Pitchfork’s ‘People’s List’ cause for self-reflection

By From page B1 | August 24, 2012

decicco column sig

Earlier this month, music website Pitchfork.com decided to celebrate its first 15 years by hosting a “People’s List,” a listener-submitted poll culminating with a list of the top 200 albums from 1996 to 2011.

The results, issued Wednesday, revealed British alt-rockers Radiohead with the top two spots, three in the top 10 and five total in the list — no alarms and no surprises there. Only Kanye West matched them for appearances as all five of his LPs made the cut.

The outcome generated controversy, too. Slate.com and the Los Angeles Times music blog Pop and Hiss called the People’s List out for its lack of gender and racial equity. Slate’s Jody Rosen called the list a “scandal.”

Looking at the numbers, the first album to include a woman as a band member checks in at No. 3, with Arcade Fire’s co-lead singer Régine Chassagne. The first by a nonwhite is West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” at No. 9. The highest placing by a female solo artist is Björk’s “Homogenic” all the way down at No. 51.

It’s even possible to break down the results regionally. San Franciscans selected Radiohead’s “OK Computer” in the top spot just like the overall list, West’s “Fantasy” at No. 7 and no female solo artists appear in the top 20.

A few more stats from Pitchfork: just shy of 28,000 listeners voted, listing more than 116,000 albums.

My response to Slate and Pop and Hiss’ knee-jerk reaction is to have one of my own, as there are points to the contrary that deserve mention.

Of those 28,000 voters, a puny 12 percent were female. Stats were not kept on the voters’ racial backgrounds.

So, in what is colloquially a male-dominated industry, an audience of roughly 25,000 men chose albums primarily performed by white men? You’d better call Ripley because I don’t believe it.

Without the statistics concerning the racial makeup of the voters, that aspect is harder to discuss.

How Slate can acknowledge that Pitchfork is as much a niche publication as XXL and then criticize it for being one is confusing. Gender equity is not demonstrated by looking at the results of a reader-submitted poll from which the responders are largely males between the ages 16 and 40.

Gawker.com raised a salient point: All of the highest-rated albums in the People’s List also were highly rated by Pitchfork itself. Every album in the list’s top 10 received a grade of 9/10 or higher.

“McDonald’s customers like Big Macs, Bravo viewers like affluent trash and Pitchfork readers like Pitchfork-approved albums,” Rich Juzwiak wrote.

I am open to a measure of self-reflection as well. Of the 100 albums I submitted, nine feature a woman’s name on the spine and seven more are by co-ed groups. Just one album is by a solo artist who is neither white nor male.

I have to agree with Slate that this is alarmingly disproportionate and not at all in keeping with my own values.

So why my strong affection for white dudes? I think it’s human nature — people tend to identify with those who look like them and maybe, subconsciously, I do the same. Musically.

It’s the People’s List, not the Populist’s List. The results should not be viewed as a defense or criticism of Pitchfork. I think it’s pointless and picking the wrong target to criticize a publication for its audience.

The only statistic that spins the focus back on Pitchfork and its staff and away from those who constructed the list is Gawker’s point about the highly rated albums doing best. It does suggest a sheepish mentality by its listeners. I can’t claim to be above it — every one of the albums in the People’s List’s top 10 appears in my own top 100.

It also raises some questions worth asking myself, including, most uncomfortably, do I actually think women and nonwhites don’t make records that are as good as white men?

As someone who considers himself a music connoisseur, my brain tells me I like good music regardless of the performer’s skin color or gender.

Subconsciously, I certainly hope that’s true, too.

To read more of Nick DeCicco’s blogs, visit http://dailyrepublic.typepad.com/forthoseabouttorock. Follow him on Twitter @ndeciccodr.

Nick DeCicco

Nick DeCicco

Nick DeCicco is the editor of the Tailwind and writes the pop culture blog/column For Those About to Rock. Before joining the DR staff in July 2007, DeCicco (pronounced Deh-CEE-Coh) worked at The Union in Grass Valley, Calif., and the Greeley Tribune in Greeley, Colo. A 2004 graduate of the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, DeCicco spends his free time attending concerts, listening to music, going to movies, traveling and hiking.

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