I’m referring to the list’s gender breakdown. If I’m not mistaken, there are just 23 records by women artists in the top 200, and only two in the top 50. And that’s a generous count, making room for co-ed acts like The xx, Beach House, and Portishead. Again, we can look to the self-selecting voting base. According to Pitchfork’s own stats, 88% of the poll respondents were men. “The Dudes’ List” might have been a more accurate title.
Still—what the hell is wrong with these dudes? Did it escape their attention that for much of the past decade and a half, female artists have had a stranglehold on the popular music zeitgeist? Have they never heard of Missy Elliott? Can they really prefer The National to M.I.A.’s Kala, to Bjork’s Homogenic, to Joanna Newsom’s Ys? Where are politics in all of this? If you surveyed the roughly 24,600 men who submitted “People’s List” ballots, I wager you’d find nearly 100 percent espousing progressive views on gender issues. This would not be the case if you took a similar survey of pop, R&B, or country music fans—yet a “People’s List” of top recordings in those genres from 1996-2011 with a similar gender breakdown is unimaginable. The fact is, when it comes to the question of women and, um, art, the Top 40’s great unwashed—and even red state Tea Party partisans—are far more progressive and inclusive than the mountain-man-bearded, Fair Trade espresso-swilling, self-styled lefties of indiedom. Portlandia, we have a problem.
But let’s wait a moment before concluding that Pitchfork is just anti-women. After all, it’s one of the very few sites out there that gives women more bylines than men. The lack of female artists on this list seems more like a nasty symptom than the underlying illness. The survey format could be the culprit. Crowd-sourced rankings like these always average out the most interesting choices, allowing the most middle-of-the-road selections to rise to the top. (What’s up, Interpol.) So, in a way, statistics might be to blame for the blandness of the People’s List.
Pitchfork has always been an anal-retentive, numbers-driven machine. Their reviews suggest that there’s a significant gulf between an album given a 6.4 and an album given a 6.5. They draft lists compulsively, attaching stone-cold numerical rankings to albums that emerge from very different contexts. And their reviews often read like a baseball player’s stat sheet, full of record label catalogue numbers, precise recording dates, gear specs, and other obscure figures that make Pitchfork a closer cousin to Sabermetrics, than, say, Rolling Stone. Talking about music in numerical terms codes Pitchfork’s discourse as masculine. That’s not to say that women are scared off by numbers, but geeking out over numbers has long been culturally framed as a “male” activity. (Are there female stat geeks? Sure. But not a very large percentage, we’d guess.) And aside from the issue of gender, discussing music through math simply feels bloodless. In the Pitchforkian approach, music isn’t something to be enjoyed, it’s something to be catalogued. Records aren’t a source of pleasure, they’re widgets that need to be placed into vertically-descending cubbyholes.
Yes, in the Pitchforkian approach. Can you believe those philistines, reducing art and entertainment to numerical quantification, rather than understanding culture as a battle of White Penises vs. Multihued Vaginas, as all right-thinking people should? The Pitchforkian approach, as opposed to the demographically correct approach of small-minded bureaucratic bean-counters like ourselves, who would squeal with delight if iTunes would allow us to view our library as a color swatch, a pie chart, or a genitalia count so that, in the totally unlikely event that we should ever be tempted to leave some aspects of life unsullied by crude agit-prop, we could quickly be reminded of our priorities. Ooh! Maybe it could even produce a composite sketch based on the racial/sexual makeup of our libraries, so it could sit there in the sidebar and shame us with its gaze!
“Dude, your iTunes composite’s looking a little too White Broheim today! Whassup with that?”
“Aww, man, I know, but I just downloaded some John Denver and Kenny G this morning, so that threw it off. Don’t worry, I’ll add some Voices of Forgotten Worlds later to even it out!”