Let’s face it, people love to make lists. From debating who the global economic leaders may be to BuzzFeed telling me the 36 reasons I’m having a bad day (or can’t handle these puppies, or am apparently British), lists seem to capture our desire to have our subjective values objectively justified to the public at large. The EDM community is no different, and the desire is embodied in the annually popular (and contentious) DJ Mag Top 100 poll. Having our favorite artist on a list somehow makes us feel better because what we love is now publicly ranked higher than something we love slightly less. This justifies our subjective feelings in an objective way, an effect that is both highly desirable but logically impossible. Making a list based on subjective metrics reveals very little to those seeking actual knowledge from such an exercise. This is a common complaint of the Top 100 poll, namely that it doesn’t reflect talent, but merely popularity. On the other hand, the more popular your favorite artist becomes, the more opportunities they receive to promote themselves and their work, allowing them to continue to grow and develop. Balancing these interests in mind, the Top 100 poll doesn’t make any representations about talent or skill, but rather, is simply a tool for artists to enlarge their audience, and we should view it as such.
One can never point to the DJ Mag Top 100 and claim, with any kind of authority, that Armin Van Buuren is “better” than Skrillex (even if you happen to agree with that statement). Nor can you say someone is talentless because they haven’t made the list (regardless of how true that might be). The ranking on the Top 100 is not necessarily indicative of any skill outside of popularity, but it’s also not completely dismissive of talent itself. You clearly have to have some skill to become a famous EDM artist, but the Top 100 is not a way of measuring those skills. No list, poll, or test will accurately reflect the ambiguous and amorphous “talent.” The artists near the top of the poll are safe in both their concerns for talent and popularity for the most part. However, once you fall out of whatever is considered a “top spot” on the poll, the game is no longer about being number one because that proves the artist is the “best,” it’s about continually gaining influence and stature in the community, something demonstrated by simply making the Top 100 list. The DJ Mag Top 100 list is not, will not, and can never be a measure of talent. Rather, the EDM community at large should view it as a tool whose purpose is simply to enlarge the opportunities given to artists who make the cut. So who did you vote for?