One of the arguments in favor of affirmative action is that the pool of talented individuals is large enough to accommodate fairly wide variations in how one defines “the best” and still get a good leadership cadre, freshman class, etc. Put differently, if Harvard, instead of admitting the 5.9 percent that they do admit, admitted the next 5.9 percent — the ones who “just missed the cut,” they would still probably be fine.
With the release of the Pitchfork “People Power” list, Jody Rosen at Slate has skewered Pitchfork’s readership for its selection of mostly white, overwhelmingly male, indie rockers. At the very least, it’s boring and predictable. Unsurprisingly, all the albums on the Top Ten got good reviews in Pitchfork.
So, OK, what happened? One is that women didn’t make a lot of lists, but I think that may have to do with a distaste for the kind of listmaking mania that often captivates music nerds and snobs. (See, for example, High Fidelity‘s “Top Five” obsession.) Additionally, there may be less consensus on female artists than on male ones, and the nature of averaging out lists ends up yielding fewer women. (This may be giving Pitchforkers too much credit.) Similarly, there may simply be fewer female artists regularly making music; there are probably a variety of reasons for that, but if we were to take a random sample of rock bands, I bet we would find a low rate of female participation. This may be the result of choice, prejudice, or some combination thereof, but it probably exists nonetheless. This is purely a hypothesis, of course, so no evidence exists one way or the other.
Because all list-making is arbitrary by nature, I’m going to pick an alternate canon of Top Ten albums that could theoretically have been in Pitchfork’s Top Ten (that is to say, they fit within the Pitchfork ethos, got good Pitchfork reviews, and are listened to by mostly indie rock nerds), but that represent a more female list. Much like those next 5.9 percent of Harvard rejects, this is a set of albums that I think Pitchforkers could reasonably say are as good as any of the albums in the Top Ten. I am generally a fan of quotas, because I think people don’t embrace diversity in almost any setting unless they are forced to. So here goes:
- Lauryn Hill – Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
- Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell (It’s Blitz could probably go here too)
- M.I.A. – Arular
- Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
- Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
- Aimee Mann – Bachelor No. 2 (or, the last remains of the dodo)
- Fiona Apple – Extraordinary Machine
- Robyn – Body Talk
- PJ Harvey – Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
- Loretta Lynn – Van Lear Rose
Other alternates: Any number of Sleater Kinney albums; I’m not a huge Bjork fan, but any number of Bjork albums could go too.
Because all lists are inherently arbitrary, without a requirement for some other characteristics than “what’s good,” a bunch of mostly white male rock nerds inevitably pick a bunch of mostly white male rock music to be “the best.” Take a look at any compendium of “best ever” albums lists and you’ll see the skew in effect.
But if that were my Top Ten list from the 1996-2011 time period, I’d be pretty happy.