The beloved singer’s absence from the magazine’s ‘200 Greatest Singers of All Time’ list caused an uproar—but was that the point all along?
“Je téléphone à la police,” Ashton Pittman wrote on New Year’s Day, responding to a tweet from Pop Base: “Céline Dion was not included on Rolling Stone’s 200 Greatest Singers of All Time List.” The snub was nothing short of a “crime against humanity,” the journalist remarked.
If you’ve been on social media at all this week, you’re sure to know that Pittman wasn’t the only fan upset by Rolling Stone’s fateful omission. Throngs of Dion’s admirers—young and old, gay and straight, musically inclined and otherwise—flocked to express their outrage that the beloved Canadian vocalist wasn’t only ranked under the likes of Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, and the Weeknd. She wasn’t considered in their midst at all. And though she got the most attention, Dion wasn’t the only artist unceremoniously left behind. Also unmentioned went Madonna, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, Cher, Janet Jackson, and Dionne Warwick; Michael Jackson was too low at position number 86; Barbara Streisand, at 147.
“You guys have been irrelevant since 1990,” Pink countered on Instagram. “This is the magazine that used to feature people like John Lennon and Muddy Waters. [Hunter S.] Thompson wrote political pieces. They put Tina Turner on the cover.” She goes on, accusing Rolling Stone of privileging “style over substance,” and “revenue over authenticity.”
“As clicks drive profit in the modern media landscape, getting something wrong every once in a while can serve you.”
She might be onto something. The question of whether the list was lazy—like most probably initially assumed—or carefully crafted to piss people off is difficult to nail down. It was penned by 28 contributors, so it’s hard to imagine that everyone simply forgot Dion and Bennet and Warwick exist, or chose to omit them entirely. And hate clicks are the new clickbait, after all. Maybe Rolling Stone was making like The Cut, when they ran an article calling Priyanka Chopra “a global scam artist” for wedding Nick Jonas—a move that, intentional or otherwise, generated tons of traffic and tweets and reactionary op-eds. Or like the Times, publishing a UVA student’s guest essay about being politically silenced at university, who probably just had some fucked up views that other people weren’t interested in entertaining. (“I Came to College Eager to Debate. I Found Self-Censorship Instead.”)
At the end of the day, it’s impossible to know the magazine’s motive—or whether one existed at all. I’m not sure which I’d prefer: bad or insincere journalism. The takeaway is that, as clicks drive profit in the modern media landscape, getting something wrong every once in a while can serve you—though, perhaps, not reputationally.