That project - an ever evolving, uncontroversial portrait of contemporary tastes in popular music - addressed one problem surrounding music in the file-sharing era to the exclusion of all others. Faced with readers who wanted to know how to be fans in the internet age, Pitchfork’s writers became the greatest, most pedantic fans of all, reconfiguring criticism as an exercise in perfect cultural consumption. Pitchfork’s endless “Best Of” lists should not be read as acts of criticism, but as fantasy versions of the Billboard sales charts. Over the years, these lists have (ominously) expanded, from fifty songs to 100 or 200, and in 2008 the site published a book called The Pitchfork 500: Our Guide to the Greatest Songs from Punk to the Present. Similarly, Pitchfork’s obsession with identifying bands’ influences seems historical, but isn’t. When a pop critic talks about influences, he’s almost never talking about the historical development of musical forms. Instead, he’s talking about his record collection, his CD-filled binders, his external hard drive - he is congratulating himself, like James Murphy in “Losing My Edge,” on being a good fan. While Pitchfork may be invaluable as an archive, it is worse than useless as a forum for insight and argument.In the last thirty years, no artistic form has made cultural capital so central to its identity, and no musical genre has better understood how cultural capital works. Disdaining the reserves of actual capital that were available to them through the major labels, indie musicians sought a competitive advantage in acquiring cultural capital instead. As indie’s successes began following one another in increasingly rapid succession, musicians working in other genres began to take notice. Hip-hop is an illustrative foil. As indie bands in the ’90s did everything they could to avoid the appearance of selling out, rappers tried to get as rich as possible. The really successful ones stopped rapping - or at least outsourced the work of writing lyrics -and opened clothing lines and record labels. But for all their corporate success, rappers knew where the real cultural capital lay. When Jay-Z decided, as an obscenely wealthy entertainment mogul, that he wanted finally to leave his drug-dealer persona behind, he got himself seen at a Grizzly Bear concert in Williamsburg. “What the indie rock movement is doing right now is very inspiring,” he said to a reporter. One year later, his memoirs were published by Spiegel & Grau.
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