Welcome back to the Thursday Topic! Last week I asked for commenters’ favorite songs. This week tackles the same idea from a different perspective.
As Buzzfeed and its many clones can attest, people love lists. And no one seems to love lists more than music lovers, who have been making “Best _____ of all time” lists since the first sound was made, and then a second, arguably less pleasing sound was made. Ranking music can seem like ranking children at times: pointless and mean-spirited; also, we all know who’s better anyway. But whether we’re looking for some sort of objective artistic truth, trying to get to know our own tastes better, or just spreading publicity for some hipster band, we continue to make these lists and debate them endlessly.
Today’s topic: Can music be rated? Can there be a “best” song?
My answer: No, but we should think “yes.”
Whenever this question comes up, it opens up a Pandora’s Box of annoying but pertinent questions, like “can any medium/art form/thing in the world be judged?” and, most damningly, “by what criteria?” Talent? Originality? Emotional Resonance? All good qualities, but good luck coming to a final consensus on any of them. Music is not a science (thankfully), and though it may frustrate the left-brained among us, there are no objective answers to this question.
But don’t fire all the music critics yet. (Actually, never mind that. Fire them all.) There is still value in “Best of” lists and in all those arguments about how Limp Bizkit actually wasn’t that bad. The music that you champion shows people who you are–and the inverse is also true. (Apparently I’m really, really NOT whatever R.E.M. signifies.) Also, just because talent and originality can’t prove that an objective “best” song exists doesn’t mean they aren’t important, and that we shouldn’t exalt those artists that may display those qualities. Just because we don’t have a mathematical formula for music greatness doesn’t mean that the null hypothesis is “One Direction = The Beatles.” Like almost everything else, there’s a happy medium of uncertain truth in musical quality, with enough wiggle room to argue about who exactly the greatest musicians and songwriters are, but also enough commonality of experience to know that we’re generally in the same ballpark in the end.
So please, do tell me more about how Eminem is the greatest rapper of all time.* And I mean that honestly.
Your turn: Can there be a “best” song? Can there be “better” and “worse” songs? How would you judge those songs?