Sunday, 11 December 2011

Lists, Lists, Lists

Lists are a strange thing. When I say 'lists' I don't mean the factual kind e.g. Forbes Rich List, or 100 Best Selling Albums, but the kind that are a permanent feature on blogs and review sites at this the twilight stage of the year. Lists of the opinionate variety , lists which are completely subjective and dependent upon the tastes and whims of the person compiling them. What is it about 'Best Of' lists that compel us to read them, write them and undoubtably argue over them?

I read an article on the Guardian website yesterday which gave an interesting account of the end of year lists that many of us concern ourselves with. My own view is that lists provide a useful service if they are understood in the correct manner.

For the reader it is important to understand what you are reading. No matter which blog, which media outlet or which magazine, the list you are reading is the opinion of the writer (or the collective opinion of several). Unlike a factual list, for instance 'biggest selling albums of 2011', there is no imperical weight behind anything. You can't argue that Adele hasn't sold the most records because the figures are there in black and white. But you also can't reasonably argue against opinion either.

Now this may seem like an obvious point, but many forget it. So when NME, Q, or even me say that your favourite album doesn't feature in an end of year 'best of', you can't argue we are wrong. Simply that our opinions are different.

Once you understand this point, and some people never will (especially angry teenagers who post comments on YouTube), then you can begin to reap the benefits from end of year lists. Because it's not about whether the list maker agrees with your opinion, it's about what can you discover from their opinion. What albums did you maybe overlook? What artists have you never heard of but maybe you would like?

It all, of course, depends on the value you place on the list makers opinion. Afterall, if you really do not like hip hop, you'd be ill advised to follow the advice of Vibe's end of year lists. Similarly if in the past you've discovered some gems through reading a particular blog, then you might want to check out what they recommend. 

For me as a reader, that's the value of lists. Not that I have to agree with them (I personally don't see the big fuss about PJ Harvey's 'Let England Shake'.) But that there is so much out there it is impossible for me to even acknowledge it all, let along listen to it. End of year lists from different sources provide a summary of what I may have missed or, depending on the source, shine fresh light on something I've overlooked.

For the writer the use is more of an egocentric one. I'll happily admit that I swell inside a bit when someone reads and comments on a blog post. But putting aside this particular aspect of it, I think there's another important function of lists for the writer.

If you have a blog, a newspaper, or even if you just want people to listen to you, it's a good idea to let them know what you're all about. Lists let you do that, in a nice neat orderly way. They make a statement about the writer, they say, 'this is what I like' in the most obvious way.

But despite all of this, they remain something we will obsess over, something we will argue about and ultimately something that will continue to dominate this particular time of the year. And is that really such a bad thing? If it gets people engage and involved in music then surely that's the goal?  Anyway, I'm off to compile my top 10 lists...

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