Tuesday, September 6th, 2022

The Singles Jukebox says goodbye

Not all endings are permanent. The Singles Jukebox started on Stylus, and ran for a few years, and only ceased because Stylus itself ceased to be. The planets aligned when two ex-Stylus writers who had never before met turned up by chance at the same quiz night and immediately started talking about starting the Jukebox as a standalone site. Some rickety logistics were figured out, the call was put out to other writers, friends and contacts, and we were back surprisingly quickly.

In many ways, music-crit discourse is in a better place than it was before TSJ, and before Stylus. We gave serious critical consideration to types of music that often didn’t have the best reputation. Today, things are better. It’s true that some parts of the music-criticverse is still dismissive of what’s in the charts, and particularly music listened to by women, young people, queer folk, POCs, and by people in non-English speaking cultures, and these are all things that we proudly championed at TSJ. But looking at what gets a run in major music publications, and it’s clear that even if things aren’t perfect, these artists and these audiences are taken more seriously than they were.

Is this ending permanent? Nobody knows. It’s devastating to be writing this post, not just because we know a lot of our readers loved us, but also because we loved what we did as well. The chances of us coming back are unknown but it may be more likely than a single chance encounter one Thursday night in a pub. The site’s archives will remain online at thesinglesjukebox.com, and if anything TSJ-related, or TSJ-writer related is happening, you’ll hear about it on our Twitter.

For now, we mourn and celebrate ourselves.

Katherine St Asaph: One of my editing tips was to cut anything not already expressed by the score.

Jessica Doyle: So I did my mourning here and here, there can’t be that much else to say… wait a minute, does this mean I get to drop all my Hot Takes and no one can stop me? WELL THEN. The best song the Jukebox never covered in its lifespan is “The Chaser“; the song I’m saddest (or maybe angriest) about the Jukebox never covering is Sulli’s “Goblin”; this would’ve been my Amnesty pick for 2021; in this case Alfred was right and the subhead writer was wrong;this would have been my Amnesty pick for this year; “Style” was the last Taylor Swift song worth paying outsized attention to; all y’all out there writing about Korean idol pop without even trying to talk about the treatment of workers and the now-only-half-hidden uglinesses of the industry can continue to feel ashamed of yourselves; relatedly, long live Stiglitz; I may never get Misha to love me enough to give Vremya i Steklo another chance but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to try; the Marxist (Gramsci-ist, really) elements of poptimism don’t grapple enough with what increased state presence in economies, including the economies of art and entertainment, ends up demanding in conformity; I hope Mo comes back to Atlanta someday so we can sing along to “Wee Woo” together again; I still don’t understand what purpose the concept of the “main pop girl” serves; I still hate the term “stan”; anyone who tries to shame you for fanboying/girling, or tries to convince you that your fanboying/girling must be a force for good because someone tried to shame you for it once, should be regarded with suspicion; and for that matter, liking the same pop group does not automatically imply solidarity or simpatico-ness, though it can be a start to something worthwhile; the personal should not always be political; we’re going to need a mechanism to keep the “We Like Us” links current if we’re going to leave these archives up; and neither your faves nor mine ever wrote a lyric as good as “I’m glad we compromised on flaming layup drills.” Okay, now I’m done.

John S. Quinn-Puerta: I applied at the last minute on a whim. What I knew of the Jukebox came entirely from a Punch Brothers Tumblr acquaintance. I knew I was a good writer but I was still pleasantly surprised to be accepted. For almost two years, it was a home for whatever I wanted to write. That’s what made this site great, to me: the freedom it afforded. Now Twitter and Tumblr will be my sole venues for tearing my heart open and shitposting, the last guests remaining at a party I arrived at too late, bloated with my own self-indulgence and crashing before I even began. (Last minute roundup: Some of my best blurbs were for C. Tangana, Vance Joy, Yola, and Noel Gallagher. Some of my favorite blurbs were for Hillbilly Thomists and TWIABP. Thank you to the Jukebox for getting me into C. Tangana, Hatchie, and [finally] Nilüfer Yanya.)

David Moore: I have been proud to be the unofficial keeper of Singles Jukebox controversy since the site launched in 2009. If you hover your mouse over the score for any track, you’ll see the Controversy Index — a number representing how far apart people’s scores are from each other. You can also hover your mouse over this link to the full Controversy List spreadsheet to see how the score is calculated. (RIP TSJ mouseovers.) If a song gets a bunch of [10]’s and a bunch of [0]’s, congratulations! You’ve got controversy.

I inherited the basic formula from Phil Dellio’s Radio On zine, via Frank Kogan. I was intrigued by the score for a few reasons: one, I can be a contrarian motherfucker, so I like to know when people disagree about stuff; but two, my instinct to follow the heat of discourse doesn’t always reveal when people genuinely disagree about how they assess the subject of their words. Lots of the most heated conversations on TSJ weren’t particularly controversial — back in 2009, “My Girls” generated 93 comments, one of the longest comment wars of that year, but its scores were closer together on average than 27 other tracks we reviewed that year.

If a song has a controversy score of 2 or more, it goes on the year’s controversy list. A score of 2.7 or higher gets you on the all-time list. Artists who grace this pantheon range from the predictable — early Ke$ha, late Sheeran — to the idiosyncratic, from jerk craze trendsetters New Boyz in 2009 to the hyperpop duo of Tony Hawk’s son, Gupi & Fraxiom, in 2020. Charli XCX, Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift, and the 1975 appear twice on the all-time list. Drake appears zero times. For the first few years of TSJ, I would intentionally nominate songs I thought would be controversial during the site’s Amnesty Week. I picked back-to-back winners (if you can call them that): Ke$ha’s “Cannibal” and Rebecca Black’s “Friday.”

