When the irreverent music blog Idolator reveals the results of its inaugural critics poll on Friday (www.idolator.com), it will be watched in the music/media world with more than passing interest. Not only does the survey compile more than 500 critics' opinions on the best recordings of 2006, but it also endeavors to supplant the granddaddy of them all, the Village Voice's whimsically named Pazz & Jop Poll.
Not that Pazz & Jop has gone away. The annual feature, whose rankings have become a defining indicator for any given year in pop music for more than three decades, will appear as usual, this year on Feb. 7. But after a year of turmoil and controversy following New Times Media's 2005 acquisition of Village Voice Media Inc., owner of the New York-based Voice and several other papers including the LA Weekly, the poll's preeminence is now in question.
In addition to a general uneasiness among writers and other media types over what's viewed as New Times' homogenizing editorial practices, the company took heat in August when it fired Robert Christgau, who created the poll and is revered as the dean of rock critics.
Voice music editor Rob Harvilla said Sunday that he doesn't know how many Pazz & Jop ballots have come in because he's just back from vacation
"I don't really have any problem with them," he said of Idolator. "I don't really think this rises to the level of a feud.... I can't say it was unexpected. I took the job and I had an idea it would be rough for a while, but I think it's gone as well as it could be expected to go.... Generally speaking, people are willing to give us a shot here. I see this as about proving ourselves and showing that we can keep this thing running."
But sentiment for a protest found an outlet in the upstart Idolator's announcement of Jackin' Pop.
"For those who had long turned to the Voice to help guide them through the realm of pop, rock and hip-hop," the blog's November posting read, "the 51-year-old alt-weekly now had about as much musical credibility as, say, a 3-month-old blog."
The 500-plus ballots are a strong showing for the new poll, just 300 shy of the Voice's total last year. "Obviously, the Village Voice had loads of autonomy," said Seattle-based writer Michaelangelo Matos, who was hired by Idolator to edit the poll and write the accompanying essay. "It was a writers' paper. The idea was that it was different from everything else, and the idea of New Times as an organization is that everything should be the same."
"It was at the Village Voice Media papers that alt-weekly rock criticism was done that is most serious," Christgau said. "At City Pages in Minneapolis, at the Seattle Weekly, at the LA Weekly and even at Nashville Scene. And all those places it's endangered, and that's an important little knot of people."
Matos acknowledges that some critics will vote in both polls -- most prominently Christgau himself.
"The decision to vote in the poll was something I thought about the first week I was fired," the deposed Pazz & Jop pooh-bah said. "And I said, 'Gee, yeah, I think I want to do that.'
"I'm flattered that people care. I'm flattered that it matters to people so much. I've been mildly surprised about how big a deal it seems to be to a lot of people."