In Defense of End-Of-Year Lists

Lists. Who doesn’t love lists? The same people who think Honey Boo Boo is a good thing? The same people who continue to use My Space? The same people who still aren’t over the fact that Lost ended? The same people who consider Jawbreakers a viable form of candy? The same people who … don’t have a soul?! 

No, but seriously. Lists are a lot like episodes of The Office: Because you consume so much of them in a short amount of time, the endearing qualities of the medium become almost moot and you eventually wind up finding yourself annoyed at some dude from Nebraska whom you’ll never meet and his sarcastic take on the best ten films of 2008 (or, in The Office terms, another prank that Jim plays on Dwight). They are so easy to love and they are so easy to hate. One minute, you realize you’ve spent three hours happily dissecting the ten greatest characters from The Wire, and the next you swear off the Internet for life. 

I get it. Lists can be grating. 

They can also be fairly egotistical — in an age when anybody who has a smartphone or a laptop can spew their opinions on everything from veganism to The Walking Dead, the amount of weight placed on end-of-year lists has diminished in recent years because of both the amount of outlets publishing them and the level of vitriol that some may attach to their final results (OK, we get it, Guy From Minnesota. Bon Iver is better than the Beatles. Settle down). Plus, they can be predictable. Oh, so Jack White released a record this year? Expect that to be somewhere in each retrospective for 2012. Bob Dylan named something Tempest? Dude’s a lock. Beach House. Cat Power. Fiona Apple. Sigur Ros. The xx. The second those names are uttered, you might as well simply ignore the actual lists whenever the end of the year comes around because you know who will be there, and you can almost predict verbatim what the writers will cite when explaining why these artists deserve to be considered.

Yes. The magic of lists clearly isn’t what it once was.

But even with all that said. And even with all of us who may be sick and tired of coming across another reason to finally check out Cloud Nothings. And even though the constant proclamations and countdowns can make us all wearisome of anything that claims to crown the single most important work of any type of art form in a single year. And even though the phrase “Top 10” now seems more accessible and overused than ever …

… boy lists can be fun, can’t they?! 

The art of compiling a set of things and ranking them in order from worst to best or best to worst is one of the most entertaining ways to incite discussion and analysis among both critics and fans alike. They assign quantity and judgement to things that are meant to be perceived as abstract and personalized. This, in turn, almost always calls for an awfully intriguing form of debate that is predicated on difference in taste. And as we all know by now, if there’s one thing that we as human begins hate to hear, it’s that our own interests and tastes are somehow wrongly conceived and inferior to another human being’s interests and tastes. Man, oh man, do we human beings hate that! 

“If there’s one thing arts writers love to do, it’s make lists,” Alison Fensterstock of wrote. “In recent years, actually, the list-as-article — blame the Internet — has elevated itself to a genre of its own, with sites like Buzzfeed, Complex, the Village Voice blog and Paste’s list of the day helpfully totaling up the top cute-animal tumblrs, things you didn’t know about Jay-Z and jazz albums to hear before you die, among many, many other things, with impressive frequency and breadth of topic.” (“The year-end lists are coming – a look at the official best music of 2012, so far”, 3 December 2012)

Ah-ha! “Impressive frequency and breadth of topic.” See — I told you not all lists are bad!

Actually, that’s where the fun comes in. Not only has the growth of the list culture allowed for some extra-deep analysis and brought forth a seemingly endless plethora of debate on music, television, movies and anything else of the like, but it’s also added a layer of competition amongst the outlets from which we receive our fill of all things entertainment. It’s like a subculture of rank that has now become more focused on the source rather than the opinion. Which website is more credible? Which magazine do you agree with most? Whose opinion best reflects the pulse of all things cool? Where do you turn when you want to find a list that you know will make you furious with disagreement? Which outlet do you trust? Which do you dismiss? 

There are so many places competing for a generation’s attention that it’s become nearly impossible to truly scour all the lists that exist both online and in print. This, in turn, has led to some notably imaginative takes on the list procedure. Consider Vulture’s list of the year’s most memorable pop culture quotes. I mean, where else can you find a line from 21 Jump Street (“Fuck you, science”) right next to a quote from someone like Claire Danes at the Emmys (Mandy Patinkin holla!”)? (“2012’s Most Memorable Pop Culture Quotes”, by Kyle Buchanan, Vulture, 4 December 2012)

Then there are the websites dedicated to keeping a tally on all the end-of-year lists as they become available. extends back to 2011, with countdowns ranking books, movies, albums and songs (and as a bonus, it even reposted this site’s list of the 75 best songs last week, so hoary for them!), while ventures all the way back to 2007 with its recollections (which also includes a shout out to all of this site’s lists, so hoary for them, too!).

Most importantly, though, end-of-year lists serve as fun reminders that another year is gone and the hope of a new beginning isn’t far off. In essence, they become the starting point for a kind of reflection that isn’t too serious, yet always holds an air of relevance and even a bit of perspective. They make for perfect late-night, barroom banter, and they allow for a tiny bit of rejuvenation to creep into the minds and outlooks of our weathered, overly indulged minds after spending 12 months scouring shelves for the very record, movie, song or television show that we can call our favorite. 

So, here’s to year-end lists (many of which you can find right here, on this very website, remember), and here’s to a better 2013. Because even if you’d rather jump from a 70-story building than hear another second of “Call Me Maybe”, you have to admit: That song wasn’t nearly as obnoxious as “Tubthumping” was in 1997. 

And it’s not like that thing didn’t find its way onto a list or two over the years. 

Now that you’ve finished reading this article, enjoy PopMatters The Best Music of 2012 feature, which is a whole bunch of lists!