But my sense of controversy waned over the years, and I grew just as interested in the songs that we built some consensus around — not true consensus, mind, but what I call a “consens-ish” score: the songs that score over [6.00] and have a controversy score of [1.00] or less. Lists of “consens-ish” tracks make for some damn smooth listening. The least controversial track I’ve calculated so far is KZ x Shanti Dope’s “Imposible,” which is emblematic of TSJ’s unparalleled ear for international cosmopolitan pop.

Although consensus (or -“ish”) did increase a bit over time, as the message board culture and independent blog era publications from which TSJ sprung gave way to platforms on which dissenting often felt scarier and much less educative and controversy felt like part of a rigged carnival game of discourse, the controversy score provided an invaluable and uncompromising time capsule. I defy you to find something that feels more trapped in the amber of its zeitgeist than Breathe Carolina’s “Blackout” (#5 of 2012) or Seven Lions’ “Strangers” (#2 of 2014) or…hell, Gupi & Fraxiom. We really nailed that one (I should have blurbed it. It’s a [9]).

I like to think I helped maintain a little parallel path as TSJ charted its alternative course through over a decade of music history. The massive repository of TSJ reviews, in all their controversy and consensus, will be as important to remembering the last decade as the site’s voice was in telling the story as it happened. The things that felt so present and alive over the last ten years will inevitably fade in memory and, just as likely, in accessibility, as all primarily digital artifacts seem to do. But every TSJ entry is a window into how all of the music mattered. It was all worth fighting for.

Tobi Tella: As a teenager with a lot of anxiety and some weird coping mechanisms, the black-and-white front page of the Jukebox felt like home. No matter what was going on in my life, I could look up the latest Pop Controversy or see what people thought about Mariah Carey’s “#Beautiful” years later on a whim (it’s still great!) When I first started writing, insecurity and reverence for the wonderful, wonderful writers here dampened my confidence in my own blurbs. These were some of the first people I saw be critical about music; how could I voice an opinion better than them, or worse, disagree? The longer I stayed on the site, the more I realized the appeal for me wasn’t the (extreme!) pedigree of the staff; it was the humanity in blurbing. Seeing 10 brilliant people come to completely different conclusions all based on their own perspectives or watching the same writer who could effortlessly dismantle weak songwriting gush with no reservations when an artist just nailed it showed me that the beauty was in the difference. It’s obviously a blow to see us cease posting, but knowing that any kid who really needs some stability or any music fan who just needs to know what people thought about “Swish Swish” when it came out (it was still bad!) will always have this massive encyclopedia of wonderful writing just warms my heart.

Ian Mathers: I don’t know folks, I just got unexpectedly and sincerely choked up about TSJ while listening to Stars’ “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead,” I’m sure this is going to be an extremely normal one. I keep thinking about R.E.M.’s “We All Go Back to Where We Belong” and what I wrote about it here, and how profoundly I was moved at the time (and still am) that they all appeared to be able to separate how sad they were to stop doing this thing they loved from the fact that it was necessary and even positive in some senses. The other day a good friend asked a question: what songs always make you cry? The first one that popped into my head was Björk’s “It’s Not Up to You“; something about the immense, humbling kindness of having the responsibility taken from you, surrendering the notion that you can fix everything. I always get disarmed by the simplicity of “I can decide what I give / But it’s not up to me / What I get given.” What we gave, speaking as someone who made up just a tiny fraction of this group effort (and let me say clearly and distinctly that every single person who worked behind the scenes here deserves a fucking medal and a hug, and I hope they all know how profoundly it was appreciated), is staggering in scope from any one of several viewpoints. Some of the very best music writing I’ve ever read I’ve read here, both from people who’ve already had or gone on to have illustrious careers elsewhere, and from people who as far as I can tell have never done anything anywhere else. I’ve read things here that have made me laugh like a drain, that have genuinely changed the way I’ve thought about art, that have made me cry. I suspect I’ve done some of my very best and very worst writing here. So many people gave so much so wholeheartedly to what TSJ did, what we did together. Getting given this ending wasn’t up to any of us, both the parts that hurt like hell and the parts that, for one reason or another, don’t. But it doesn’t change the beauty of what happened here. True beauty, which means it was goofy, harrowing, awkward, transcendent, luminous, contradictory, shallow, devastating, inexplicable, human. There’s so many other things I want to say, so many other things to address, but this is long enough. (And why are all the songs I think of now non-Jukebox ones? Why those instead of some of the many, many songs I still play regularly years later that I only ever heard because of here? Maybe it’s too big to look at that directly. Maybe I’m trying to bring another part of me here to express how much TSJ means to me.) Some things are [10]s because you’re not the same person when they’re over.

Michael Hong: In the twelfth grade, my English teacher handed back an essay and as she looked me dead in the eye, said, “I hope you’re not going to study English,” which like… where do you go from there? I was never qualified to write for the Jukebox. I applied as I do anything else, a joke that’s only funny to me. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what a fluke it was that I ever got in, that I ever got to write with some of the greatest. Yet, a month before the Jukebox’s closure, I feel like I got somewhere. I wrote a track review in Pitchfork for something no one else would think to cover; something that feels so damn surreal and the worst part of me is trying to figure out the twisted punchline. But I owe a lot of that opportunity to the Jukebox, to two of its greatest principles: that a) curiosity is always rewarded and b) any perspective can be valuable. There are so many other reasons to love the Jukebox — the quality of its writing and editing, its breadth of coverage — but I hope you’ll hold on to those takeaways. I was never qualified to write for the Jukebox… but I did it anyway. And somewhere in these past three years, I blurbed until I actually started liking what I wrote, until those long, rambling blurbs felt like they could only be mine. Nowadays, I write a newsletter about Chinese music — made possible because of the Jukebox. It also started as a joke, but this time, I’m working to convince myself it doesn’t have to live as one. It can be worth something, the same way the Jukebox let my rambles be worth something. Goodnight to The Singles Jukebox, I’ll love you forever.

