Making lists is a necessary (and, some might say, unnecessarily complicated) component of writing about music, an annual rite of passage that's as much about personal choice as it is about pure politics.
Because no matter how much your favorite writer may protest, he or she always struggles with their year-end list, trying to strike the right balance between their favorite songs or albums and the actual favorites of the record-buying public. It is a dilemma of duty, really: Should the list shine a light on some unjustly overlooked acts (an explicit part of a music journalist's job) or attempt to make it an accurate representation of the year that was? Do we throw our support behind a small song that's really, truly great — ignoring the fact that no one heard it — or give in to the notion that a tune downloaded by more than 5 million people had more impact and, therefore, more inherent worth? And, really, how do you even begin to measure something like that in the first place?
Then, there are the rather insane (and equally immeasurable) questions every journo is confronted with ... stuff like, "What will my worldly contemporaries think of my picks?" (a.k.a. "I should probably put this Senegalese Mbalax compilation at number 10") or "'Teach Me How to Dougie' is a terrible song, but even my aunt in Virginia sent me the video, so does that make it one of the year's best?" Or the fact that, no matter how left-of-center (or right on) a list may be, it'll still be judged mercilessly by fellow music writers, and their reaction will, by logical extension, also be a judgment on you. Feelings are hurt. Reputations are crushed. Making a list is tougher than you could possibly imagine.
So, you can probably understand why, a few months ago, when MTV News began kicking around the idea of doing a Top Songs of 2010 countdown — and opening the process up to the entire newsroom — I was a bit hesitant. In years past, I'd just made my own list and let the chips fall where they may. For better or worse, things were just easier this way. I could blend the indie with the mainstream, balance the massive with the minimal. And, most important, I could defend each and every pick.
This year, the idea was much bigger, and the end result (in my opinion, at least) could've been much more disastrous: a list that ignored the work of acts like the National, LCD Soundsystem and Robyn in favor of, say, 25 Eminem songs. To me, that didn't seem particularly accurate — no offense to Em — or worthwhile. But still, we had meetings, we set parameters, and we pressed on.
Using a loose set of rules — songs didn't have to be singles and didn't even have to be released in 2010, they just had to have made an impact this year, be it commercially, culturally, or critically — we sent out ballots to MTV News' writers, editors and producers. And then we waited with bated breath.
What we received back were lists of delightfully dizzying size and scope: All in all, nearly 200 artists (everyone from Adam Lambert to Zola Jesus) and 300 songs made the cut. We began gleefully whittling them down, using nothing more than an inverse point system — the #1 song on each list received 25 points, the #25 song received 1 point — to determine our final list. It was tough (math has never really been our strong suit), but I'm incredibly happy that we did it.
Because the end result was, of course, MTV News' inaugural Top 25 Songs of 2010 list, which began rolling out last week and will conclude on Friday when we unveil our pick for the year's top song. Like pretty much everything else about the list — Katy Perry at #11, aforementioned Eminem at #9 and Robyn at #6 — our #1 will surprise a lot of people. And, ultimately, I think that's what any good list should do.
We've already heard the complaints from Lady Gaga's Little Monsters and Eminem's Stans and gotten kudos from folks who love the National and Robyn, which leads me to believe that we've done our job. ... We managed to make a list full of songs by artists both big and small, yet all impactful in some way. It is, IMHO, a true representation of the year that was. The numbers don't lie, no matter how angry the Em fans might be about it.
To keep the conversation going, we've begun rolling out some of our staffers' personal lists on the Newsroom Blog and, in the interest of transparency, I'm going to reveal my list right now. This is the one I submitted to MTV News' countdown, and as you can tell, I had all the internal debates I mentioned earlier. I played politics and threw some personal picks in there. (I'll be honest, by putting Titus Andronicus at #1, I was secretly hoping they'd crack MTV's Top 25.) I hemmed and hawed and finally just had to hit 'Send' and be done with the whole thing. As you can see, neither Eminem nor Ke$ha made my list — but Antoine Dodson did. Maybe I should've changed that. Maybe I still will. Making lists is hard work ... but it's also work I'll never tire of doing.
My Top 25 Songs of 2010
1. Titus Andronicus, "Four Score and Seven"
2. Robyn, "Hang With Me"
3. Usher, "OMG"
4. Lady Gaga, "Telephone"
5. Rick Ross, "B.M.F. (Blowin' Money Fast)"
6. Kanye West, "Power"
7. The National, "England"
8. Big Boi, "Shutterbugg"
9. Cee Lo, "F--- You"
10. Rihanna, "Only Girl (In the World)"
11. Robyn, "Fembot"
12. Janelle Monáe, "Cold War"
13. Antoine Dodson (featuring the Gregory Brothers), "Bed Intruder Remix"
14. Sleigh Bells, "Rill Rill"
15. Vampire Weekend, "I Think Ur a Contra"
16. Jamey Johnson, "Lonely at the Top"
17. Katy Perry, "Teenage Dream"
18. Florence and the Machine, "Dog Days Are Over"
19. The Black Keys, "Tighten Up"
20. Gorillaz, "Rhinestone Eyes"
21. LCD Soundsystem, "Pow Pow"
22. Cali Swag District, "Teach Me How to Dougie"
23. Titus Andronicus, "The Battle of Hampton Roads"
24. B.o.B (featuring Hayley Williams), "Airplanes"
25. OK Go, "This Too Shall Pass"
What do you think of the BTTS Top 25 Songs of 2010 list? Sound off in the comments!