I have chores I should be tending to, but I need to get this off my chest.
It’s the end of the year. Many critics are putting out top 10 or 50 or 100 lists for the year. And at the top of many of these lists, including Rolling Stone and Pitchfork, is Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. And this is indeed a great album. I’m not taking a piss on it. I’m not one of those skeptics that are emerging after the initial rush of praise. I don’t really care that it’s a weird album, due to the fact that he warns you on the album cover with that title. I love it. I’d put it at #2 or #3, around there.
But c’mon. The album of the year is Janelle Monae’s The ArchAndroid. Pitchfork didn’t even put it in their top 10, instead ranking ahead of it scary voice harp lady Joanna Newsome* and Vampire Weekend, a band that should take their Paul Simon records and go to a desert island and leave the rest of us alone.
How did this travesty happen? Why has Kanye’s admittedly great album distracted the critics from the actual best album of the year? There are many reasons. Okay, three.
1) Short attention spans. Kanye West’s album came out really close to deadline, so it was still chewing on their brains when they got to list-making, instead of settling comfortably into their music rotations. So they thought of it first.
2) What SEK says.
And that’s the album’s core appeal: voyeurism. In the wake of his mother’s death, West has had numerous public breakdowns. Events and emotions which would (and perhaps should) have remained private instead played themselves on a 24-hour cycle of a stage and West wasn’t ever comfortable playing the part. It’s almost as if he’s comfortable with the idea of playing a part until the moment the spotlight falls on him, at which point no amount of borrowed gamesmanship can make up for the fact that he is a wound as yet unready for the stage. And it’s this quality that pervades the album—the fear of failure performed as songs that consistently undermine their narrator’s persona.
3) Sexism. I said it. Not that it’s impossible for women to get the top slots in these kinds of contests, but Monae has a man-unfriendly persona based around dressing either in men’s clothes or as a robot, that just makes it more of an uphill climb for her. Plus, she put show tune-influenced songs on the album.
*I don’t want to be a hater, but I remember the fairy/Celtic music craze of the 90s, and my feeling then, as now, was that it appealed mainly to dorks. Dorks that would probably be happier if they let go and listen to country western, which at least has a spark of life to it, but it might interfere with their self-image as somehow better than that. My opinion hasn’t changed, and Pitchfork can’t make me.