‘Best of the Year’ Lists Come Out Too Early

The second to last Thanksgiving dish had been washed and the last Black Friday weekend shopping spree checked out, and it seemed like all the music blogs big and small began to drop their lists for best albums of the year.
It’s a great time-honored tradition for most music fans, who, like myself, obsess over their favorite works of the year from the most obscure acts to the most mainstream pop, and come up with a criteria of values to align them in numerical order with a single one at the top. Many articles have been written about how this task can be a silly proposition at times, but I’ve always enjoyed the lists for the purposes of music discovery, despite our foolish notion of one album to rule them all.
But, in the age of the Internet, there’s two new problems with these lists caused by the disintegration of the traditional album format and the proliferation of music streaming.
The latter is a problem because all of these lists are coming out at the beginning of December, probably a relic of when people actually bought music as a gift for the holiday and consumers wanted to know the perfect album to get their loved ones. But, when’s the last time your bought an album that wasn’t Adele’s? Even if you do buy music, not everyone has a record player and most people listen online. Why gift them an inconvenience?
Last year, most publications missed the release of D’Angelo’s brilliant surprise album Black Messiah because it came out on December 15. Some publications have stuck to the format and simply included the album on the 2015 cycle of best albums lists, but others basically acted like the end of December is a black hole where great albums go to die. There’s no reason that album shouldn’t be somewhere on every list this year if it wasn’t on last year’s.
Drake is the unlikely source of the other problem — out disintegrating album structure. If you were to conduct a poll of Drake fans and ask them what their favorite song was this year from the Toronto rapper, a wide swath of them would certainly answer “Hotline Bling,” “Back 2 Back Freestyle” and “Jumpman.” But two of those songs weren’t on an album at all and “Jumpman” was a single on his collaborative mixtape with Future, What A Time To Be Alive.
His actual album If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late was a fine album, but may have been promoted a little higher than it would have without the successes of his stand-alone singles throughout the year.
Thankfully, some publications are embracing the artist of the year award, which is a litte more all-encompassing. Still, both of these issues can only grow with time as artists look for new and inventive ways to release music on new formats during less crowded time slots throughout the year.
These are good changes for music. Albums are more accessible than ever, pop stars such as Justin Bieber are able to make fully formed albums that get commercial success from start to finish, and artists such as Sia can release music in January without fear of a drop in sales. Now we just need to revamp how we evaluate our album of the year lists to actually include the whole year.

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