Alex Clifton: Anxiety has frequently told me that everything I do is wrong. Depression convinced me that I have nothing of value to say and that nobody wanted to hear it. My brain and self-doubt constantly interfered with my dreams of writing until TSJ came along. For the first time in my adult life, it felt like my thoughts had value, they could be good, and people wanted me to share them. Somehow the selectors read me trashing Liam Payne and gushing about BTS and saw some kind of potential in me. TSJ has long given me the freedom to play around with my writing, doing both extremely earnest and personal reviews and also total shitposts. More than that though, the site gave me the confidence that I mattered and people cared — both other writers and our loyal readers. To my colleagues: truly thank you for your insights, wisdom, and playfulness. This has been the most amazing crew to write alongside. I have learnt so much from all of you — about music and craft — and am so damn proud to call you my friends. To the readers: if you have ever laughed at one of my puns or listened to a song because of my review, I can’t thank you enough. The fact that you actively conversed with us honestly meant the world, and TSJ has the only comments section on the internet that I have ever enjoyed reading. To all: thank you for thinking my voice mattered, even when I didn’t.

Juana Giaimo: I started writing for the Jukebox thinking it would be the first step in fulfilling my dream of becoming a music critic — an international one even! As time went by, I not only realized that making a living out of it is basically impossible, but was also disappointed by music journalism. And I partly have the Jukebox to thank for opening my eyes. Even though we’ll be gone, I think our way of reviewing music showed the flaws of traditional music criticism and how it doesn’t fit the 21st century. People don’t follow or unfollow artists just because of a rating anymore and every day fewer people read music criticism because the words don’t say much to them. But our words and ratings were different. Seeing other Jukebox writers destroy a song I loved or seeing I was the only one who liked a song the rest considered stupid opened my mind in the best possible way. It made me humble. I once wrote that The Singles Jukebox was like a home on the internet for me and I still believe that. Even if we’re now leaving it behind, I’ll remember our values, I think they matter. This turned out more serious than I intended but yeah, I just want to say that I’ll miss us. A lot. Can I rate this with an [11]?

Claire Biddles: The first blurb I wrote for this site was for “The Sound” by The 1975, one of my favourite songs by my favourite band. When it was released in early 2016 I had just begun an overhaul of my life and self that probably wasn’t that noticeable from the outside, but I can now recognise as a quiet catalyst. The person I am today is a direct result of The 1975 album that “The Sound” comes from, and of simultaneously being accepted as a writer at The Singles Jukebox. Both things are important as cultural entities in and of themselves, but it’s everything that spun around and from them that means the most. I’ve travelled over continents for The 1975, and for friends I’ve made here, and friends I’ve made through friends I’ve made here. I’ve read and written thousands of words here, but also elsewhere — at The Wire and Tone Glow and This Side of Japan and Kat’s weird Westlife Tumblr. I’ve read things I don’t understand, like Hazel’s motorsport posts on Medium and Iain’s blog about number one video games. I’ve listened to Brad’s single year playlists at my dayjob and recommended Hannah’s emo folk EP to my friends who are into those recent Taylor Swift records. I’ve made mixes for my radio show with Josh and Joshua, sung karaoke with Vikram, Julian and Edward, and I really, really enjoyed the two Low playlists that Ian made for me even though I never got back to him in detail about which songs I liked the most (I promise I will eventually). I don’t even really talk to Crystal about music that much, I just wish we lived on the same continent. This is corny and sentimental because, like my favourite band, I’m corny and sentimental — I’m sad the Jukebox is ending but it’s not ending really, I don’t feel like I’m grieving a loss because it’s all still there, in everything everyone does, reviews and mixes and records and art and text messages. All we are doing now is better for us having been here.

Alfred Soto: Writing about Fucking Drake prepares one for life.

Will Adams: Wow some of y’all* were determined to tank us, and succeeded.

Madeleine Lee: There is so much joy in seeing the music you love being taken seriously as music, especially in an industry where the packaging is often taken for the whole product. In the years before and after I was a regular contributor to the site, if there was a song I felt strongly about, I would go running to The Singles Jukebox to read about what others had heard in it. The opinions that differed from mine made me nod my head as much as the ones that affirmed mine did, because they were well-argued, or they gave me something else to think about, or something new to say. The blurbs were in conversation with each other, they were in conversation with the song, and they were in conversation with me. I’m particularly proud to be part of the lineage of thoughtful writing about K-pop as music that has been featured on the site. Thank you, Singles Jukebox, for the joy.

