Nov 09

Pop’s Biggest BRAIN

FT36 comments • 1,652 views

On Twitter yesterday, while writing the Pet Shop Boys entry, I asked “Who is the most intelligent person in pop?” – I got a lot of replies, so here is a list of all the crowdsourced nominations, from Lady Gaga to Clint Poppie.

The list is in the form of a poll – pick your five top pop brains by Friday teatime and we will know once and for all who has music’s mightiest mind!


  • Brian ENO 52%
  • Neil TENNANT 42%
  • Jarvis COCKER 36%
  • Bill DRUMMOND 34%
  • Brian MAY 23%
  • Paul MORLEY 18%
  • Lady GAGA 17%
  • Jay Z 17%
  • SHAKIRA 16%
  • Green GARTSIDE 15%
  • Alex JAMES 11%
  • Simon COWELL 11%
  • The GZA 9%
  • Roisin MURPHY 9%
  • Kanye WEST 9%
  • Beyonce KNOWLES 7%
  • Nicky WIRE 6%
  • Lily ALLEN 6%
  • Clint MANSELL 5%
  • Girl TALK 4%
  • Lil WAYNE 4%
  • NY 3%
  • John MAYER 1%
  • E-40 1%
  • Cliff RICHARD 1%

Total Voters: 137

Poll closes: 6 Nov 2009 @ 16:00

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  1. 1
    Tom on 4 Nov 2009 #

    NB no nominations (except of people not involved in the making, production, distribution etc of pop music) were excluded. None were added. Such are the rules of the Twitter poll ;)

  2. 2
    Lex on 4 Nov 2009 #

    Tom you have missed out YOURSELF, I definitely remember someone nominating you!

    Half the people in this list are perennial idiots – James, Cocker, Wire, Cowell, Allen, Gaga, West.

    Gotta rep for my pick, Ny – she’s a London grime/r&b singer/songwriter, I interviewed her last year and she’s easily the smartest person in pop I’ve ever interviewed. Unabridged text here – and do check out her terrific Split Endz Vol 2 mixtape and “Falling Again”, her track with Wookie which was my single of the year last year…

  3. 3
    Lex on 4 Nov 2009 #

    Also if anyone could explain how and why sodding Girl Talk is intelligent…

    Honestly. Being KNOWING is not the same thing as being SMART. People always confuse these in pop :(

  4. 4
    Tom on 4 Nov 2009 #

    I am not involved in the making, production, or distribution* of pop music!

    *at least not in ways sanctioned by THE MAN

  5. 5
    poohugh on 4 Nov 2009 #

    I should have said Kate Bush instead of Jarvis Cocker, the question was confusing.

  6. 6
    Kat but logged out innit on 4 Nov 2009 #

    Hahah I only said Nicky Wire because he bangs on about his politics degree every other interview.

  7. 7
    Steve Mannion on 4 Nov 2009 #

    I wish I’d nominated that guy who used to be in D:Ream who designed and built CERN with his bare hands.

  8. 8
    swanstep on 4 Nov 2009 #

    No Stephin Merritt (Magnetic Fields) nom.? I hate to sound like Lennon sneering at a fan’s suggestion that Ringo was the best drummer in the world with ‘He isn’t even the best drummer in the band’, but I do suspect that Tennant isn’t even the biggest brain in arch-/ex-journo-/gender-identity-pop.

    No noms for Bjork, Gabriel, Kate Bush, Byrne, Dre also strikes me as a little odd…

  9. 9
    Mark M on 4 Nov 2009 #

    Just because Alex James turns up on Radio 4 sometimes does not make him intelligent (It occurs to me that I’ve never been on R4, but I have been on the World Service, which is way cooler).

  10. 10
    Tom on 4 Nov 2009 #

    Thinking about it I suspect “cultured” is a better word for some of the “intelligence” being rewarded here.

  11. 11
    Steve Mannion on 4 Nov 2009 #

    I think all the members of Blur are reasonably smart guys – I suppose this is based on the ‘evidence’ of the things they’ve done outside of the band e.g. Rowntree getting into politics, Albarn’s omnivorous arty projects, James…making cheese (ok but he’s always been eloquent) and I understand Coxon has read a lot of books.

  12. 12
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 4 Nov 2009 #

    Richard Jobson once pointed out a quite large and full bookcase to an NME journalist, and proudly told him he had read the FIRST PAGE OF EVERY BOOK IN IT. You start laughing when you hear this story, except then you think, hang on! Who is the laugh actually on?

  13. 13
    CarsmileSteve on 4 Nov 2009 #

    also, where is the “none of the above” option pls!

  14. 14
    Tim on 4 Nov 2009 #

    #12 Now you’ve done it, Jobbo’ll be back round again shouting the odds in no time.

  15. 15
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 4 Nov 2009 #

    “Tash! Tash! Inexorable Tash!”

