Dear 2004 Pazz & Jop voter: In an effort to provide more points of entry for younger readers, we’re making some small changes in our poll. First, we’re asking that you vote for just three records. Research showed that the old method of assigning points to 10 albums came across, as one focus-group participant noted, “all like math and stuff.” And for layout purposes, please keep your comments between 12 and 16 characters. One easy way to abbreviate your thoughts is by replacing the verb “to be” with punctuation—for example, “Beyoncé: Hott!!” or “OutKast? Genius!”
Bordentown, New Jersey
In one channel in one week, I encountered the following quality arts programming: 100 Hottest Hotties, 40 Greatest Celebrity Feuds, Hot Mamas, Makeout Moments, Centerfold Babylon, Marriages, Britney Vs. Christina, Rock Bodies, Bad Girls, Celebrity Breakups 2, The Fabulous Life of Paris Hilton, Reality TV Secrets, and All Access—Totally Naked. Is this the E channel, filled as always with Maxim-style soft-porn triteness? Nope. It’s VH1, which some fans once turned to when MTV gave music the heave.
The problem is, being a pop star these days often means being a star of pop culture, not pop music.
St. Paul, Minnesota
Beyoncé’s crowning moment this year was surely at the MTV Music Awards, where she segued from “Baby Boy” to “Crazy in Love” via a conga line of shaking derrieres. This cavalcade of booty was a bit lascivious, yes, but anyone—male or female—who wasn’t captivated by the perform- ance’s grand union of sound, movement, and spectacle clearly has no love for Hollywood’s great musicals either.
Bizzers have lowered their expectations and defined music not as art, not as entertainment or distraction or narcosis, but as something that attaches itself to bigger and sexier things, like movies, celebrities, or TV shows. At the highest stage of corporate synergy, every media form is parasitic on every other.
You know what I like about Kazaa? It causes people to have an actual opinion about capitalism, as opposed to just accepting that shit as if it were simply the nature of reality. File sharing has opened more minds to potent political issues than anything else this side of war. Stuff is already sold at the highest prices people can be persuaded to pay for it. That’s not price-fixing, or gouging—that’s a pure basic axiom of capitalism. The only thing that causes new low prices is people’s unwillingness to pay the old high prices. If you believe in the greatest good for the greatest number, in the affordable CD for poor kids in the next neighborhood, it is imperative that you download stuff for free all the time, as a sort of public service. And tell Interscope, DreamWorks, and Matador I said so.
When the RIAA lawsuits hit, I decided: That’s it, you assholes, when you start trying to destroy people who are nothing to you so regulatory agencies will approve your mergers, your means have become unjustifiable. I am no longer buying non-used copies of anything on the RIAA’s member labels. There are plenty of other good things to spend money on.
CD sales rebounded strongly in the fourth quarter with year-against-year increases in 12 of the last 14 weeks. This isn’t a business trend you’ve read about because it doesn’t suit the RIAA’s purposes. Much better to lobby Washington for anti-consumer legislation if the politicians believe your industry is struggling, yet still able to afford expensive lunches.
Bronfman’s purchase of WEA for, what, $1.3 billion puts an embarrassingly high valuation on a business that claims it is desperately in need of protection.It recalls major league baseball teams—which notoriously lose money while appreciating tenfold in 20 years. Of course, that’s another business that the Bronfmans know something about.
What is theft? Is it (a) some college kid downloading songs from a file-sharing server; (b) the industry charging 100 percent markup on wack CDs; (c) the industry milking catalog and not paying the writers and performers a nickel; (d) the industry forcing an artist to pay all expenses on a project out of his/her 11-12 cents on the dollar while inflating costs and locking down masters and publishing; or (e) all of the above?
Brooklyn, New York
This was a great year for metal, indie rock, noise rock, garage rock, garage rap, underground hip-hop, overground hip-hop, country, jazz, electronica, lots of things. And corporate oligopoly and cluelessly vengeful industry panic didn’t stop any of these from evolving before our eyes, as long as we kept them open.
Brooklyn, New York
“The studio system is dead. It died . . . when the corporations took over and the studio heads suddenly became agents and lawyers and accountants. The power is with the people now. The workers have the means of production!” George Lucas, circa 1970. Ain’t it funny how the outsiders become fat cats?
Studio City, California
The sooner all of the major labels merge into one big label, the better, because when it eventually goes bankrupt it’s just a matter of time before Lars Ulrich can get down to doing what he really wants: coming to your house personally to beat you up.
