Why Were Britney Spears And Madonna Left Off Our 'Best Songs Of 2008' List?

Our 'Bigger Than the Sound' columnist explains his vigorously debated choices.

By now, I'm sort of used to being called an idiot on a weekly basis. Because that's what seems to happen each and every Wednesday when I publish my Bigger Than the Sound column.

Usually, I get 10 to 20 negative -- and angry -- comments per column (though if said column in any way detracts from [artist id="501686"]Britney Spears[/artist], that number jumps to 40 or 50), and though it would probably benefit my ego not to read them, I always do ... if only because I find them sort of hilarious and inspiring (and because I am a sucker for grammatical errors and ALL-CAPS MISSIVES). What I usually don't do is respond to them.

(Check out James' personal responses to some of those e-mails in the video right here!)

But this week is different. On Wednesday, I published my annual [article id="1601017"]"Best Songs of the Year,"[/article] and it got a lot of responses. Like, way more than I expected a column that didn't include "Britney Spears" or "Heidi Montag" in the headline to get. Some of the comments took issue with my picks -- "I've never heard of half these bands!" and "Kid Rock? Are you serious?!?" being two popular ones -- but most were upset with who I didn't put on my list (Britney, [artist id="1098"]Madonna[/artist] and [artist id="1940303"]Rihanna[/artist], in particular). So I figured it was time to break from tradition and write an actual response.

Since there were so many comments, I thought the best way to handle this would be to just address the four most basic types of complaints. Hopefully, in doing so, I'll be able to explain the method behind my madness ... why I made some picks, why I didn't make others and, really, whether I should be fired for doing either. To keep the dialogue going, I'd love to hear some of your favorites too. Feel free to leave them in the comments below. Also, call me as many mean names as you see fit -- after all, I'm a professional rock-and-roll journalist. I can take it.

Complaint #1: "Where is Britney?!?"

A valid question, to be sure (so valid that it was often asked in ALL CAPS). After all, Ms. Spears certainly had a huge year -- triumphant comeback, [article id="1594283"]VMA wins[/article], [article id="1597187"]hit singles[/article], prime-time tell-alls and, earlier this week, [article id="1601037"]a #1 album[/article] -- and ignoring her on a "Best Songs" list just seems rather odd. But here's the thing: In my opinion, the songs just weren't that good. As [article id="1597036"]I wrote in a column back in October[/article], " 'Womanizer' ... kind of sounds like what would happen if you threw Mike Jones and an air-raid siren into a blender -- and not in a good way," and I'm sticking with that, no matter how little sense it makes. Britney is a pop artist, and pop artists live and die by their songs (look at Rihanna -- oh, wait, she didn't make the list either ... but more on that in a second). "Womanizer" may have hit #1, but, to me, it's not even one of her top 10 tracks ("Toxic," it ain't). There's no progress there, no tremendous leap forward, no "Oh, wow, what was that?!?" moment. It's basically Britney being Britney -- and while that might be good enough for her fans, it wasn't for me. And I think there are plenty of critics out there who agree with me. "Circus" hasn't been out long enough to make much of an impact on me, and though the chorus is catchy, I feel this is just Brit mining the same "The Paparazzi Won't Leave Me Alone" territory that she did on "Piece of Me" (which, come to think of it, is a better song anyway). At the end of the day, nothing I say here will be able to sway the most ardent of Britney supporters, but I figured I'd at least try to explain why I didn't put one of her songs on my list. I'm not denying her impact on '08, just her impact on, well, me.

Complaint #2: "Why isn't (insert name of popular recording artist here) on this list?!?"

This is sort of the catchall category. Readers were really miffed that artists like Rihanna, T.I., Madonna and Usher didn't make the cut -- and, again, justifiably so. Each had huge hits in 2008, and they probably should've been on this list. Or at least Rihanna and T.I. should have. Some commenters seemed to think that I used some sort of statistical logarithm to determine who made my list, and I wish I could tell you that was the truth. The simple fact is, most of it was just based on my opinions, though I did try to include factors like critical reception and cultural impact when making my final decisions. That's why Katy Perry had two songs on my list. Whether they loved her or hated her, she at least had critics talking, and both of her songs ("Hot N Cold" and "I Kissed a Girl") made big impacts on the singles chart. Most critics didn't seem to care all that much for Madonna's "4 Minutes," so despite the fact that it landed in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 and scored a pair of Grammy nods, I left it off my list. I don't think anyone was happy with Usher's output in '08, and when you consider that "Love in This Club" was: A) The lead single from an album that didn't do all that well, and B) Subject to an Internet controversy about whether it was just made up of stock GarageBand beats, I left it off the list too. In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that both Rihanna's "Disturbia" and T.I.'s "Whatever You Like" should have made the cut, so apologies to them and their fans. Pink's "So What" probably should have been on there too.

Complaint #3: "[artist id="10551"]Kid Rock[/artist]?!? [artist id="1652126"]Tyga[/artist]?!? [artist id="1962774"]Katy Perry[/artist]?!? Really?!?"

Yes, really. If you apply the basic "Critics + Culture" reasoning I explained above, there is no way Rock's "All Summer Long" or Perry's two tracks are left off this list. "Summer" was an unquestionable smash, a critical sticking point (both for its source material and its unheard-of "No iTunes" marketing campaign) and a career-revitalizer. Plus, I have the creeping suspicion that it will be the kind of song that packs dance floors at weddings and racing-themed bars for the next decade. I already covered the reasons I included Perry on my list, and in the case of Tyga's "Coconut Juice," well, regardless of what you think of him, you cannot deny that his song was ridiculously catchy, so much so that it was actually voted the "Summer Jam of '08" by the readers of the Idolator music blog. And they're plenty smart.

Complaint #4: "I've never heard of half these people!"

Of all the complaints my column got, this one perplexed me the most (of course, I got the same comments when I did my [article id="1575778"]"Best Songs"[/article] and [article id="1576284"]"Best Albums"[/article] columns last year, too, so I guess I shouldn't have been surprised). I don't understand how "I've never heard of ____" somehow equates to "______ is terrible," and, frankly, I wish our readers didn't think this way. The radio is not your only portal to discovering new music. There's soooo much good stuff out there, and it's just a few keystrokes away. Seriously, how difficult is it to Google "atlas sound + quick canal"? (screw it, I'll just do it for you). Would it kill you to sit and listen to a few Wye Oak songs? Or something from Ida Maria? It's a pretty lazy way of operating, to be honest, and I think that dismissing something because you've never heard of it (or in the case of [artist id="961007"]Sigur Rós[/artist]' "Inní mér syngur vitleysingur," because you couldn't pronounce it) is pretty dumb. Or maybe you're not a die-hard music fan like me. Maybe you don't like to have your notions challenged or your horizons pushed. Then again, why else would you wade through a 3,000-word column just to leave a single comment?