NME's Cool List

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"Whether it is wearing the right clothes, being magnetically charismatic or deliberately trashing their talent for the sake of it, all of the entries in [the Cool List] have one thing in common – the X factor."

— Former NME editor Conor McNicholas, speaking in 2003[1]

NME '​s Cool List is an annual listing of popular musicians compiled by the weekly British music magazine NME. The list is created each November by the magazine's writers and journalists, and is based on the 50 musicians that they consider to be the "coolest". Each year's list is first announced by NME through both a dedicated issue of their magazine and their official website, NME.com – the Cool List issue often attracts high sales.[2] The list was first published in 2002, to highlight the people who were "at the forefront of the music scene"[3] – Jack White, the lead singer of American rock band The White Stripes, topped the first poll. Since then, it has been published a further eight times: it ran every year from 2003 to 2011, with the exception of 2009. Musicians such as Justin Timberlake, Pete Doherty and Laura Marling topped these subsequent listings. As of 2013, the most recent artist to top NME '​s Cool List is the American rapper Azealia Banks.

Alongside the Cool List, NME also often concurrently publishes alternative lists, such as the Fool List, the Had It, Lost It list, the If Only They Rocked list, and the Cool Places list. Fool Lists have included individuals such as George W. Bush and Mark Ronson; Had It, Lost It lists have featured Bobby Gillespie and Richard Archer; If Only They Rocked lists have included the likes of Ferenc Gyurcsány and Charlie Brooker. As well as high sales, the Cool List also generates a large critical response for NME, from both journalists and members of the public: the magazine has received criticism of its lists from various sources, including music journalists, pop stars, and drugs charities.

History[edit]

NME '​s first Cool List was compiled in 2002, with its inaugural winner being Jack White, the lead singer of The White Stripes.[3] White topped the list for "turning down Gap, his rediscovery of rock's debt to the blues, and for being the fire that torched the whole new rock revolution".[4] The American pop star Justin Timberlake topped the second Cool List in 2003, with the magazine praising his "killer career moves, genuine talent, charm and good looks".[5] Deputy editor Alex Needham remarked: "In a world of moaning micro-celebs, Justin makes being a superstar look the most fun you could have with your clothes half off."[6]

Colour photograph of Jack and Meg White performing live in 2007.
Jack White (left) topped the first ever Cool List in 2002. His bandmate Meg White (right) was placed at number six, climbing to number three the following year.[3][7]

Carl Barât of The Libertines was placed at number five on the 2003 Cool List. The following year he rose to number one alongside his bandmate Pete Doherty, the first and (as of 2013) only time the list has been topped by more than one person.[8] To commemorate the 2004 list, the cover of the NME issue promoting it was a 3D lenticular image of Doherty, which the magazine claimed was a "world first".[2] The year after, Alex Turner, the lead singer of British indie rock band Arctic Monkeys, was named the coolest person of the year, with NME citing his "authenticity" as the reason for his placing.[9] Turner would go on to feature in a further four Cool Lists, including at number six in 2007 and number four in 2008.[10][11]

The first woman to top the Cool List was Beth Ditto, the lead singer of American band The Gossip, in 2006.[12] The 2006 list was noted as the most female-oriented to date, with five women in the top ten.[13] NME described Ditto as "a true product of the underground",[14] with Needham hailing her "voice like Tina Turner gargling ball bearings" and her "megawatt stage presence".[15] Writing for The Observer, music journalist Kitty Empire remarked that "placing Beth Ditto at the top of the Cool List is an audacious move that shows NME is finally questioning its institutional chap-ism".[16] Recounting The Gossip's rise to success in her memoir Coal to Diamonds, Ditto cited topping the Cool List as the moment "when things got weird".[17]

Ditto was placed at number nine in the 2007 Cool List, which was celebrated as the "oldest ever" – its entries had a combined age of 1,389 (approximately 28 years each).[10] The list was topped by 23-year-old Gallows frontman Frank Carter, who celebrated by planning a tattoo on his leg that proclaimed "Fuck the NME".[18][19] The following year's Top 50 was published exclusively on NME.com, with only the Top 10 featuring in the magazine.[20] Like its previous year, the 2008 list was praised for its inclusion of "old rockers", such as Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant and Johnny Marr.[11] It was topped by 20-year-old Crystal Castles singer Alice Glass, who stated that she was "flattered" by the win.[21][22]

No Cool List was published in 2009[23] – it returned the following year as an expanded Top 75, with the British folk singer Laura Marling reaching number one.[24][25] As of 2013 the most recent artist to top the Cool List is Azealia Banks, who was named the coolest person of the year in 2011.[26] NME hailed Banks for her "youthful rebellion" and her "can-do, fuck-you attitude".[27] Accepting the honour, Banks remarked: "I'm fucking talented."[28]

Cool List winners[edit]