Dorian Sinclair: When we first learned TSJ would be closing, I did a lot of public processing. I tweeted through my initial reaction. I sat with my thoughts a little longer and produced a more detailed piece for my long-neglected newsletter. And I went back and looked at every song I rated highly. That last exercise was, unexpectedly, the most rewarding. Seeing where I agreed with other writers and where I didn’t, reading how other people articulated their reactions to a piece of music. Reflecting on how my own feelings on these songs had changed, and on how I’ve changed as a writer. That journey reminded me of just what a special place the Jukebox was, and how much I’ll miss it. There’s a strain of thought that says what makes things meaningful is their impermanence — that knowing something will come to an end is what makes it matter. And I do appreciate the ephemeral; after all, in many ways music is exactly that, much more so than visual art. But part of what made TSJ so remarkable is how it evolved over time; writers leaving and new ones coming onboard, following artists’ careers (including “minor” ones) over the years… its duration was a feat and a monument to how much everyone involved cared about the music. And while we will all carry that caring forward into the rest of our lives, I truly am sad that the site will now be frozen in amber rather than continuing to grow alongside us, nurturing our growth in turn.

Al Varela: I wrote about music on my own for a few years assuming it’d just be a hobby for me and my little group of friends. It’s kind of amazing that I was invited to be a part of this site with such a big legacy behind it. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity, and I loved giving my little opinions whether people agreed with them or not. Godspeed, Singles Jukebox.

Leah Isobel: When I started reading TSJ in high school, the discussion and the community in the blurbs and the comments seemed like the coolest shit, and so much from that era stuck with me forever — I think about Frank Kogan’s comment on the “King Of Hearts” blurb, like, daily. I fantasized about being a part of it one day. (I did draft a blurb for Lady Gaga’s “Applause” that I don’t have anymore. I think I gave it a [5], lol.) When I applied and was accepted as a writer in 2017, I was coming off several years of terrible life decisions and traumatic events, and I felt like things were finally turning around. Writing for TSJ put me in touch with myself, and always made me feel like there was more to learn; I always felt like I was getting away with something when I saw my writing next to everyone else’s. But that’s the point, no? TSJ made me feel like I had something worthwhile to contribute — it let me get away with being myself. I’ll miss that more than anything.

Mark Sinker: On the whole I think I overmarked: what can I say, I have a kind face. But always when the blurbs were published I’d scan the numbers first: am I wildly the outlier this time? It shouldn’t matter — stubbornness is a virtue! — except also it mattered? I’m not even generally a fan of marks as part of a review — it can devalue the writing! But here they were a key to the lovely rigorous machinery, whose purpose (for me) was making the collective real, including making real the fact that I belonged to it. Anyone can play the dickish troll: Being Yourself™? on-line as a consequence-free clout-game. But of course the value of music — pop most of all — is the crackling intersection between the ultra-personal and perverse and the publicly collective: what the gang agree about is not nothing. TSJ was such a great intersection for this, for such a long time. All gone now, and that’s sad: turns out I can’t just hiatus for nine months for (semi-good) life & work reasons and happily swan back in to do my thing as if nothing happened. The taking-it-for-granted is over. But the set-up was so perfect for me as a writer — including just treating the entire project as a device to produce an effect. Here I am being thrown an item I have little context for (hyperbole as cover for the search-costs is a long-running music-writer problem) and then here’s me working out how to respond and what the response is for, even if it’s just picking out weird little tremors of misdirection out on the edge of The Discourse, by wandering at distracted angle across same. Which realistically I always had to do — I first began writing about music publicly in 1980, and my frame of reference is shifted back accordingly, the reader doubtless enduring fragments of that ruin like a broken stoneface in a Tolkien landscape: look on our works, look how we fucked up. There was no point pretending I was ever “keeping up,” because I wasn’t — and right there was a rush of release, along with the speed of response required (delay and it was gone), and the freedom from house style or voice or register or plan of attack. You could neglect all kinds of elements proper to the role — because another in the five-plus fellowship tackling the same piece would definitely step up, with the insight or the irritation or the knowing-what-they’re-talking-about lol. I loved the focus– not an album, not a phase or an era, but just one song — and I loved that anything you put on the page could be unexpectedly sparked or buffeted by a neighbour’s comments to say more than you knew when posting it. Undeclared meta-commentary via editorial juxtaposition — this was always such a joy. During my time in dead-tree publishing, a lot of the fun was the use made on the page of this or that lively in-office culture. Perhaps the atomisation of online WFH put a spanner in that — yet TSJ somehow discovered a superb technical structure for its maintainance, to transfer the ephemeral energy of the instant chatty present, its inventiveness and swiftness of tone-shift, into a lasting message left for the future. “The unit of rock significance is the whole of rock ‘n’ roll,” wrote Meltzer an age ago. Well, first, TSJ was always assuming a new, more capacious word than “rock,” a word not yet coined — but second, it offered, week on week down the years, a fragmentary running glimpse of what this “whole” might actually workably be. A stone face that possibly didn’t fuck up? We’ll see, I guess. I’ve said that taking-it-for-granted was part of my process. That means that when it comes time for the thanks I only know that any list I make will only leave way too many people out. There was so much unpaid backroom work going on to keep this going, and the site as its own archive deserves a full and proper acknowledgments list — of everyone who went above and beyond, month after month. For now I’ll just name one: my good IRL friend Martin Skidmore, near-birthday buddy and the contact that got me started here, an excellent gorgeous sensible presence that I very greatly miss. This blurb — and in my heart this archive — to his honour and his memory.

Oliver Maier: This website rocks and it felt insane to be allowed to be a part of it. It meant everything to me, in the middle of an otherwise very sad and lonely summer, that some of the cleverest people writing about music liked my crappy submission blurbs enough to let me write alongside them. Really it still does. Some people had their lives changed by the site, but it was the way that it remained a constant presence as my life changed around it that made the Jukebox important to me, an anchor through three years of heartaches and job applications and moving house and lockdowns and so on. It’s made me think more about what it means to listen to and write about music than probably anything else in my life. It’s put me onto songs and artists that I never would have heard otherwise and yet can’t imagine living without. It’s given me the confidence to lean into my stupid outlandish writerly impulses and draw wild comparisons. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that, in some ways, it’s made me a better person. Loving music is easy. Loving pop is complicated. Writing about pop music for this website felt like the silliest, hardest, funnest not-a-job ever, and I’ll really miss clocking in. TSJ forever.

