Make a list of the best of anything, and people will argue with you about it. An entire subspecies of online “media” has arisen to exploit this contentiousness, cynically provoking audiences with hacky, tossed-off top tens—after all, hate-clicks count like any other clicks.
Because the Reader wants its Best of Chicago issue to be a positive place, though, those of us who assemble it each year try to sidestep the sniping, griping, and one-upmanship that usually surround such lists by devising categories so odd or so particular that they could have only one winner. It doesn’t always work: I can see folks disagreeing with our critics’ choices for “Best Rapper Taking Drill Into Pop” or “Best New Artist-Run Label.” But I defy anyone to come up with another plausible candidate for “Best Three-Toed Goblin King Turned Cultural Ambassador” or “Best Band Named After Something That Goes Great With Cream Cheese.”
For those of you who can’t feel as though you’ve properly participated in this annual ritual unless you’ve fulminated about somebody else’s clearly wrongheaded taste, well, there’s always the readers’ poll. I’m pretty sure it’s mathematically impossible for you to agree with every winner there—especially with categories as broad as “Best Classical Group” and “Best Music Venue.”
The goal of our Best of Chicago issue isn’t to start fights, no matter how good that would be for our Web traffic. It’s to share things we love, in hopes that you’ll love them too. If we stuck to straightforward categories like the ones in the poll—if we stopped at “Best Rapper” or “Best Label,” for instance—we’d be stuck with straightforward answers. The winners wouldn’t change every year, and that would frustrate our efforts to anoint as many people, places, and things as possible. Many of the 38 critics’ categories in this year’s music and nightlife pages are silly—you’ll get no debate from me there—but not one of the winners overlaps with a 2013 pick. That gets us one tiny step further along in the permanently impossible task of recognizing everything that’s wonderful about Chicago.