Drake’s “Marvin’s Room.” tUnE-yArDs’ “Bizness.” Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Otis.” EMA’s “California.” Frank Ocean’s “Novacane.” Wild Flag’s “Romance.” Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend.” Bon Iver’s “Holocene.” These are some of last year’s most critically gushed-over songs, and they all have one thing in common: They all ranked lower than Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games” in the Village Voice‘s 2011 Pazz n Jop poll, a massive survey of over 700 music critics that went live last night. (My ballot, in case you’re wondering, is here.)
That’s right: “Video Games” was critics’ #7 song of the year and made almost 7% of voters’ lists, earning no fewer than 47 shout outs. When you consider that there are probably plenty of writers who liked the song but didn’t rank it in their top ten, it sure looks like a lot of pop pundits were pro-Lana Del Rey this year. Which is weird, because despite the fact that the blogosphere covered every little “Video Games” remix and modeling contract, we can’t remember seeing many critics speak out in her favor. (The Pazz n Jop issue does include an ambivalent essay on the singer by Tom Ewing, who compares Lizzy Grant’s transformation into Lana Del Rey to David Bowie’s reinventions.) Among the vast majority of writers we read, opinions seemed to range from “Don’t care” to “Ugh, nauseating.”
And she’s not the only controversial artist to score surprisingly high. Kreayshawn, whose “Gucci Gucci” came in 24th with 22 votes, was taken even less seriously. Like Del Rey, she was judged to be inauthentic from the get-go, but criticisms of Kreayshawn went even deeper — she was racist, the song was classist, she couldn’t rap to save her life. Hell, she even inspired a New York Times think piece that basically claimed white women will never make convincing rappers because they aren’t black or male enough. As with Del Rey, Kreayshawn was reported on constantly but seemed to have few defenders in the critical sphere.
So, what happened? Is there, even among critics, a silent majority of music fans who really like the artists a few of us vocally (and often self-righteously) hate? Scanning the lists of voters — many of them well-respected writers with national platforms — who picked each song, I found myself wishing more of them had tried in 2011 to convince me (a Kreayshawn and Lana Del Rey skeptic) that there was something in these musicians’ work that was worth listening to. Because, while I did read a few smart defenses of each singer (like Carl Wilson’s pro-Lana Del Rey post at Slate), they were primarily backlashes to the backlash — pieces that addressed the knee-jerk critical disgust but not the music itself. If we’re going to get to a place where art trumps hype — and I would really like to do that this year! — then we’re going to start listening to the songs before we read the blog comments and peruse the publicity photos.