Brad Shoup: I hate pitching — I never know what’s going on, and my angle never reveals itself until I’m like a third through the writing — so it was a joy, every week for more than five years, to access my writer’s panel and see the current batch of tracks. No input needed but the comment. Each song was placed by a committee that always, always aimed for the right mix of chart hits, intriguing risers, and peeks down some of the innumerable halls of global pop. There are songs in our archives for which TSJ is basically the critical record. There are tracks in our yearly top 10s that didn’t receive much more than cursory coverage elsewhere, and the Jukebox lavished them with six, ten, fifteen, twenty different takes.

The beauty of the panel format is that a complete reckoning isn’t one person’s burden, and one person isn’t speaking for the publication. We always had room for one-line pans and scene context and autobiography, for formalist exercises and close reads and terse groans. With enough participants, a good editor — and ours were tremendous — could build something considerate and contradictory and completely legible. God, I loved writing alongside y’all. The Jukebox was where I first understood the odd pleasure of reading someone tear apart something I loved. It’s the internet, there’s no shortage of places to rate and comment, but it was a privilege every time my name appeared alongside everyone else’s, pros and hobbyists alike.

I started contributing to TSJ in the summer of 2011, which was in the midst of what I would, years later, recognize as a vibe shift, though I wouldn’t have access to the actual phrase “vibe shift” until a few years after that. The cohorts changed; certain assumptions rotted away. I slowly realized that within all these songs and all these reviews, there was a secret education: all the forms a life can take, all the ways one’s existence can be enlarged, or threatened. I wanted to hear everything through everyone’s ears. Each week brought fifteen songs, a dozen friends, a hundred ideas. Extrapolate that through nearly two decades: how large is that gift? How large is that debt?

Every year I realize I owe even more to TSJ’s founders, editors, writers, and readers. Whatever weird fuel that powered the Jukebox — some mixture of curiosity, opinionatedness, advocacy, subversion, and public service — will propel something else one day. I can’t wait to stumble onto it.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: I won’t ever listen to pop without thinking of the rest of you. All things go but this one will never really die.

Nortey Dowuona: The strangest thing about ending is that you don think it can happen. One day, you’re 19, having just signed up for one of the few places that can cover Lorenzo Asher, Chiyanti, Afro Kitty Jones, and Justine Darcenne, and one of the few places where African music, amapiano, kwaito, Igbo/Yoruba pop, and even Ghanaian legends like Bree Runway are covered in all shades and colors. Then it’s September 4, 2022, you’re 25 years old and you realize that a chapter has closed forever and you cannot rewrite the book – it is done, finished, over. I have been rapping since I was 13, have been good since I was 17, and have been refusing to take any of the lucky breaks I have been handed due to my own foolishness since I was 8. But I am a better writer for getting this opportunity, for being edited into somewhat acceptable and readable blurbs, for granting my undeveloped opinions the chance to be honed into real, actual beliefs and statements. Here, I became a writer, a good one, and learned how to write. I was a nicer reviewer to some hack garbage than I should’ve been, a little meaner to genuine art than I needed to be, and I occasionally saw something that most of my older and more knowledgeable colleagues hadn’t seen. And sometimes, I actually provoked a reaction — of joy. Those were my favorite times, when I had written something and what I meant to do got across the screen. And here, I will put a verse, cuz I am a rapper and I write rap verses. Might as well not hide:

I started at 19 my mind on cream/so much lime turf I could shack up in gogurt/although it hurt to not get the revenue stream/I learned enough to fill up a family yurt/scribbling, scrolling, bumping, judging/jumping into the pool of canines of closing time/opening my parachute covered with the window sign/wincing, crouching, thinking, strolling/Iris, Jessica, Ian, Kayla, Oliver and Hannah/homies I’ll carry wimme forever like Banner/Rest of y’all hit me on the beeper/Telegram still jumpin, grab some Tropicana/in 2022 we zip, zap, zooey off the tube/the internet is aging, even to this rube/Lute lilting the backgrounds, I sleep/eyes open to “The Jukebox can’t continue.” Nortey Dowuona. Rapper. Writer. Goalkeeper. Roadie.

Thomas Inskeep: Thanks to Alfred Soto (we go back to the mid ’00s, at initial TSJ home Stylus), I’ve been contributing to the Jukebox for eight or nine years, during which time I pissed off a lot of people, made some enemies, but made even more friends, too many to enumerate here. And my writing has sharpened quite a bit, even if I do still use too many adverbs. (It’s my thing, it would seem.) I loved not just writing blurbs but being involved on the back end, as part of the crew actually selecting the singles we covered. Thanks for making this a destination as a reader, or your home (for however long) as a writer. Hopefully we’ll not die, just go into hibernation and take on some different forms. Long live the Singles Jukebox.

