March 10, 2023 | ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT | By Zoe Smith
It was the middle of winter break, and I was sitting in my family home in Massachusetts watching the evening news – breaking news, at least to me. ABC News addressed, on national television how the infamous Rolling Stone Music Magazine made quite a controversial statement.
Some of the magazine’s most famous and anticipated articles are the lists that they have produced. The lists can vary from “The Best Hip-Hop Albums of All Time” to “The Greatest Classic Rock Bands.” Rolling Stone first came out with a list in 2008 titled “The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time,” and the list was recently rereleased in 2023, this time with “The Top 200 Singers of All Time.”
I sat with my mom at my dining room table, going through the list, continuously stopping and turning to each other and saying, “really? They made the list, and this person didn’t?” We kept repeating “who even made this list?”
I watched on national television as thousands of people protested the ridiculous ranking. One of those protests that stuck out to me were fans of the “My Heart Will Go On” singer Celine Dion who rose to the spotlight, pointing out how the global superstar with recognizable vocals was missing from the list. But Dion wasn’t the only artist who seemingly got snubbed by the well-known music media.
Rolling Stone quickly came out with a response to all the backlash they received in just the first week of the article being released. They explained that the list is not just based on singing capabilities alone, but that the process included qualifications of the singer’s impact on society and music culture. They prefaced with what is most important to keep in mind: originality, influence, and the depth of an artist’s catalog. When the magazine released this press statement, I scoffed.
If Rolling Stone ranked these singers based on voice and the cultural impact their music had, I would argue that their list includes even more inaccuracies than it had previously. As a fan of music from all generations, after my mom and I went through the whole list, dissecting each singer, it compelled me to explain what I would personally change.
The two main issues that I noticed immediately were Michael Jackson and Madonna. Jackson, nicknamed the King Of Pop, was given the 86th spot. With a voice that is impossible to confuse with anyone else, that alone makes him one of the most unique singers of all time. Rising to fame in The Jackson 5 in the ’60s, he found superstardom-level success as a solo artist in the ’80s and ’90s.
Jackson holds a multitude of records, including being the male artist with the most number-one hits on the Billboard Top 100, with 13 number ones. And now, almost 14 years since his passing, he still has nearly 35 million monthly listeners on Spotify. Along with him, his sister, Janet Jackson, also received the cold shoulder from the writers at Rolling Stone as she failed to make the list at all.
Next is what I would consider the biggest mistake of the entire list. Opposite Jackson, Madonna (who has been dubbed the queen of pop) failed to make the list entirely. With thirteen number-one hits, it makes her the leading female artist with the most number ones. With hits like “Vogue” and “Like a Virgin,” her mezzo-soprano voice became one of the leading sounds of 80’s pop music. Having sold over 330 million albums worldwide, she has earned her name as the queen of pop music.
Ariana Grande, who was ranked at a steep 43rd on the list, said in a late-night talk show about Madonna, “she paved the way for all of us and has been here fighting the fight way longer than any of us… She’s a bad bitch.” Personally, I was confused that the young pop singer of less than a decade was placed in the top 50 of the list when the “Queen of Pop” didn’t even make the cut.
From Madonna to Cher and Shakira to Bruno Mars, some of the greatest names in music history failed to make this absurd mockery of a list. With Jackson and Madonna in mind, I would have without a doubt expected these two to place in the top 10, and I would have expected Jackson to be in the top five at least.
I will defend certain, specific choices the Rolling Stone made about the list. Although I would not personally place this singer as the number one best singer of all time, I understand why the Rolling Stone decided on Aretha Franklin. The powerful, soulful singer who had been creating timeless music since the ’60s has proven that she deserves to have a space at the top of the list.
The top 10 is where I found myself agreeing with about half of those listed. With artists such as Beyonce, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and Whitney Houston, the top 10 of the list redeems many other aspects of the list. But I disagreed with artists such as Mariah Carey (No. 5), Al Green (No. 10), and Otis Redding (No. 9) making the top 10. Although all strong, immensely successful artists, I would have to disagree that they are some of music’s most influential singers of all time with the greatest depth in their discography.
Jackson wasn’t the only record-breaking artist to fail to make even the top 10. Artists such as Elton John (No. 100), Tina Turner (No. 55), Prince (No. 16), Freddy Mercury (No. 14), and Paul McCartney (No. 26) all failed to secure a spot in the top 10. McCartney was labeled by the Guinness Book of World Records as the “most successful musician and composer in popular music history,” and yet he is barely situated in the top 30.
I understand it is impossible to put every artist in the top 10, and of course, there will be people who disagree with whatever list is made, but I think most people could make a list more accurate than whatever joke Rolling Stone attempted. Recognizing artists such as Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Paul McCartney in more deserving ranks would be one way to start.
At the very beginning of the article, the author states, “What mattered to us most was originality, influence, the depth of an artist’s catalog, and the breadth of their musical legacy.” However, with the absurd number of artists ranked too low, others ranked too high, and some of music’s biggest names being forgotten altogether, I find it hard to believe that a critically acclaimed magazine that has spent decades dedicating itself to music decided this was the final version.
“absurd mockery of a list” get em lmao