I have to admit that the annual installment of Da Capo Books’ ongoing Best Music Writing series is something I look very forward to reading each year.
As a music writer myself, and on a purely informative and instructive level, it’s a great way to keep tabs on what the competition out there in music critic land is up to. But more than that, the writing is indeed mostly top-notch, making Best Music Writing a series that more often than not lives up to its lofty name.
The 2010 edition, which arrives in book stores on November 9, is no exception.
The biggest difference between this year’s model and previous volumes of the series however, is that the entries this year represent the broadest, most diverse collection of music criticism offered up to date. There really is something here for just about everybody — whether your tastes run towards indie-rock, country and hip-hop or to more obscure corners of the music spectrum like regional Mexican music, the Louisiana gumbo of BeauSoleil, or even classical and opera.
This year’s entries also reflect the year in music news, with multiple entries on Michael Jackson and the Rihanna/Chris Brown dustup, and stories on such 2010 phenoms as Lady GaGa and this year’s fastest rising hip-hop star, Canadian rapper Drake.
Speaking of hip-hop, Best Music Writing 2010 includes more music articles dedicated to that genre than ever before. Kanye West’s infamous interruption of Taylor Swift at last year’s MTV Video Music Awards, is examined in pro-wrestling vernacular (was Kanye’s tirade a “work” or a “shoot”?) in a very entertaining piece by Idolator’s Maura Johnston. In another great read here, Hip Hop Connection’s Phillip Mlynar looks at how fallen hip-hop kingpin 50 Cent might reclaim his once undisputed throne.
There are also articles by such respected music scribes as former Best Music Writing editor and “dean of rock critics” Robert Christgau (a profile of country superstar Brad Paisley) and the Village Voice’s Greg Tate (who contributes one of the pieces on Michael Jackson).
Elsewhere, you’ll find great writing about everyone from Adam Lambert to Merle Haggard, and every subject from how to read the contents of a royalty statement from Warner Bros. to the relationship between what we listen to and what we do in the bedroom. Like I said, a little something for everybody.
But for my money, the strongest writing found in Best Music Writing 2010 comes down to three entries.
For anyone who either has aspirations of becoming a music critic themselves, or has spent decades of starving while toiling away at it mostly for free as I have, Christopher R. Weingarten’s piece on “Twitter And The Death of Rock Criticism” is an absolute must-read.
What is most amazing about this entry is that it originally wasn’t even a written article at all, but rather an address given to the 140 Characters Conference in New York City. Either way, Weingarten’s insights into the devolution of the art of music criticism in the digital age are uncannily incisive and for the most part spot-on.
Hua Hsu’s “The End Of White America?” is another great read, which examines the changing racial landscape of America from a musical and cultural perspective. As is the case with Weingarten’s piece, Hsu’s observations are likewise right on the money and make for a very enlightening read.
And who better to provide a detailed analysis on “The Decade In Indie” than a Pitchfork writer like Nitsuh Abebe?
What I found most refreshing about Abebe’s breakdown of the so-called indie genre, was the way he examines the many different musical factions gathered under the indie umbrella, and correctly calls out the snobs on all sides. Coming from a publication that can be as musically elitist as Pitchfork, it’s a rare show of honesty that reads like a breath of fresh air. Another must-read, especially for all you indie-snobs.
With Best Music Writing 2010, editor Ann Powers (Los Angeles Times) and executive editor Daphne Carr have once again compiled a great collection of music journalism that really does represent the cream of the crop. Here’s hoping they’ll take a closer look at my own entries for next year’s book.