Kayla Beardslee: I applied to this site on a whim just before my 20th birthday, and the acceptance email I got back said something like “Congrats! But try to write more concisely in the future.” I then went on to do the exact opposite of that and ramble even more intensely; sorry, that’s my bad. But, unwavering word count addiction aside, the Jukebox has been a quiet but steady force for positive change in my life ever since I joined. You guys can’t possibly know how much TSJ and its community have helped me develop my confidence, voice, and world view in the past three years. I’m a painfully shy and anxious young adult who overthinks everything and doesn’t really like her place in the world yet — but because of this little corner of the internet where everyone writes from the heart, I’m a little happier with who I am and what I have to say. I’m the kind of person who agonizes a lot over finding the exact right words, so you can imagine the number of drafts I’ve gone through with this blurb tonight, but the great thing about the Jukebox is that we’re all here to fill in the gaps in each other’s perspectives. Someone else will express the important things I didn’t say better than I could have on my own, and this constellation of thankyous will be even better for it. Besides, if meaning was that easy to hold in language, then what this site did wouldn’t have been nearly as fun. Thank you so much, this has meant so much to me, and I’m so grateful to have met all of you. And the thoughtful, curious, open-minded spirit of the Jukebox and its community is not going away anytime soon. Listen to more music, but do it for yourself.

Rachel Saywitz: I found TSJ at a strange crossroads in my personal and professional life. Living in quarantine for more than a year, the company I found in the Jukebox was heart-warming. I am still so grateful for everyone who welcomed in me in with open arms and hearts, who fostered a playful and creative environment just by being open and curious about why we were all here — music. I had never been within a welcoming group of music lovers, not even when I studied music in my undergrad. Having only been part of the Jukebox since late 2020, I have a lot of regrets… this is is my first blurb in over a year. I still have many fears of writing, even for a site that has always felt surprisingly non-judgmental to me, and ultimately when it came to TSJ, those fears won out. But I never stopped writing, and I haven’t lost the lovely company I’ve kept from this community. I’ll take many lessons from my short time here, but it’s the people that will stick with me the longest.

David Sheffieck: It’s been eons since I’ve written anything for the Jukebox — my life has changed completely at least five times since I started. But there are friends I met back when I started years ago who I still talk to every day, and artists and songs I love that I would never have encountered otherwise (Sofi de la Torre is the consensus pick here but let me add Simmy! “Ngihamba Nawe” forever.) I’m thankful to everyone who’s contributed a blurb or worked behind the scenes to keep this website running. Every one of you was extremely wrong about at least one song that I loved, and every one of you was exactly on target about at least one song I hated, or the other way around. And that was wonderful.

Sabina Tang: Friends, writers, commentariat, lend my confession your ears: I’m honestly not that into new music? It blurs together. In TSJ’s heyday the site gushed forth kaleidoscopic criticism at a rate of six to a dozen reviews, two to four songs a day, breaking only (it seemed) for statutory holidays, obituaries, and Eurovision. The behind-the-scenes, purely-for-the-love-of-it sausage-making process was monumental. Most of the songs were average, because that’s how average is defined. Sheer breadth and curiosity made the difference. Meanwhile, my own brain might eke out one (1) lukewarm take worth writing up per month, and if that take happened to latch onto a movie instead, well, better luck next time. I was invited to apply during the Mesozoic Era of the site and did, never insensible to the honour of rubbing shoulders with some of the keenest, funniest, and most dedicated music opinion-havers out there. Eventually I found I was surfacing to claim tracks only when the “single” was 25 years old and the artist had just died. The score I’m tacking on is an honest reflection on my relationship with TSJ, not on TSJ.  Nevertheless. Others will remember Lana and Annie, Taylor and Carly Rae. I have the lived-in authority to speak on behalf of TSJ’s lurkers. Those who search tracks after hearing them for the first time, months after release, well after they’ve been talked to death. Those who don’t keep up with the zeitgeist but poke around when bored, hopeful of left turns and novelty. Those who quietly read Amnesty pitches. Those who commented maybe twice, back in 2012; those who can’t believe that was 2012 and need independent confirmation. Those who followed writers on LiveJournal, on Tumblr, on TinyLetter, on Twitter, even when folks moved onto newer projects and stages of life, because the writers never stopped being keen and funny and dedicated. Those who once in a blue moon find themselves in possession of an opinion — on, say, the 4th-gen K-pop girl group NewJeans’s EP track “Cookie,” and the steely calculus dating back to Gainsbourg/Gall that if you’re to make a child sing unethical innuendo on live TV the song had better slap — and, once in a blue moon, would have known where to put it. All things end, but we’re richer even for the ruins.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: My application for TSJ featured an unpublished blurb for IU’s “Palette” that detailed a recent, life-altering career change. It was 2017, and I felt like I was finally emerging from the drudgery and oppressive depression of my early 20s. TSJ helped maintain that trajectory, because while music had always been an important salve, this site invigorated what it could be and mean. Crucially, the multitudes of writers and opinions and scores were less about establishing consensus (or controversy) than revealing music’s infinitude. Whereas other publications focused on forming canons and maintaining a single, authoritative voice, TSJ embraced the panel format to show that each song was a different experience for everyone. Eager to get my own thoughts out there, I’d spend every commute listening to the songs we had on deck. I’d gleefully wrack my brain around what every song was doing, how it made sense in my historical understanding of pop, whether it clashed with the perfume I was wearing, if I could imagine an accompanying dance routine, guess what score it’d receive, consider the opinions other writers would have, and question the biases informing my taste. When I parked, I’d scrawl any thoughts down before they dissipated into the ether of workplace priorities. I don’t think I’ve been bored a single day since joining TSJ: it expanded the way I experience all art. Beyond this obsessive and analytical side, I also appreciated how warm the other writers were — they’ve helped me through the years in both professional and personal matters. And if I’m not talking with them via DMs and group chats, I’m admiring them from afar. Our writers have deep, interesting lives beyond their opinions about music — hell, that’s what made their opinions interesting in the first place. And that’s the thing: I’ve never read any other music publication that made the artist-listener relationship feel like a symbiotic one. “For the first time in my life,” I wrote in that IU blurb, “I feel like I’ve found ‘my thing.'” I didn’t know it at the time, but TSJ would be the first website I’d love writing for; nothing will ever compare.

