocre records and songs all over these lists. These picks are usually in the pop genre, and are made even worse when considering that Pitchfork ignored many of the decade’s most acclaimed music. Someone like Lil Ugly Mane definitely deserved a pot over Chvrches, but he didn’t get one and nor did many others. 

Pitchfork also manages to carry their typical bias towards some artists too, including the aforementioned Robin, they seem to favor many artists above others. Arcade Fire and Bon Iver both show up on these lists, and both are known for being praised by Pitchfork in the 2000s. Frank Ocean also seems to be favored, not only getting album of the decade, but also getting a spot in the top 10 albums twice. Along with this, people like Beyonce and Drake get heavily overrated by the site. This can be seen when Beyonce’s self-titled record, which isn’t even her best, gets placed over Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, an album that is a musical achievement and one of the most well respected records in the history of music. 

Despite all these flaws though, there are some good things about these lists. Pitchfork pays respect to the massively popular trap genre by crediting artists like Young Thug, Playboi Carti, and Future as some of the best artists of the decade and recognizing their influences on hip hop. They also recognize the influence of Chief Keef’s Chicago “drill” style of trap.

The list seems to have quite a few good picks for hip hop overall, giving well deserved placements to people like Kanye West and Run The Jewels. They even get some more underground picks like Quelle Chris and Jean Grae’s Everything’s Fine.

Despite these minor achievements though, it still is easy to see that this list is definitely a misrepresentation of the wonderful music of the 2010s. The fact that so much was missed and overlooked by Pitchfork is sad to see. For every great pick on this list, there seemed to be five bad ones that came with it. However, whether your favorite music was on these lists or not, it’s great to reflect on the achievements musicians have made throughout the decade and to wonder what will come next.