Cool Lists
Year Artist
(Band)
Top ten Ref.
2002 Colour photograph of Jack White performing live in 2009.
Jack White
(The White Stripes)
[3]
2003 Head-and-shoulders colour photograph of Justin Timberlake being interviewed in 2007.
Justin Timberlake
[7]
2004 Colour photograph of Pete Doherty and Carl Barât performing live in 2010.
Pete Doherty
Carl Barât

(The Libertines)
[8]
2005 Colour photograph of Alex Turner performing live in 2012.
Alex Turner
(Arctic Monkeys)
[29]
2006 Colour photograph of Beth Ditto performing live in 2012.
Beth Ditto
(The Gossip)
[30]
2007 Colour photograph of Frank Turner performing live in 2007.
Frank Carter
(Gallows)
[10]
2008 Colour photograph of Alice Glass performing live in 2008.
Alice Glass
(Crystal Castles)
[11]
2010 Colour photograph of Laura Marling performing live in 2009.
Laura Marling
[31]
2011 Colour photograph of Azealia Banks performing live in 2012.
Azealia Banks
[33]
  1. ^ Tom Meighan and Sergio Pizzorno of Kasabian were jointly awarded fourth position on the 2011 Cool List.[32]

Alternative lists[edit]

In conjunction with their Cool Lists, NME also often concurrently publishes four alternative lists to highlight the "other end of the spectrum":[3] the Fool List, the Had It, Lost It list, the If Only They Rocked list, and the Cool Places list.[34]

Colour photograph of Richard Bacon sitting on a chair in 2010.
Black-and-white photograph of The Magic Numbers sitting in a recording studio in 2009.
The British broadcaster Richard Bacon (left) topped the Fool List in 2005 for remarks that he made about the British indie band The Magic Numbers (right) during the recording of an episode of Top of the Pops.[29][35]

The Fool List ranks the "10 most uncool people",[34] and has been published alongside every Cool List, with the exceptions of 2003, 2006 and 2008. The first list was titled the "They Think They're Cool... But Aren't" list, and was topped by British pop star Robbie Williams. NME '​s Nicola Wood explained that Williams "permanently [tried] to display this image of being hip and cool", and that his lyrics were not "as up to date as they used to be".[3] Subsequent Fool List toppers have included US president George W. Bush (2004), and broadcaster Richard Bacon (2005).[8][29] The 2007 Fool List was topped by musician Mark Ronson – upon finding out, Ronson remarked: "This kind of sucks."[36]

The Had It, Lost It list charts the people who "used to be cool, but now aren't".[34] It was first published in 2002, and has been compiled with each Cool List since then. The first listing was topped by Bobby Gillespie, the lead singer of British indie band Primal Scream, for having "chickened out" over the title of his track "Bomb the Pentagon", and instead renaming it "Rise".[37] Richard Archer, frontman for indie rock band Hard-Fi, topped the list in 2007 for "[dressing] like an 11-plus drop out".[38][39] As of 2013, the most recent winners are British band Gallows, who were placed first on the 2011 list. Explaining the choice, NME stated: "Without the mad ginger bloke shouting and jumping off the railings, we're just not having it."[40]

The If Only They Rocked list records the "10 coolest non-musicians",[34] and has included comedians, actors, footballers, fictional characters, and cats. Its first winner, in 2002, was Jackass star Johnny Knoxville, whom the magazine hailed as an "extreme dude".[41] It has since been published alongside every Cool List except 2003 – its winners have included Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, TV critic Charlie Brooker, and a pigeon. Italian footballer Mario Balotelli topped the 2011 listing for being "mean, moody, [and] fond of indoor firework displays".[42]

The Cool Places list was first compiled in 2003, and comprised two separate charts: "Cool Places in the UK" and "Cool Places the World Over", with Leeds and Berlin topping them respectively.[43][44] The two charts were consolidated into a single "Cool Places" list in 2004, which was topped by the extension housing the record collection of recently deceased DJ John Peel.[45] The Cool Places list was compiled a further two times, before being retired in 2008.

Fool Lists
Year Person Top ten Ref.
2002

[nb 1]