Harlan Talib Ockey: In the two years I’ve been here, The Singles Jukebox has not only helped me upgrade every aspect of my own writing, but also wrecked my preconceptions about what music writing can be. Every possible format, style, and angle has shown up here at some point, from in-depth structural analysis to “Funky Cold Medina” riffs. Nowhere else on the internet hosts such a wide variety of opinions and methodologies on a single song in a single post. (I’ll treasure the controversy scores forever.) I hope there’s a path to a revival someday, since this is such a unique website, but no matter what, I’m so grateful I got the chance to collaborate with this wonderful group of writers. I’m excited to continue reading your work elsewhere.

Edward Okulicz: The reader may ask, how did The Singles Jukebox work? Depends on what you mean by “work.” In one sense, it worked because it evaluated pop the way it exists in the world. It’s the songs that you hear, that you hum, that you whistle, that you talk about. That were on the charts, popped up on Spotify playlists or as a suggested video on YouTube, that people asked you if you’d heard. The idea that the album is the core unit by which music is evaluated has never seemed right to me. It’s always been the song, from my childhood days convincing my mother to buy second-hand 45s at a record store, to reviewing the track getting the streams and hype. Even as the CD single stopped existing around the time we started on Stylus, left by the wayside by downloads and then streaming, there is something magical about the idea of a single song that through a melody and an arrangement can become immortal. The Jukebox also worked because the way songs achieve immortality is because people know them and have an opinion on them, and conversation makes meaning and creates deeper thought and understanding and appreciation. Yet the idea of reviewing a song from different perspectives is an outlier; the majority of publications rely on one writer to communicate the masthead’s definitive opinion. Although team-reviewing existed in music before us, what TSJ did in one sense reminds me most of British video game magazines in the 80s, where there was a description of the game and several of the writers all gave their own opinion. I loved this, and that’s still probably my main influence as a critic. For a while, I thought maybe I might win the lottery and expand the Jukebox to cover pretty much everything — album reviews from a bunch of perspectives and multiple scores? Send several writers to the same concert? Sadly, the last ticket I bought yielded only $24.05 and I spent more than that on the ticket itself, so it’s not happening for now. The Jukebox also worked because every day, writers logged into a weird, brightly-coloured interface to see what songs were up for review and submit them, and a daily editor used the same interface to put them together, and then pressed a button and it got shot into WordPress automatically. I wrote it and it’s really badly written but while I’d be ashamed if you dug into the code (and not just because of all the stupid non-meaningful names I give my variables), I’m not ashamed of the site it ran, or at least walked. Most of all, the Jukebox worked because it had some incredible writers. I told myself that if I didn’t administer the site, there’s no way I would ever have been asked to join. The occasions when a commenter stopped by and said they liked something I wrote and made me feel like I belonged gave me wonderful feelings. To all our readers, I thank you all, but to any of you who popped in to say they liked anything any of us wrote, the second biggest thanks are for you. I once went through a dark patch. Maybe it was 2002, and music might have saved me. But reading and writing about music, which I started the nest year, did something more than that — it has enriched and added value and pleasure to my life. I started obsessing about music when I was about five years old, I went to my first rock concert at 14, and started writing about music at 22. I’m 41 next week, but love of pop makes me feel that I’m still young. The biggest thanks I have are for all the writers who share all of that with me.

Samson Savill de Jong: I reckon album closers are some of the hardest songs to pull off in music. It needs to fit the sound of the album, but it can’t be just another song. It needs to be bigger, epic and, somehow, simultaneously leave you satisfied and wanting more. You always need to leave them wanting more. “A Certain Romance” is the best song Arctic Monkeys will ever make, but it’s also distinctly an album closer; it can’t go anywhere else. Some artists are good at it, most aren’t, but when they get the ending right, it elevates everything that came before it. Which is weird, right? The ending shouldn’t affect what came before if you enjoyed it, but we’re bad at compartmentalising like that, and we let how things finish cloud the whole experience. TSJ is ending, but it’s still here, because it happened, because it mattered at the time when it mattered to you. To me. Getting to write here, getting people to listen to what I had to say, and for it to be taken seriously, has been incredible, and arguably everything I truly want. I started writing just as I was ending a truly harrowing job experience, was at my most productive unemployed, and slowed down a lot when I got a new day job. But I never wanted to stop, because I enjoy this site more than anything else I do. Putting thoughts online is easier than it’s ever been, but doing it in a way that engages with others and admits that just because it’s my opinion doesn’t mean it’s right, that’s increasingly vanishing. Maybe the world doesn’t really want that, though I suspect it does, and I hope that there will be room for sites like this in the future. TSJ will stand as a monument, and I’ll always have the time that I put into it and the memories that created, and I hope you have some too. But now this site is ending, and I think ending in the right way. The same, but bigger, simultaneously satisfying, while, hopefully, leaving you wanting more.