  16. 16
    Josh on 4 Nov 2009 #

    I guess this list should be taken with a grain of salt, coz I see the list and I can only see 3-4 that are actually brainy. OK, in the spirit of fun and nothing to do, I voted for Cocker (dude has Hon.d), West, Lil Wayne, Beyonce, Brian May (dude has PhD). No sarcasm, they are really intelligent.
    @ #2 Lex, those are less than half of the list. Just because Jarvis is all over the tabloids and make a fool of himself, saying wanky things and sucked in QT doesn’t mean he’s an idiot. He’s annoying but let’s be real, he’s wittier than you think. Same goes for Kanye. His douchebagerry overshadows his genius just like Lily Allen. Alex James was like involve in a documentary about Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty’s favorite white stuff and is earning critical praise. I would love to be on your perennial idiot list, Lex.

  17. 17
    TomLane on 4 Nov 2009 #

    If he was here, I’d vote for Paul Simon.

  18. 18
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 4 Nov 2009 #

    to be fair, “s/he is intelligent” and “s/he is an idiot” are hardly mutually exclusive

  19. 19
    Steve Mannion on 4 Nov 2009 #

    Pleased that a related article to ‘Pop’s Biggest BRAIN’ is ‘When ILX – or rather Steve M on ILX’.

  20. 20
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 4 Nov 2009 #

    you are our elephant in the room

  21. 21
    Mark M on 4 Nov 2009 #

    Re 16: surely we’re all on Lex’s perennial idiot list.

  22. 22
    pink champale on 4 Nov 2009 #

    what no dylan? i vote cowell. you all know it’s true.

  23. 23
    thefatgit on 4 Nov 2009 #

    #9 – Blessed are the Cheesemakers!

  24. 24
    Steve Mannion on 4 Nov 2009 #

    Cowell strikes me as fairly clever, shrewd blah blah – a scientist’s approach to the entertainment biz (and perhaps to music appreciation too? hard to get a sense of his passion compared to actual producers like Waterman), and I can’t help admiring him for his success. Git.

  25. 25
    AndyPandy on 4 Nov 2009 #

    What no Donald Fagen or Walter Becker?!

  26. 26
    koganbot on 4 Nov 2009 #

    Did people nominate for musical intelligence (or music-related intelligence, anyway) or for “S/he seems really intelligent in interviews and in other things (other than the inexplicable decision to pursue a musical career)”? Nominees seem to meet conventional attributes of intelligence rather than “apply their intellect better than others at what actually matters most here, i.e., making music.”

    In any event, had I been on Twitter I’d have made my criteria (1) made almost-always-interesting and generally very good music over a significant period of time, and (2) is still doing so now. (Without criterion #2 I’d have nominated James Brown and Elvis Presley.) And I come up with one name. And I balk at saying it, since I’ve got conventional ideas about intelligence and this guy has never written inspired lyrics, for instance. But all right: Max Martin!

  27. 27
    koganbot on 4 Nov 2009 #

    (Ignoring my own criteria, I ticked Kanye, Bouncy, Jay-Z, and Lily.)

  28. 28
    Kat but logged out innit on 5 Nov 2009 #

    I’d venture that Lily Allen is about as intelligent as I am – neither of us can write very good lyrics though :(

  29. 29
    BEATRIZ on 5 Nov 2009 #

    I would like to vote DAVID BOWIE!

  30. 30
    will on 6 Nov 2009 #

    By the way, who or what is E-40?

  31. 31
    unlogged moggy on 6 Nov 2009 #

    Wot no Kele Orekeke? Also where is Lady Stush? I am surprised the Lex didn’t nom her.

  32. 32
    The Chemistry is Dead on 6 Nov 2009 #

    I’m going to put my case forward for Shakira. She’s fluent in four languages, can play guitar, drums and harmonica and always comes across as very intelligent in interviews.

    Also, love this from her Wikipedia:

    “Shakira is intensely interested in world history. She frequently studies the history and languages of the countries she visits. After her Oral Fixation tour ended in summer 2007, Shakira audited a class in Los Angeles at UCLA, on the History of Western Civilization. She used her middle and last names, Isabel Mebarak, and told the professor she was visiting from Colombia so as to avoid being recognized as a celebrity”.

  33. 33
    Rory on 20 Nov 2009 #

    After experiencing a Road to Damascus moment over Lady Gaga in the past 48 hours, I wish I could vote again, even though I picked the hivemind’s top five. Chemistry @32 makes a good case for Shakira, too.

  34. 34
    swanstep on 20 Nov 2009 #

    @Rory. I saw the Bad Romance vid. for the first time today, and may finally have been won over by Gaga too. The level of inventiveness and commitment to performance there (around a song that’s on one level just OK, but *does* zig where it should zag a few times, so manages to sound fresh) is remarkable, and just isn’t dismissible (as I’ve previously tended to) as Madonna- and Roisin Murphy-imitation/theft.

  35. 35
    Alan on 20 Nov 2009 #

    Tom, please to have a poll on Pop’s Biggest BRIAN

  36. 36
    Alan not logged in on 19 Jan 2013 #

    “pingback” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Drummond#cite_note-78

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