This isn’t so much about the songs Pitchfork chose for this list, or about who made it to number 1, or how they were ranked. Lists are one of those things we as a society have failed to properly understand: We are not supposed to take them very seriously as a published product, but we should be very serious when making them. Or at least, apply academic methodology and resort to a large number of sources, otherwise, you end up with those “Best Movies Ever” lists that rank Avengers: Endgame above Goodfellas or The Lord of the Rings, or the older cousin of what brings us here, the perennial disaster that is Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.
This is the paragraph where I say “to be fair,” and to be fair, ranking music is even more difficult than ranking films or the sexiest Hollywood bachelors and bachelorettes. The broader the category, the more the results will be colored by the limitations and biases of the people editing the list. Just like when ranking books, the number of titles to study are more than there is life expectancy, but unlike books, you don’t have the benefit of translations most of the time. Accessibility to songs in different languages is only dictated by the cultural curiosity and ability of the listener to ignore or overcome linguistic and cultural barriers.
And in “to be fair” Section II, I can’t blame American music reporters for being unfamiliar with international music scenes that are wholly foreign and obscure to them, such as the ones from Southern India, in Farsi, in Igbo, or in French. But, I would expect them to be a little bit more knowledgeable about the music which comes from just south of the border and in the lived experiences of more than 40 million people in the US, the Spanish-language one.
And that’s why I am almost disappointed in Pitchfork’s list of the 250 Best Songs of the 1990s. Making fun of Pitchfork’s arbitrary and impossible standards is a staple of Internet Culture, and they seem to have embraced their fame of being the tough-love blowhards of music. But the one thing you could never accuse Pitchfork is of them being … well, basic. Unfortunately, when it comes to the Spanish songs that they featured in this list, they showed their basicness.
Only two songs in Spanish were included: Selena’s “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” and Elvis Crespo’s “Suavemente”. And when it comes to their “Best 150 Albums of the 1990s”, it’s only Selena with Amor Prohibido, which is just offensive. Not that I’m dissing Selena or Elvis Crespo, both are icons, both songs are classics bangers (though Crespo’s “Píntame” is way more deserving). But they are in NO WAY the best songs in Spanish from the 90s. Top 500? Certainly, but we’re talking about a decade that might be just as defining to Latin Music as the 60s were to music in English: The decade that saw the birth of Reggaetón, the consolidation of the US-Latin cultural space, the definitive admission of Tropical genres into the pantheon of our music, the deepening of the experimentation with mixing sounds and styles, the end of most overt dictatorships in the region, the growth of inequality along with exponential modernization.
But more importantly than that, it was a decade where Latines really began embracing and taking pride in their own musical cultures, which at some levels of the discourse, we still sometimes deemed inferior to the Anglo or French scenes.
I don’t think you can excuse this selection of songs on subjectivity. Because subjectivity in taste says more about what we have been exposed to than deep-held beliefs or anything intrinsic. This selection only shows that the people behind these lists DID NOT do their research. For example, you don’t need to know Spanish to realize that Soda Stereo’s “Un Millón de Años Luz,” from 1990, is on another tier altogether:
Moreover, I’m pretty much sure that if you’re a music nerd from the US, you need to at least know what Molotov is, and that “Gimme Tha Power” marked a before and after not just in Spanish-language music.
When it comes to women in Latin music, you cannot talk about the 90s without mentioning a certain Colombian lady. I’m of course talking about Aterciopelado’s Andrea Echeverri:
Representing the musical explosion that was Chile in the post-dictatorship 1990s, you had the glorious return of Andean Rock with Los Jaivas:
These are all great, but perhaps I’m being guilty of Rock-bias; let’s not forget that this was the decade when Juan Luis Guerra released basically the summit of the Bachata genre and one of the most popular love songs in our language with “Burbujas de Amor,” which is about … let you find out about that on your own.
If you don’t care about Latinos, then you can turn your eyes to Spain, whose very own Joaquin Sabina wrote perhaps the greatest song in our language about divorce and unfaithfulness:
All of this is to say that when making these lists, if you’re a proper journalistic platform and not some random idiot on Ranker.com, please either narrow the scope or do your research as thoroughly as possible (that’s why you need to hire a diverse staff people!). Either call them “The Greatest____ in the English Language” or make sure you leave a sizeable proportion of entries for songs in other languages. You will not be able to incorporate any beloved song from every language, but it will look closer to whatever “all time” means. Otherwise, that’s just tokenism, and for that we have Rolling Stone’s rankings.