Jackie Powell: I’m generally an optimist, so that’s why I’m giving this final post a [10]. It’s fitting to be an optimist when something so wonderful is ending and leaving us all. When I first heard that TSJ wasn’t going to continue, I felt a few different ways: I felt sad, I felt guilty but then also felt grateful. That cliché phrase “all good things must come to an end” landed in my brain. Let’s parse through each emotion. First, the sadness. The discussion that immediately began was on this notion of a dying breed of music writing. The fact that artists come after members of the press and critics for us just doing our jobs continues to be so frustrating. Writing about music and music criticism needs to continue because it means that music is still telling us about who we are at the current time. Criticism isn’t meant to be cruel but rather is meant to tell us something about ourselves and the space and time that we live in. Second, the guilt. The last blurb I wrote before this one was in 2021. Some of you know, but aside from my obsession with pop music and pop culture in general, I am a sportswriter. For the past three years I’ve been covering women’s basketball, meaning the WNBA and the college game and even sometimes the international game. Anyway, as I began covering the game more nationally rather than just locally (I’ve been freelancing for Bleacher Report for over a year now), it became so incredibly difficult to make sure I was contributing here. Should I have told myself, hey, your blurbs don’t have to be super substantive and discuss vocals and harmonies all the time? Probably. Maybe it was my anxiety and depression and fear of burnout that kept me from blurbing. Whatever it was, I feel guilt for stopping my contributions cold turkey. Third and finally, the gratitude. I owe immense thanks to Hannah Copperman, someone who when I was at my lowest point and really depressed in late 2018 into early 2019 encouraged me to get involved with TSJ. I remember how loved and lucky I felt to be accepted into this community in July of 2019. TSJ has been a place where really passionate people write incredibly silly, intelligent and insightful words about the music around us. Thank you TSJ, thank you to all of the editors who read my overtly biased blurbs whenever I reviewed a Lady Gaga song and thank you to this community. Everyone in it matters and I hope that we can find a way to continue to do this work. It matters.

Scott Mildenhall: Where am I going to spout my ill-informed opinions now, Speakers’ Corner? It would never suffice. The Jukebox to me wasn’t just a place to play at going derangement-of-the-senses over lyrical quirks in cut-and-shut dance hits — it was somewhere to discover. It gave shape to idle thoughts, tested prejudices and sharpened instincts. More than I ever could have predicted, it was an education. In a way, it was like the school of your dreams: you never see an end to your weird little jokes and lessons in Sundfør, Simmy and Sun-El until it creeps up on you. But even after it does, and the details begin to fade, the imprint won’t. That’s thanks to all of the names on this page — not least Edward Okulicz and Iain Mew, the most supportive person the internet has ever known — all of whom gave the meaning and the lifeblood to this little ship of Theseus. I heard stuff, I felt stuff, I read stuff, I learned stuff. It ran the gamut — so it’s about time my scores did, too.

22 Responses to “The Singles Jukebox says goodbye”

  1. Thanks for the run, TSJ has been one of those urls kept in muscle memory and entered into a browser several times daily without thinking about it. Part of the daily routine and a year-round part of my music discovery and reflection.

  2. Mouseovers, I think I’ll miss you of all.

  3. Guess I left it a bit late to fix the always-centered first paragraph on the mobile view, apols

  4. ^ that typo is going to be stuck there for perpetuity

  5. And thus my RSS feed has been narrowed back down to 4 webtoons and 3 fandoms’ AO3 tags. Happy to see some people I’ve followed outside of the website get to blurb here and psyched to see where everybody goes from here.

  6. I still couldn’t read everyone’s words, but thanks for letting me rate thia with an 11 <3

  7. I love you, jukebox pals!! I haven’t written here in a long long time but it’s always felt like home. Thank you for keeping it going so long. It’s the place where I could always find something new to love, or a new way into loving something, or just a really funny response to the eternal problem of having to say something interesting about a song that frankly isn’t. I did the best writing of my life here, purely because I knew what kind of writing it would be keeping company with.

  8. lmao will

  9. Not the last review being a Dj Khaled/Drake song. I hate it here

  10. I’ll miss TSJ very much. Thank you everyone.

  11. Sad, even though I never commented, I visited TSJ daily. I’ll miss you guys.

  12. I’ll miss you blind. Hasta pronto

  13. Very sad to see you go. I’ve enjoyed your reviews since the Stylus days and you’ve introduced me to countless personal favourite songs over the years, and you’ve entertained me while doing so.

    Special thanks to Edward for having excellent taste and having been very influencial in forming my own taste in music since I was 14 (I’m 34 now).

  14. TSJ has brought me to a lot of great music and a lot of new (and young) excellent writers (and I’ve mostly repaid it in awkward comment trolling) – which is all a fudge for the fact that the blurb that stuck with me the most is from Mark Sinker, who I know from before the Stylus days, bringing the fruits of age:


  15. Have read you guys since the beginning. I am pretty sure I got hooked up with the IMP (international mixtape project) because of Stylus. Man I am sad to see the end. Thanks for all the excellent work!

  16. Nooooo :(

  17. Thank you for so much.

  18. Deep music crit banger about lost love by The Singles Jukebox ft. Blurbers!!! [6]

  19. This has been a great corner of the internet, you’ll be missed. Now I need another way to sort of stay on top of current pop.

  20. The end of an era. You will all be sorely missed.

  21. Thank you all for the years of music – I’ve discovered so many artists through y’all and it made me happy to find so many people that appreciate strange witchy house music the way I do.

    Please let us know if you still do Eurovision on the TSJ Discord server because watching live with you all is my favorite!

  22. Wow, I’ve been visiting this site for so long, it’s truly sad to see its end! Thanks to all the contributors on here, I’ve discovered new genres, enjoyed critiquing terrible songs, and found new favorite artists. Many thanks to you all!