Your favorite artist releases an album today. You eagerly await to read the reviews because yes, you want to see her get the success she deserves, only to be met with a 6.0 from the one and only Pitchfork Magazine, which claims to be “the most trusted voice in music.” With those odds, you can only think, I love this album, what’s wrong with my taste? And then the rage ensues, because no one is ever going to simultaneously, unequivocally agree on what constitutes a good album. There are too many facets, and taste permeates through every crevice of every discussion you could ever have about music. That’s easy to forget, though.
By assigning a numeric value to an album, Pitchfork essentially tells its readership what is good and what is bad, and no matter how violently you disagree, you will probably feel some need to listen to what is listed as “best new music,” even if the 6 you’re listening to right now is absolutely amazing. This magazine has the opportunity to expose people to so much new music from small artists, or unpopular genres, and completely misses the boat every time. By labelling every work that comes out with a numeric value, people see a ranking, and when people see a ranking they tend to go with what’s closest to number one. Because we are taught that number one is best. And oftentimes the top spots go to musicians we already know and genres we’re already comfortable with.
The job of music media should be to promote music we don’t already know, because the media hears about it first. They should be spreading their knowledge to the public. And while balanced and nuanced reviewing is important, numeric value should not be. Seeing a 6 stamped onto an album deters readers from reading the review, which is the most important aspect of the article. It’s the part where you can read what the album sounds like, where it thrives and where it fails. And then you can make a decision for yourself as to whether you want to give it a listen or whether you’d like to pass. Readers should be given the option to choose for themselves what they want, based on the knowledge the experts give them.
Instead, when ranking is involved, we see a list of albums that are “right” to check out. We are increasingly herded into having the “right” taste, when in reality there is no such thing. The way each person experiences music is different, and why and how art resonates with different people should not be judged. Oftentimes we miss out on incredible music because new artists, small artists, are simply not promoted and get lower scores from magazines that choose to rank when they review. Reviews should take an objective stance about what works and what doesn’t in a piece of art—but that shouldn’t stop you from checking out the music, like a poor ranking will.
We should not be a society of herded sheep, listening to only a select few albums that are deemed “worthy.” Taste is unique to every person, and that should never be stamped out. In fact, it should be celebrated. You might hate the music your friend loves, but you’ll learn a lot about them and what’s in their soul if you listen to it with them and see how happy it makes them. And the ultimate goal of music should be to provide not only thought-provoking art, in whatever way that manifests, but enjoyment.