I have come here not to praise the Village Voice, but to bury it.
One of the sadder things to watch in recent years is the deterioration of the Village Voice. The celebrated alt-weekly has a legendary history, since its Norman Mailer co-founded the paper in 1955. It has published some of the best cultural criticism since then.
Sadly, those days are long, long gone. The paper was acquired by New Times in 2005, and since then, there seems to have been one high profile layoff after another. As former VV writer Rosie Gray wrote in BuzzFeed last month, “We didn’t think they cared one bit about what happened at their flagship paper, and we had a sinking feeling that they’d be willing to hurt the Voice instead of shuttering or selling other papers in the chain.”
Last Friday, the Voice laid off Maura Johnston, the music editor (and my very favorite music writer these days). As David Carr of the New York Times wrote, “[S]he also embodied The Voice’s tradition of thoughtful cultural criticism, and resisted the kinds of light, easily consumable items, like Top 10 lists and photo compilations, that tend to draw the most traffic online.”
That’s the direction, sadly, the Village Voice and other papers owned by Village Voice Media are choosing to go. On Johnston’s last day, Friday, the Voice posted on their music blog a racist (and sexist: Tina Turner is called “Ike’s ex”) listicle from the Seattle Weekly editor Mike Seely that was a week old. Sadly, you’re more likely to see easily-digestible lists, factually inaccurate information that could be corrected with minimal research (like the “Cop Killer” post below, which remains uncorrected) and obvious trolling from VVM newspapers than intelligent coverage. For example, I doubt you could find people on the payroll of Starbucks who will tell you with a straight face that they believe it is the finest record store in Seattle, yet here we are. I even clicked on a collection of press photos from Sub Pop more than twenty-five times, just to see if Sleater-Kinney was included in a “25 Great Bands on Sub Pop” photo collection (they weren’t, but Hot Hot Heat was).
I have compiled a list of 25 posts that are so transparently obvious that they are designed only to generate page views, angry comments and nothing more. You won’t find any thoughtful analysis below. This is also only a representative sample, though I’ve tried to include most of the obvious examples (the instrumental hip hop one, the hipster band one, the Ryan Adams “review,” etc…). I even managed to link to each post (or the full text when the piece that never should have been published was taken down), because, really, that’s all they want.*
Someone who works for Seattle Weekly might tell you that they review every local album every month in their Reverb magazine, and that they have posted thoughtful articles, for example, on DJ Marco Collins and a detailed piece on why radio playlists are becoming less fluid, and that’s true. The Seattle Weekly’s music section isn’t completely useless (and I still read it daily to see what other blogs are commenting on, and Eric Grandy is easily one of the best music critics in this city), but to pretend that VVM newspapers are continuing to publish excellent cultural criticism without succumbing to pageview trolling is an exercise in denial.
- “Instrumental Hip-Hop Sucks. Ban It Forever.” by Philip Mlynar (SF Weekly; 494 comments)
- “Lionel Knows Best: 10 Black Pop Stars Who Should Go Country” by Mike Seely (Seattle Weekly; 3 comments)
- “Best CD/Record Store: Starbucks” by Chris Kornelis (Seattle Weekly; 41 comments)
- “Friday Night With Ryan Adams: Is This a Rock Show or Catechism Class?” by Gwendolyn Elliott (Seattle Weekly, comments unknown)
- “4 Good Reasons–Besides the Meth–to Drive to Spokane to See G. Love on Friday” by Gwendolyn Elliott (Seattle Weekly, comments unknown)
- “Sasquatch! 2012 Wrap-Up: The Trivia and ‘Does She Have a Tramp Stamp?’ Edition!” by Chris Kornelis (Seattle Weekly, comments unknown)
- “The 20 Worst Hipster Bands: The Complete List” by Ben Westhoff, ed. (LA Weekly, 1675 comments)
- “The Top 20 Whitest Musicians of All Time: The Complete List” by LA Weekly staff (LA Weekly, 87 comments)
- “Former New Times Music Intern Cops to Never Having Heard Pet Sounds on NPR Blog” by Martin Cizmar (Phoenix New Times, comments unknown, archived by PHXated)
“Wait, You Still Can’t Buy a Copy of ‘Cop Killer’ by Ice-T and Body Count in ANY Format?” by Martin Cizmar (Phoenix New Times, comments unknown)**
- “Eight Pleasantly Plump We’d Like to Get Down With” by Ric Delgado (Broward Palm Beach New Times, comments unknown, archived by Oh No They Writtn’t)
- “Top Ten Sexiest Fat Chicks in Music” by Dan Weiss (LA Weekly, 17 comments)
- “A Brief History of the Blowjob in Pop Music” by Luke Winkie (LA Weekly, 2 comments)
- “Five More Sudden Awful Music Marriages We’d Like to See” by John Seaborn Gray (Houston Press, 2 comments)
- “Top 20 Despised, Yet Wildly Popular, Bands and Musicians” by Craig Hlavaty (Houston Press, comments unknown)
- “The Top 10 Band Reunions That Never Should Have Happened” by Gwendolyn Elliott (Seattle Weekly, comments unknown)
- “Interview With a Raver Who Wears Electrical Tape on Her Boobs” by Ben Westhoff (LA Weekly, 101 comments)
- “Happy Father’s Day: Loser Kids of Rock Star Dads” by Valerie Alberto (Houston Press, comments unknown)
- “Luminous Ladies: A Tribute to Raver Girls” (LA Weekly, comments unknown)
- “Top 20 Sexiest Female Musicians of All Time: The Complete List” by LA Weekly staff (LA Weekly, comments unknown)
- “The 11 Sexiest Women Within the EDM Scene” by Taylor Moon (Houston Press, 17 comments)
- “The 8 Most Bro-Tastic Bands of All Time” by John Seaborn Gray (Houston Press, 17 comments)
- “A Brief History of White Boy Soul” by M.T. Richards (Phoenix New Times, comments unknown)
- “Frog Eyes! The 10 Greatest Glasses-Wearing Musicians” by Cristina Lynn (Houston Press, 4 comments)
- “The Six Gayest Songs That Might be on Chick-Fil-A COO Dan Cathey’s iPod” by Ryan Wasoba (Riverfront Times, 15 comments)
* VVM newspapers changed to a new commenting system on July 19, and comments before that were lost. That is why some posts above say “comments unknown.” I know how to check comment counts.
** Martin Cizmar disputed my inclusion of his piece on the Ice-T/Body Count “Cop Killer” song being censored. I included it because his thesis – that “Cop Killer” was never made available in any format – was wrong and there was no correction after it had been pointed out by readers in the comments. The song “Cop Killer” was recalled from the Body Count album in 1992 and, as Cizmar pointed out to me on Twitter, the song was never made available as the free single that was promised at the time. Versions of the Body Count album with “Cop Killer” on it are rare but not impossible to come by (there are a handful of copies for sale on eBay right now). Whether or not he is correct is immaterial and making a mistake and/or being wrong doesn’t automatically make for “click-bait trolling” the same way that calling for a ban on instrumental hip hop does. I have crossed out the item from the list, added this footnote and apologize.
Chris Burlingame is the editor of Another Rainy Saturday.