Musical Tastes in 2008 Examined

It’s time to settle the age-old question once and for all: who is the arbiter of good taste in music? Critics or consumers? Before I can answer that, let’s actually compare the two, and the comparison has been made very easy because of the Internet.

The Critics: I use Metacritic‘s aggregated scores for all albums released in 2008. Metacritic has aggregated various “top 10” lists from various mainstream and alternative musical publications. At the end, Metacritic ranks the album according to which album is listed as number 1 the most frequently?

I use Metacritic to represent the critical consensus because that’s the inherent function of the website: it aggregates critical opinion and quantifies them.

The Consumers: I use Last.fm’s best albums of 2008 list to represent the taste of consumers. This list quantifies consumer preference because the list is ordered by the number of listens that each album has received from the users of Last.fm. Given that Last.fm has millions of users worldwide, I take the sample to be fairly representative.

Very Important Statistical/Methodological Qualification: Obviously this is not the most rigorous method for a variety of reasons. For one, Last.fm does not publicly publish its own counting method. But I think the comparison, though not rigorous from a purely methodological perspective, can give us a crude approximation of the critical consensus and consumer preference.

The Comparison Begins (from number 10 to number 1): it’s formatted so that the critic’s choice goes first, followed by the consumers’ choice.

Number 10: M83 – Saturdays = Youth || Sigur Ros – Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
There is no clear cut winner here, as a reasonable person can make the case that both albums are good pieces of music. So in a sense, there is no divergence.

Number 9: She & Him – Volume One || Jack Johnson – Sleep Through The Static
Okay, the critics has really nailed one: Jack Johnson sucks.

Number 8: MGMT – Oracular Spectacular || Hot Chip – Made In The Dark
I would call this one a tie because again, there is no dramatic distance between the two as far as artistry goes.

Number 7: Kings of Leon – Only By The Night || Death Cab For Cutie – Narrow Stairs
Again, a tie.

Number 6: Hercules and Love Affair – Hercules and Love Affair || The Kooks – Konk
Tie, again.

Number 5: Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III || The Ting Tings – We Started Nothing
This one is actually a hard call, because these two albums are aimed at very disparate audiences. I’m not going to make a call this one, which essentially makes it the same as a tie.

Number 4: Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago || Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts I-IV:
Gonna have to give this one to Bon Iver, not only because I think he made the better album (though NIN is no slouch there either), but also because of stat inflation. Ghosts has 36 tracks, while Bon Iver’s album has something like 11 to 13.

Number 3: Portishead – Third for both
Again, it’s tie.

Number 2: TV On The Radio – Dear Science || MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
Gonna have to go with the critics on this one: as fun as the MGMT album is, it’s not a serious artistic statement as TVOTR, which is reflected by the fact that both albums show up on critics’ and consumers’ lists, though the critics place it lower.

Number 1: Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes || Coldplay – Viva La Vida
No question here: Fleet Foxes stump Coldplay’s ass.

Summary of Results:
Ties: 6
Critics: 4

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