On Jan. 1, 2023, Rolling Stone magazine rang in the New Year by unveiling its 200 Greatest Singers of All Time list. First released in 2008 as the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time, the updated list has increased in size and controversy.
The magazine was first known for its coverage of rock music and politics, explaining the original list’s skew towards niche rock artists. However, since the early 2000s, Rolling Stone has expanded its readership to younger audiences by shifting its focus to relevant pop culture topics.
According to the article, “When Rolling Stone first published its list of the 100 Greatest Singers in 2008, we used an elaborate voting process that included input from well-known musicians. The results skewed toward classic rock and singers from the Sixties and Seventies.”
In 2008, the top five artists were Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke and John Lennon. These musical giants were followed by others, such as Art Garfunkel, Sam Moore and Sly Stone – all of whom were excluded from the updated list. Rolling Stone’s 2008 methodology is currently unclear, it defined it as a list of “the best vocalists ever, as voted on by a panel of 179 experts.”
The parameters of the 2023 ranking system are more defined than its 2008 counterpart. Although titled as The Best Artists of All Time, Rolling Stone limits their list to the past century. “This new list was compiled by our staff and key contributors, and it encompasses 100 years of pop music as an ongoing global conversation.”
Additionally, the magazine preemptively explains its exclusion of particular genres, such as opera, “our purview is pop music writ large, meaning that almost all the artists on this list had significant careers as crossover stars making popular music for the masses.”
In the new year, Rolling Stone has focused on artists’ mainstream relevancy and whether their impact has maintained longevity in modern streaming. Pop music includes all genres such as rock, indie, R&B, country, among others, and is not limited to an artists’ vocal ability, or lack thereof. “What mattered most to us was originality, influence, the depth of an artist’s catalog, and the breadth of their musical legacy.”
In 2023, Aretha Franklin maintained the No. 1 spot, but is now followed by Whitney Houston, Sam Cook, Billie Holiday and Mariah Carey. Social media went into a frenzy reacting to artists like Mariah Carey who jumped from No. 79 to No. 5 in the updated list, while Michael Jackson dropped from No. 25 to No. 86. Rolling Stone has been accused of snubbing artists like Celine Dion, Janet Jackson, Tony Bennett, Madonna, Nat King Cole and Dionne Warwick by failing to include them at all.
One Twitter user wrote, “Rolling Stone definitely got it backwards with this best 200 singers list. Michael Jackson is top 10 minimum and not listing Celine Dion is crazy. Who let this run?”
Pleasure P, and other musical artists, criticized the list saying Anita Baker should have been included with a few others. Rolling Stone anticipated the backlash and included a disclaimer in the list’s accompanying article, “Before you start scrolling (and commenting), keep in mind that this is the Greatest Singers list, not the Greatest Voices List. Talent is impressive; genius is transcendent.”
Vocal abilities are no longer the focal point like in 2008, but rather an artist’s ability to “remake the world just by opening their mouths,” according to Rolling Stone. While controversial, the updated criteria has allowed for more diversity both musically and culturally.
Nigeria’s Burna Boy premiered at No. 179 and was cited as “the ambassador of Afrobeats as a global movement.” Israeli singer Ofra Haza, also known as the “The Madonna of the Middle East,” was celebrated for her rank at No. 186.
Jungkook, member of the Korean boy band BTS, made No. 191 and is one of the only Korean artists listed. These artists, along with Aaliyah, SZA, Ariana Grande, etc., were not included in the rock-oriented 2008 list, but have now been recognized as trailblazers within their communities.
One Twitter user said, “I mean do you all realize what a big achievement being a part of Rolling Stone 200 Greatest singer of ALL TIME around the world is?”
Rolling Stone has not responded to many of the criticisms circulating social media, falling back on its previous acknowledgement that the rankings would not be accepted by all. The magazine has not revealed whether another list will be released within the next decade