It's list season in the media. As the year draws to an end, we must stare into the rearview mirror and judge the things that came and went. The lists always are good to rile up the readers, who may not agree that the Etch-A-Sketch was No. 2 on the list of "Retro Toys We Thought About in 2021 for Some Reason, Producing a Swiftly Passing Pang of Nostalgia."
Really? Not the controversial Wham-O Boomerang Axe? And you call yourself critics?
At this point, it's hard to come up with interesting lists that pique the interest of those jaded by media saturation.
- Top three movies that were based on another movie but failed to recapture the emotions you had when you first saw the characters back in the Reagan administration.
- Top 10 terrific tofu-truffle tortellini trattorias.
- Top 152 TV shows on Netflix you lied about watching, because if you didn't, someone would go on and on about the plot and tell you the whole damned thing.
- Top 10 attempts to contact you about a car warranty.
It was easier than last year, when nothing happened because of the shutdown of the world. Top 10 hand-sanitizer bottle designs! Top 10 "Tiger King" quotes! Top 10 subverted expectations of normalcy!
Of course, there was that old standby, Top 10 books, which an unscrupulous writer could make up. If you said the top book was a memoir of a Peruvian woman who lost her family in a landslide, then later found them in another landslide, then became a microbiologist who won the Nobel Prize for poetry, most people in book clubs would say, "I think we did that one."
I bring this up to share a disturbing moment I had on the internet. It was a headline: Top 200 songs of 2021.
You wonder what sort of exquisitely tuned critical calibration can make a distinction between No. 197 and No. 198. You wonder if No. 200 refused to be seen in public with No. 201 after that: loser.
It seemed to be an absurd number. Music is nice and all that, but I'm not sure 200 songs per annum are necessary. But wait, that's just the top 200. It's possible they made 400.
But the worst part of list was that I did not recognize the name of even one song on it.
Well, you tell yourself, that's because modern pop is just awful. It is an empirical fact that pop music was better when I was young. It was almost a blessing when I turned 40 and everyone in pop decided they would just make awful noise now, and I was relieved of the obligation of keeping up. "Don't mind us, we'll just be blaring out disconcerting racket!"
But maybe I'm just square, pops. (As the kids say. ) Pop music is as good as ever, they claim. Perhaps so. But I was at a wedding last weekend, the nuptials of two smart, hip-as-heck kids, and the dance floor playlist was all from the 1960s, '70s, and '80s. I think there was a brief snippet of a recent song, although that may have been the caterers dropping an armload of dishes.
If modern pop is the equal of the past, why didn't the young couple play it at their wedding? Because it's not as good. Because it doesn't have the same emotional resonance. Because it lacks the melody and humanity of the pop of the past, that's why.
Also maybe because the parents were paying for it? Possibly one of the Top 10 reasons.