As anyone could have guessed, Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy won the annual Village Voice's Pazz and Jop music critics' poll by a record-breaking margin. Not only that, but West managed to score three songs — "Runaway," "Power" and "Monster" — in the poll's Top 10 singles list. Given that West's album has been praised by virtually every publication on earth and that he has won the poll twice before, this isn't much of a surprise.
Aside from a very clever analogy by the writer Josh Timmermann comparing Kanye to the Mad Men character Don Draper, the poll's commentary doesn't offer too many fresh takes on West's persona and achievements, which have been obsessed over for months by most of the critics involved. This is fine, really, because the Voice's poll presentation includes some very thoughtful essays about last year's other notable artists and trends.
One of this year's highlights is Rich Juzwiak's essay, which examines the pro-gay sentiment of pop stars such as Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Ke$ha and Pink in a way that is both grateful and slightly skeptical, as stumping for gay rights can easily be taken as faddish pandering in a year when the "It Gets Better" campaign became a viral sensation.
Eric Harvey's cleverly titled "Little Pink Polos For You and Me" is another good read. In that piece, Harvey finds a shared theme between Vampire Weekend's Contra and Arcade Fire's The Suburbs, the two indie rock albums that debuted at the top of the charts in 2010. Simply put, both records deal with anxiety about social status in different ways, with Arcade Fire focused more on the angst of feeling trapped in surburban sprawl following the economic collapse and the burst of the housing bubble, while Vampire Weekend sketch out the awkward dynamics of class in contemporary America.
Spin editor Charles Aaron turned in a piece which attempts to make sense of critical backlash against M.I.A., who received some of the worst reviews of her career for her ambitious and highly abrasive third album Maya. Aaron seems genuinely crushed by the negative response to the record, and in a way, that may be the most compelling argument yet in favor of the much-maligned album. If someone cares this much, there must be something to it, right?