Colour photograph of Robbie Williams performing live in 2006.
Robbie Williams
[3]
2004 Head-and-shoulders colour photograph of George W. Bush in 2003.
George W. Bush
[8]
2005 Colour photograph of Richard Bacon sitting on a chair in 2010.
Richard Bacon
[29]
2007 Head-and-shoulders black-and-white photograph of Mark Ronson in 2007.
Mark Ronson
[46]
2010 Colour photograph of Chris Moyles onstage in 2011.
Chris Moyles
[47]
2011 Composite colour photograph of the members of Insane Clown Posse performing live in 2007.
Insane Clown Posse
[48]
  1. ^ Titled the "They Think They're Cool... But Aren't" list[3]
Had It, Lost It
Year Person Top ten Ref.
2002 Colour photograph of Bobby Gillespie singing live in 2009.
Bobby Gillespie
(Primal Scream)
[37]
2003 Colour photograph of Nick Jago performing live in 2006.
Nick Jago
(Black Rebel Motorcycle Club)
[49]
2004 Color photograph of Robert Levon Been of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club performing live in 2010.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
[50]
2005 Colour photograph of Courtney Love performing live in 2010.
Courtney Love
[51]
2006 Colour photograph of Jake Shears performing live in 2011.
Jake Shears
(Scissor Sisters)
[52]
2007 Colour photograph of Richard Archer performing live in 2008.
Richard Archer
(Hard-Fi)
[38]
2008 Colour photograph of Daniel Craig (in character as James Bond) sitting on yacht in 2006.
James Bond
[53]
2010 Colour photograph of Moe Tucker performing live in 1992.
Moe Tucker
[54]
2011 Colour photograph of Gallows performing live in 2011.
Gallows
[40]
If Only They Rocked
Year Person Top ten Ref.
2002 Head-and-shoulders colour photograph of Johnny Knoxville in 2005.
Johnny Knoxville
[41]
2004 Head-and-shoulders colour photograph of Scarlett Johansson in 2009.
Scarlett Johansson
[55]
2005 Head-and-shoulders colour photograph of Larry David in 2009.
Larry David
[56]
2006 Colour photograph of Ferenc Gyurcsány as he gives a public speech in 2006.
Ferenc Gyurcsány
[57]
2007 Head-and-shoulders colour photograph of Sam Riley in 2014.
Sam Riley
[58]
2008 Head-and-shoulders colour photograph of Charlie Brooker in 2011.
Charlie Brooker
[59]
2010 Colour photograph of an adult Common Wood Pigeon in 2011.
The pigeon that took a shit on Jared Followill's face
[60]
2011 Full-body colour photograph of Mario Balotelli playing football during a match in 2012.
Mario Balotelli
[42]
Cool Places
Year Place Top ten Ref.
2003
(in the
UK)
Colour photograph of Briggate, Leeds, in 2003.
Leeds
[43]
2003
(the world
over)
Colour photograph of the city skyline of Berlin in 2003.
Berlin
[44]
2004 Color photograph of the interior of John Peel's home studio in 2007.
The extension housing John Peel's record collection
[45]
2005 Map of the counties of England, with Yorkshire highlighted in dark red.
Yorkshire
[61]
2007 Colour photograph of the Portland, Oregon skyline in 2007.
Portland, Oregon
[62]

Criticism[edit]

Close-up colour photograph of Lily Allen performing live in 2007.
British pop singer Lily Allen labelled NME "sexist" and "patronising" for its coverage of the 2006 Cool List.[13]

According to Neil Robinson, NME '​s publishing director, the Cool List often generates a "big reaction" from critics[34] – since its introduction in 2002, it has attracted responses from several sources. After naming Pete Doherty as the "coolest" person of 2004, the magazine was criticised by drug charities and accused of glamorising drug abuse, as Doherty was, at the time, fighting addictions to both heroin and crack cocaine.[63] Rebecca Cheshire of drugs charity Addaction explained that "young people are vulnerable to hard drugs and not everyone has the ability to fall back on expensive rehabilitation programmes like rock stars."[64] Needham responded by stating that the magazine did not endorse drug abuse, and that it was "not a heroin addiction which makes Pete Doherty the coolest".[64]

Following the publication of the 2006 Cool List, British pop star Lily Allen, who had been placed third that year, slammed the magazine for opting to choose a photograph of rock band Muse for that issue's cover, instead of a photograph of the women who were featured in the list's top ten. Writing on her MySpace blog, Allen branded NME as "patronising" and "sexist".[13] Addressing the magazine directly, Allen declared: "You put Muse on the cover 'cause you thought that your readers might not buy a magazine with an overweight lesbian and a not particularly attractive looking me, on the front. Wankers."[65] Beth Ditto of The Gossip, who had topped the list, agreed, labelling the NME journalists as "chickens" and claiming that they had "totally copped out" on the cover.[66]

In discussion of the 2010 Cool List, music critic Neil McCormick criticised its lack of racial diversity. Writing for The Daily Telegraph, McCormick noted that "according to the NME, there are only seven cool black people in pop culture right now", with popular British rappers such as Tinie Tempah and Dizzee Rascal failing to make the listing.[31] Summing up his opinion, McCormick stated that he found the list "deeply disturbing", and asked: "Did I fight in the punk wars for this?"[31]

Compilation albums[edit]

To coincide with the publications of the 2004–05 Cool Lists, NME produced two compilation albums, both of which featured music from artists who had been placed high on the lists. The first album, titled NME: The Cool List, was a limited edition CD covermounted to the 4 December 2004 issue of the magazine, one week after the announcement of that year's list.[67] A 15-track album, it included songs from bands such as Babyshambles, Goldie Lookin Chain, The Futureheads and Bloc Party.[68][69] The second compilation, NME: The Cool List 2005, was covermounted on the 26 November 2005 issue of NME[70] – the 16-track CD featured songs from The Cribs, Test Icicles and Antony and the Johnsons.[34] Discussing this compilation, senior marketing manager Nick New remarked: "The NME Cool List CD is a great way of NME showcasing what we do best – NME bringing exciting new bands to our readers!"[34]

References[edit]

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