Rolling Stone’s 200 Best Singers of All Time List Sparks Controversy

Kiri-Anna Kingsbury Lee, Contributing Writer

Rolling Stone recently released a list of “The 200 Greatest Singers of All Time”, which has raised questions about the necessity of such lists and the credibility of the magazine’s reviews. The list notably excluded what were seemingly shoe-in singers, including Celine Dion, Janet Jackson, and Nat King Cole.

It began with a brief blurb that appeared to backpedal on the rankings before they were even presented to the reader, stating, “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.” This preface immediately presented Rolling Stone’s opinions as awkwardly subjective, yet boldly closed to criticism. It appears as though their attempt at providing the reader with succinct reasoning served better to diminish their credibility than to justify their choices. 

Exclusions, unsurprisingly, seemed to be the most controversial and heavily criticized aspect of the list.

Exclusions, unsurprisingly, seemed to be the most controversial and heavily criticized aspect of the list. Rolling Stone placed Aretha Franklin as their number one greatest singer of all time, which was met with little backlash. Other aforementioned “greats,” on the other hand, did not receive any mention on the list, and Twitter users such as Ashton Pittman rushed to their defense, calling the omission a “crime against humanity”. The absence of these famed artists on the list inspired more doubt towards the inclusion of other artists, namely contemporary hits such as Billie Eilish and Taylor Swift, as well as older artists such as Bob Dylan (regardless of his talent, the magazine must be obligated to certain extent to include Dylan in their list based on their name alone, inspired by one of Bob Dylan’s most famous songs, “Like a Rolling Stone”), and Ozzy Osbourne, the latter of which was described by Rolling Stone as someone who “doesn’t have what most people would call a good voice,” which begs the question of what the qualifications of the list really are. 

Rolling Stone’s reputation precedes it in almost every critical context. The magazine is known for its iconic and provocative photoshoots, exclusive celebrity interviews and exposés, and music reviews. Such reviews are well respected in the entertainment industry and act as a persuasive force in the rock and alternative music scene. Additionally, Rolling Stone is a monthly publication, and so when weighing these factors, it would be unreasonable to claim that controversial lists such as “The 200 Best Singers of All Time” would do little to tarnish their reputation as a reliable source for pop culture criticism, perhaps instead immersing the magazine into an unexpectedly beneficial controversy for their viewership. 

While it’s an ambitious task to attempt to compile a list of the best singers with the limitation of only 200 inclusions—a small number in the realm of great music—Rolling Stone has signed themselves up for criticism, introducing a likely unnecessary list with a bland yet pretentious blurb of empty justification and a frustrating pretense of objectivity. And yes, Celine Dion should have made the cut.