You can’t really know where you’re headed unless you know where you’ve been. For that reason, we’re taking a look back at Pazz & Jop 2012 to drill down into the ballots of contributors and voters who participated. Maybe amongst the rubble we’ll find clues about what lies ahead for music lovers in 2013. Here, music writer Rob Sheffield defends his ballot.
– Pazz and Jop 2012 Table of Contents
Rob Sheffield. Who are you, how many times have you voted in Pazz & Jop, and WHY CAN WE TRUST YOU?
Thanks Eric! Who am I?… My name is Rob Sheffield. I write for Rolling Stone. I have a book coming out this summer about karaoke. I have written two other books, Love Is A Mix Tape and Talking To Girls About Duran Duran.
I have been a Pazz & Jop voter since 1988. My first ballot, my top albums were the Pet Shop Boys, Morrissey and Scritti Politti, along with Sonic Youth and Stetsasonic and Public Enemy. My top singles were Lita Ford’s “Kiss Me Deadly” and Eric B. & Rakim’s “Follow The Leader.” So obviously I can’t be trusted at all.
I’m not sure if you want to know this, but I was born in 1987. How does that make you feel?
That makes me feel like you are awesome. The day you were born I was probably blasting Pussy Galore or Salt-N-Pepa and feeling a strange disturbance in the force.
Looking at your ballot, there’s an unsurprising amount of diversity in your choices. What was your biggest surprise of 2012? When you first heard the Japandroids record, did you know that’d be your number one?
2012 was an insanely great year for music, all over the spectrum. I love how ridiculous and obvious the Japandroids record is. There isn’t a single subtle moment on that entire album. The first time I put it on, I thought, “They have to be kidding, right?” It was like hearing the Pet Shop Boys. These guys are to the Hold Steady what the Pet Shop Boys were to New Order.
Did you see them live this year?
I saw them live a couple times this year. I saw them at Webster Hall in December. It was cartoonishly great. The backpack beard-o in front of me yelled all the words to everything and we did the full-on stranger-hug sing-along together in “The Nights of Wine And Roses,” right when we were yelling “like hell to the heavens.” It was one of my favorite live moments of the year.
They were great this summer at Music Hall of Williamsburg, and right after the show I ran about 20 blocks to see White Lung at Tommy’s Tavern, which was a total sweatbox blast. That was one of the muggiest nights of the summer, too.
In their way they’re as deeply weird as Future. That combination of total overstatement excess and total brain-as-separate-universe egomania.
By the way, when in 1987 were you born, Eric?
June 18th, 1987. I share the same birthday as Roger Ebert.
OK, you know what’s weird? I saw the Replacements the night after you were born. It was June 19, 1987, at Toad’s Place in New Haven. Every moment of that show is permanently fried onto my brain. (I’d already seen them with Bob Stinson, but this was my first Replacements show with Slim Dunlap on guitar.) It was one of the mightiest rock shows I’ve ever seen, actually, the whole masses-of-kids-screaming-“Left of the Dial” bit.
I must have realized on some cosmic level somebody cool was just arriving on this planet.
This is arguably the best compliment I have ever received, and I thank you for it. Let’s talk about Taylor Swift. I know you’re a Ke$ha fan (your number three album a couple years ago, if I remember correctly), but she didn’t break your top 10, and Taylor did. What about Taylor was so appealing this year, and how did she separate herself from the rest of the pop spectrum?
Taylor really made a better Ke$ha record than Ke$ha did this year! Ke$ha’s trying to do the sincerity thing and that’s cool, she’ll get over that.
Taylor is a pop mastermind on the level of Prince. Also, I guess they both really like songs about making out with red cars.
Where do you stand on the “I don’t know about you / but I’m feelin’ 22” issue?
To be honest, “22” was the only song on the record that had to grow on me. It seemed too cutesy and cheeky at first, but once I stopped thinking about it, I came to love it. My favorite song on the record has got to be “We Are Never Ever,” though. Such a jam. I was at a party this past fall, a couple months after going through a breakup, and — needless to say — dancing to that song and singing along was a very cathartic moment. She really knows how to write a hook.
“22” totally cracks me up. Taylor sounds like she’s taking an extremely blah weekend and treating it like this trippy adventure. Of course, when I was 22, my summer jam was Morrissey’s “Suedehead,” which is kind of the same song as “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”
Your Future-to-Japandroids connection is interesting, and I can’t say I’ve heard that. Future’s growth in popularity over the past year was one of the most fascinating. “Turn on the Lights” is such a sexy song. Did you love Future immediately, or grow into it? What about Future appeals to you?
Future kept killing me softly over the radio. Every time he’d come out with another hit, I’d think, how the hell does this guy get away with it? “Turn Out The Lights” was the first, but I came to love “Astronaut Chick” even better. And it looks like I was the only critic to vote for “Astronaut Chick,” so it’s possible I just have uniquely dubious tastes.
“Astronaut Chick” is such a jam, and I love that you have a Future deep cut on your ballot. Do you think he’ll continue to appeal, or will the weirdness factor run out?
I have no idea where Future will go from here — anywhere he wants, I guess. I mean, this is a guy who actually recorded the line “You got me wishing I speak Spanish / You got me feeling real mannish,” and kept it on the record. That’s an artist with zero inhibitions.
Speaking of “weird,” Kanye West, even though he just released a “mob” album (can we call it that?), still managed to pretty much define 2012 with “Mercy,” your number five single. How awesome is that song? But with that in mind, do you think Kanye will continue his reign? People seemed to have a blah response to GOOD Music (not me — put it at number 10). Are we starting to see the end of Kanye?
People have been predicting the end of Kanye for years now, but I just don’t see it happening. He loves music even more than he loves being famous, and even if he weren’t famous anymore he’d keep making music. He doesn’t need to be the star on his own records (think of “Mercy” or “Monster”) — he’s happy to hang in the background if that makes it a better record. That’s a rare quality in any kind of pop star. I think whatever his fame level is, he’ll adjust to make music on that level.
I can’t get over how great “Mercy” is. Are there songs on GOOD Music you think people are snoozing on?
My issue with people’s beef with GOOD Music is that, if we hadn’t gotten “Mercy,” “New God Flow,” “Clique,” or “Cold” throughout the year, prior to the release, people would’ve lost their shit when that hit, just like they did when Watch the Throne dropped at midnight on a Sunday.
I know you’re a busy guy, so I don’t want to take up too much more of your time. So, with that in mind, what sort of music trends do you see continuing into 2013? Do you have any predictions for Pazz & Jop 2013?
You’re 100 percent right about “Mercy.” It got better with time. It took months for that song to fully sink in and take its place in people’s central nervous systems. That’s usually how music works, I guess. people get so excited about the whole event-release social-media first-ism aspect of a record like Watch The Throne or King of Limbs. But it takes time to absorb music (i.e. Watch the Throne still sounds great, King of Limbs gets good in the second half). Human bodies respond to music over time in different ways, and that’s part of where the surprises are. Kanye understands that, which is one of my favorite things about him.
All I know about 2013 is that nothing I predict will happen the way I think it will, and I will hear all kinds of surprises I never could have imagined possible. Music is always full of surprises.
Fantastic. Man, I love Kanye. I think we’re gonna get another solo Kanye record this year. It seems like it’s time. But, that’s something we could talk all day about, and time is precious. Thanks for your time, Rob!
Thanks again, Eric! I really appreciate your patience in setting this up and making it happen. Always a blast hearing what you are thinking about music and everything else. It cracks me up I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing the night after you were born. I will now blast “Kids Won’t Follow” in your honor!
Interview by Eric Sundermann.