The People’s Pop Polls

I started doing the People’s Pop Polls on Twitter (@peoples_pop) during lockdown in the COVID-19 pandemic, as a distraction for me and others. They did this job extremely well – so I kept doing them, moving them to a dedicated account and setting up a monthly schedule.

How do you join in? Nominate tracks, and vote! Here are the tournaments we’ve run so far.

  • MARCH 2020: UK Number 1s – won by Donna Summer – “I Feel Love”
  • APRIL 2020: UK Number 2s – won by Pulp – “Common People”
  • MAY 2020: The People’s Pop Poll (charity poll with no set entry criteria) – Won by David Bowie – “Heroes”
  • JUNE 2020: Cover Versions – won by Aretha Franklin – “Respect”
  • JULY 2020: The Year 1990 – won by George Michael – “Freedom ’90”
  • AUGUST 2020: Debut Singles – won by Neneh Cherry – “Buffalo Stance”
  • SEPTEMBER 2020: The Year 2001 – in progress.

Here’s the schedule of upcoming tournaments, assuming running them doesn’t become unviable.

  • OCTOBER 2020: Duets
  • NOVEMBER 2020: Year poll – Year TBD.*
  • DECEMBER 2020: Christmas/Holiday music.
  • JANUARY 2021: The Year 2020.
  • FEBRUARY 2021: Thematic poll – theme/criteria TBD
  • MARCH 2021: Year poll – year TBD

*The November poll will be a half-size poll to allow for a) a break at the start for the US election and b) an early start for the December poll, which has to end before Christmas.

WHAT WE’RE ALL ABOUT

There is, I’ve discovered, a whole awesome micro-culture of Twitter music polling. What makes the PPP distinctive?

It’s open-entry: Each poll is built out of reader nominations. While some tracks are excluded each time – mostly ones which have already done well in another poll – I try to include as many nominations as possible. This ensures a wider spread of tracks than I could ever manage myself, and gives people a minor personal stake!

It’s track-based: A lot of polls focus on LPs. We focus on tracks. This makes playlisting and discovery less demanding and allows us to move faster and get large polls done within a single month.

It puts a big emphasis on discovery.: The later stages of poll tournaments narrow things down to well-known, generally popular options. This is inevitable. So I encourage people to also nominate a lot of lesser-known or downright obscure tracks, so the qualifying round has plenty of new discoveries or re-discoveries. Obviously this is delicately dependent on a voting base with diverse tastes. (Thanks you lot!)

This all leads to probably the most distinctive feature of the PPP…

It’s very cruel. Rather than use seeding, I design the brackets so that as far as possible every track has a chance of qualifying. It’s not always feasible, but I try.

“That sounds nice, not cruel” you might say. But! Because familiarity is the single biggest advantage a track can have, this means separating the well-known from the less well-known tracks early on. Which in turn means qualifying groups with three or four already popular options, from which you’re asked to pick one. Ouch! But it makes for more excitement and for greater survival rates for the minnows.

HOW IT WORKS

I tweak the exact mechanisms (number of entries, qualification methods, etc.) each time, but broadly every tournament has four phases.

  • NOMINATIONS: Pre-tournament. We open nominations during the previous month, and they are open for 1-2 days (they have started to fill up very rapidly!). I then create a Spotify playlist, a YouTube playlist for the stuff which isn’t on Spotify, and I put the brackets together.
  • QUALIFIERS: Weeks 1-2. This phase involves getting the nominees down to 128 Round 1 qualifiers. The more nominees there are, the nastier this gets, obviously.
  • THE MIDDLE BIT: Weeks 2-3. Two rounds, reducing the qualifiers from 128 to 32, while also gradually shrinking the differential between popular/less popular brackets.
  • FINALS: Week 4. Final groups and the knockout stages, modelled shamelessly on the FIFA World Cup tournament. Anything which reaches this stage may be excluded from future tournaments.

THE GOLDEN BEAT AWARD:

Starting with the World Cup of 1990, we are awarding the Golden Beat Award to the track voted the best discovery of the poll (from a shortlist co-created with voters).

  • 1990: L7 – “Shove”
  • Debut Singles: Charisma.Com – “HATE”

THE HALL OF FAME:

This is a list of every track which has got to the last 8 of a tournament. These songs are currently presumed excluded from all future polls – they have gone to poll Valhalla!

  • A-Ha – “Take On Me”
  • Aretha Franklin – “Respect”
  • A Tribe Called Quest – “Can I Kick It?”
  • Bassment Jaxx – “Romeo”
  • Bjork – “Human Behaviour”
  • Blondie – “Heart Of Glass”
  • Britney Spears – “…Baby One More Time”
  • Buzzcocks – “Ever Fallen In Love”
  • Chaka Khan – “I Feel For You”
  • Chaka Khan – “I’m Every Woman”
  • Chic – “Good Times”
  • Daft Punk – “Digital Love”
  • David Bowie – “Heroes”
  • Deee-Lite – “Groove Is In The Heart”
  • Depeche Mode – “Enjoy The Silence”
  • Donna Summer – “I Feel Love”
  • Frankie Goes To Hollywood – “Relax”
  • George Michael – “Freedom ’90”
  • Gorillaz – “Clint Eastwood”
  • Happy Mondays – “Kinky Afro”
  • Isaac Hayes – “Walk On By”
  • Jimi Hendrix – “All Along The Watchtower”
  • Joy Division – “Love Will Tear Us Apart”
  • Kate Bush – “Wuthering Heights”
  • Kirsty MacColl – “A New England”
  • KLF – “What Time Is Love? (Live At Trancentral)”
  • Kylie Minogue – “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”
  • Lauryn Hill – “Doo Wop (That Thing)”
  • Madonna – “Like A Prayer”
  • Mary J Blige – “Family Affair”
  • Marvin Gaye – “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”
  • Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”
  • Missy Elliott – “Get Ur Freak On”
  • Neneh Cherry – “Buffalo Stance”
  • Pet Shop Boys – “Being Boring”
  • Pet Shop Boys – “Left To My Own Devices”
  • Pet Shop Boys – “West End Girls”
  • Prince – “1999”
  • Prince – “Sign O’ The Times”
  • Pulp – “Common People”
  • Shakira – “Whenever, Wherever”
  • Sinead O’Connor – “Nothing Compares 2 U”
  • Soft Cell – “Tainted Love” AND “Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go?”
  • Talking Heads – “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)”
  • The Avalanches – “Since I Left You”
  • The Beach Boys – “God Only Knows”
  • The Beach Boys – “Good Vibrations”
  • The Cure – “Pictures Of You”
  • The Jackson 5 – “I Want You Back”
  • The Kinks – “Waterloo Sunset”
  • The Specials – “A Message To You Rudy”
  • The Stooges – “I Wanna Be Your Dog”
  • The Strokes – “Last Nite”
  • The Undertones – “Teenage Kicks”
  • They Might Be Giants – “Birdhouse In Your Soul”
  • TLC – “Waterfalls”
  • Underworld – “Born Slippy (Nuxx)”

(Other tracks which reached the final groups are often excluded, but this may be relaxed in future.)