The Five Stages of Writing a Year-End List

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance of the fact that you'll never get to submit a Top 13.

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Dec 13 2014, 10:45pm

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/clintspencer

Most people enjoy bitching about year-end lists only slightly less than they enjoy making them, and it's hard to blame 'em. The year-end list is such a subjective piece of ephemera to start with that it's absurd to expect it to carry any real weight. Unless you're doing a genre-specific list, it's a futile endeavor at best, and at worst, an excercise in pure bullshittery. How are you going to honestly "judge" Nicki Minaj against Blut Aus Nord? It's ridiculous—but it doesn't stop us from trying. Some of us make our lists to rack up scene points, for bragging rights (“Oh, you’ve never heard of that band? They’re totally in my top five”) or, occasionally, just for the fun of it. Sometimes you get paid for doing it, which, if we’re honest, brings us to the reason why year-end lists exist at all: Money. The music marketing lobby needs quotes and bullet points to sate its gaping maw; one-sheets and CD stickers need their window dressing, and it’s a billion times easier to note that Album X was one of Duh Magazine’s top Ten of 2013 than to put any actual thought into writing a sentence or two about the music. That’s why they leave it to us word monkeys to squabble and scream over our precious, precious lists. It’s a vicious circle, but, much like Queen Elton John himself once noted on behalf of a small, animated lion, “It's the circle oflLife, and it moves us all/through despair and hope/through faith and love/'til we find our place/on the path unwinding.”

For writers, the whole thing is intoxicating. From the agony and the ecstasy of addition and subtraction, of carefully calibrating entries on what will become a list of ten or twenty or one hundred and three absolute, definite, hand-on-heart, would-I-lie-to-you? BEST albums of the year… to the sweet satisfaction of completion, drunk on the power of knowing that some band might possibly tweet about your—YOUR—list. Look at me now, Ma, I AM a real writer!

With that being said, allow me to walk you through the thought process that every writer goes through whilst making their all-important year-end llist, so you’re good and ready to witness the glory that is the Noisey staff’s Best of 2014 roundup next week.

1. DENIAL

This will be so much easier than last year! I’m so prepared, seriously. I already know what my favorite record was; I’m pretty sure it came out this year, at least. Who cares if I haven’t listened to anything besides Beyonce and Youtube parodies all year; I'm a music critic, I know what's good! I’ll just have a quick look at my iPod, and iTunes, and Spotify, and that pile of records on the table, and those CDs I stacked up next to the sink, and the four digital promos I just got, and my friend’s demo and…yeah, this will be no sweat.

2. ANGER

Ugh, this sucks. Year-end lists are awful. People keep putting the wrong bands on their lists, and god, why do I need to write so many fucking blurbs? I hate blurbs. How do you distill an album’s essence into fifty words? This is stupid. Year-end lists are stupid.

3. BARGAINING

Well, if I leave out this record, but swap this one in, no one will notice I ignored this year's big statement record in favor of a tiny garage punk band I discovered last week, right? I seriously cannot decide between these three atmospheric depressive black metal albums—they’re all so different! And this mixtape is clearly better than that one, but this verse is way better than that one, so maybe it should be in there…but wait, that chorus!

4. DEPRESSION

I'm never going to finish this. Why can't it be a Top 11? Shit, I have to have the Whatever record in here, but I can't displace the X record because people will think I'm uncultured and my editor will be annoyed. I don't like this album that much, but it's "important,” and people will think I’m out of the loop if I leave it off. I need to find something more obscure, too; everyone’s been talking about this record, and I have to prove that I know more than those plebs. Um.

5. ACCEPTANCE

Fuck it, that’s good enough. I'm sending this shit in. Never again.

Kim Kelly is ranking records on Twitter.