DECEMBER 6, 2010:
I’m done with being right. I really am. If I learned one thing in 2010, it was this.
It was a year of sending angry, 2,000 word emails defending Twins pitcher Scott Baker … to a friend of mine who is also a die-hard Twins fan. It was a year of following a hundred snarky Twitter feeds … occasionally chuckling along, but mostly feeling like I was wasting my life on needless sarcasm. It was a year spent reading negative reviews of albums I enjoyed on first listen … and often finding myself agreeing with the reviewer, because online takedowns are exceedingly persuasive. I don’t know if my generation can compete on a global scale, but we definitely rule the world when it comes to vitriolic internet screeds. If Twitter has taught us nothing else, it’s that 140 characters can be combined into an infinite number of ways to say, “This sucks!” It was a full-time job, staying current on why everything was terrible. I became confused with the process of being right. And so I tried to give it up completely.
That’s a gross overstatement, of course. It’s still incredibly important to be right the vast majority of the time. A seemingly impossible number of everyday decisions still have real-world consequences. Choosing a job, or a school, or friends, or investments … for the majority of anyone’s day, the pressure to be right is enormous and very real. That’s kind of the point. So why we decided that it’s also important to be right about pop culture … about things like songs, or bands, or teams, or television shows … it blows my mind. This should be our haven from the necessity of being right. And maybe for some of you it always has been. Maybe you have no idea what I’m talking about. But I think I bought into this need to be right. I became conditioned by people on the internet telling me that my favorite TV shows were terrible, that my favorite players were worthless, and that my favorite songs were nothing less than a frontal assault on anyone with ears. And so I resolved to be right. This year, my New Year’s resolution is a little different: I want to move past the desire to be right where being right has no actual value.
So what happened? How did I get to the point where I felt it necessary to write a thousand-word essay basically explaining why I am finally free to … um … actually like the things I like? As with basically all of the world’s problems, I blame the internet. Between our appointed arbiters of taste, our aggregations of the views of the masses, and our statistical proofs of quality, it became possible to make objective arguments for previously subjective determinations. That album got a 5.4 on Pitchfork. That restaurant only has three stars on Yelp. That pitcher’s VORP is below replacement level. And the natural inclination is to conform to those decrees. “I thought that album was pretty good, but it turns out it’s just mediocre. I wonder where I went wrong.”
And so the safest possible position to take, when it comes to matters of taste, is just to proclaim that everything is terrible. This is often close enough to the truth. Everything is flawed. Of course it is. So you point out those flaws. And you sound smart. And you sound funny. And jaded. And cool. And effortlessly detached. And, almost always, you will be right.
I never saw Toy Story 3, but it was definitely one of the most universally loved movies of 2010. It scored a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes. Do you know what that means? It means if you want to read three negative reviews of the movie, you absolutely can. And I bet all three of them are well-written, and probably make a few good points. I bet no matter how much you loved Toy Story 3, you will come away from those reviews loving it a little bit less, kicking yourself for not ferreting out those flaws. This is just human nature.
And this is what I would like to stop doing. I’m not saying the secret to happiness is blind, unconditional love for everything, regardless of quality. I’m not saying we need to embrace the crap, give up looking at art critically … nothing like that. All I’m saying is that, if your first instinct is to like something … then like it. Don’t start picking at it. Don’t seek out a second opinion, because you will find it. Someone on the internet hates everything you love. And that’s okay. Don’t start looking for the flaws. Because you will find them. And then what? How will that make you any happier?
I think a lot of people spend a lot of time and energy in an attempt to protect themselves from accidentally liking something that turns out to be bad. Which is interesting, because there are absolutely no real-world implications for such a mistake. Watch:
There is a Hanson song on this list. In all honesty, it should probably be ranked even higher.
It’s been almost a minute since I typed that sentence, and nothing horrible has happened to me. There’s no downside. Maybe a couple of you rolled your eyes. Maybe I’ll put this up on the blog and get some negative comments. That’s it. Everyone is still alive. And the upside is that I got to listen to this awesome Hanson song probably fifty times this year, and it made me happy every time. That seems like the better end of the bargain.
So, before we start, I’d like to concede every criticism of every one of these songs. They change nothing. Let’s get a few of them out of the way right now:
Gaslight Anthem sounds like an overproduced version of the kids from Glee covering Bruce Springsteen. The Hold Steady aren’t nearly as dynamic or interesting as they were five years ago. Neither are Drive By Truckers. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have been writing basically the same song over and over again for their entire career. So have the Thermals. All this critical acclaim for Robyn is just music nerds trying to justify how much they loved “Show Me Love” in 1997. Freelance Whales only exist because yuppies in New York City can’t get over how adorable they look. I liked Foxy Shazam better when they were called The Darkness. Sleigh Bells sold out when they signed with M.I.A.’s label. You only like Sambassadeur because they’re from Sweden. Actually … that could apply to a lot of these bands. Every band on Sincerely Yours sounds exactly the same. Tinashe is just ripping off the Kooks. Black Keys are just ripping off The White Stripes. Arcade Fire just want to be all epic now, they’re a bloated indie U2. Only rich kids and frat boys listen to Vampire Weekend anymore …
Fine. Fine. Yes. All of that sounds about right.
And yet, here are 100 songs that consistently made me happy for the last year. So when I die, and I stand before the Ultimate Arbiter of Taste, and he reads from his scroll the final verdict on my song choices for 2010 … well, that will never happen. No consequences. Ever. I promise.
Most of you will probably disagree with some of the songs on this list. I hope you do. However, when you do inevitably disagree, I only hope that it’s because you thought there were other, more deserving songs out there, other songs that made you happier. Because the one thing we should all agree on is that there was a lot of great music released in the last year.
Also, we need to unite in our hatred of Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire,” because that song is absolutely indefensible.
So here’s the list. Thanks for reading. Thanks for listening.