Ladies and gentlemen, we got him. It took 10 years to find a suspect in the rape and murder of Gits singer Mia Zapata, 27. Thanks to DNA evidence, on January 11, 2003, a suspect was charged. The news triggered an impulse to vomit rather than sigh relief.
Brooklyn, New York
So, uh, is R. Kelly even in trouble at this point? How long does it take to go to trial in Cook County, couple 30 years, or what?
What Stacy’s mom’s solo album would sound like: Liz Phair.
What Stacy’s dad’s solo album would sound like: Rod Stewart, As Time Goes By . . . .
What Stacy’s solo album would sound like before she heard “Stacy’s Mom”: the Donnas, Spend the Night.
What Stacy’s solo album would sound like after she heard “Stacy’s Mom”: the Distillers, Coral Fang.
Karen O is cool. She doesn’t want to meet my mama, she just wants to be my Bananarama. She is hot-blooded, she is cold as ice, she is Girl George, she is Beyoncé the Valley of the Dolls. To tell the truth, I wouldn’t introduce Karen to my mama anyway, not without a chaperone, because Mom’s still happily in love with Dad and I’m not taking any risks.
Brooklyn, New York
Love octagon of the year: the feisty Brody Dalle, the stealthy Josh Homme, the busy Dave Grohl, the late Kurt Cobain, the confused Courtney Love, the multifaceted Linda Perry, the missundaztood Pink, and the dejected Tim Armstrong. In their family portrait they look pretty crappy.
I played Anthony Hamilton nonstop for girlfriends, neighbors, and musicians, not to mentionthat man I probably still love but shouldn’t.
Brooklyn, New York
So now the young Black man, having waxed so eloquently about guns, blunts, and be-a-tches, will speak of love. Of biblical love and filial love, undesirable love and unrequited love, terrifying love and heavenly love, of Hottentot Madonna love and other hookerlicious oxymoronic forms of love, of goddess cult love, of love for hearth and home and of love cast out into the wilderness. Andre 3000 y’all.
Dear Postal Service “Singing” over “beats”? That’s called “r&b,” crackers. Better withdraw that patent application.
I saw Junior Senior perform four times, and each time they gave me that this-is-why-I’ve-dedicated-my-life-to-music rush belying all the fears of a year that suggests the culture and industry upon which my profession is founded is going down the toilet.
San Francisco, California
Postal Service, M83, Matmos, Matthew Dear, Fennesz, Ellen Allien, even self-dethroning Radiohead reached a new symbiosis between consumer-grade electronics, the dystopian technological now-future, and the romantic bedroom artist.
Providence, Rhode Island
Every year is a great year for music because music is a language delivery system evolving at the speed of technology.
I’m biding time till Apple releases an “iRecord Store Clerk”who can scowl at me and ridicule my every purchase. Then I’m on board.
One thing I’ve never seen remarked about Lester Bangs is his two prescient heavenly-jukebox fantasies. He used the image of a catacomb housing every album ever released, and he imagined a future with TV channels showing Sun Ra jamming with Iggy and every movie ever released in perfect chronological order.
Can I cast a Pazz & Jop vote for my iPod? For the La Monte Young double-CD-R sets at Other Music, which a clerk told me were “semi-legal”? For exclusive downloads on the Steve Jobs Music Store? For my friend Rich’s year-end mix CD?
Very little is so grim that it can’t be made thrilling by pop, because pop’s only duty is to thrill. The Minister for Culture declared that U.K. Garage glamorized violence: well, yes, of course it glamorized violence. It set violence to the sound of PlayStations having a cockfight. Pop in 2003 also glamorized sex, love, war, getting angry about war, getting high, getting dumped, and itself. Business as usual, then.
Music is about God to me, and God definitely has a sense of humor.
In homage to Jay-Z, I’d like to say: Thank you God my personal savior, whether you are man woman or simply energy, the omniscient ether making me the best list-maker on earth, and forcing all those other unfortunate suckas to step up their game once I am gone. You are truly divine.
What separates White Stripes and OutKast from other notionally mainstream artists is that neither is daunted by the obligation to make transcendent music. For them, mythic significance is just another cool toy to play with.
In a year when American culture sucked cigarette butts through a lint screen, music sucked less than anything else—less than TV, less than the movies, less than the news media. It’s the only corner of pop culture where the sex drive outpaced the death drive.
Brooklyn, New York
My only request to the 21st-century recording industry remains: “Astonish me!”