The IMJA Winners 2022
of the year
of the year
Technically, Kaytlin Tiffany is not actually a music journalist. Not in the sense that she reviews records, reports on concerts or meets musicians in hotels for interviews. She's not even really a pop journalist, because the many pieces she writes as a staff writer for The Atlantic are about all sorts of things that aren't necessarily or even exclusively pop. What she does have, though, and in an awesome way, is a pop sensibility. That means that whatever she writes about - take, for example, her Atlantic article about how everyone seems to be "toxic" these days - she looks at it with that pop sensibility, processes it, and then puts it into words. That makes her articles pop themselves, in the best possible way: highly insightful, highly entertaining, fast-paced and full of ideas, all at the same time. That's brilliant!
The masterpiece of the still young author from Brooklyn, and also the work that indeed qualifies her as music journalist of the year is her book "Everything I Need I Get From You - How Fangirls Created The Internet As We Know It" As a former fangirl of the boy band One Direction, she lays out here a wealth of facts and phenomena previously unknown to most people, especially males over 35, and interprets them in startling ways. The (buying) power and importance of fans in itself is not a new discovery, of course, but the way that fandom has accelerated and changed in the digital age, how this has changed the nature of the internet for better, for worse, and in general, and the observation that most of that change was actually voluntarily and passionately driven by young girls in their spare time, while the guys were mainly watching porn and playing Counterstrike, is really quite touching and amazing.
Only a person who was part of the movement herself could observe it like that. This makes Kaytlin Tiffany, who actually writes mostly about technology and social issues, almost something of a pop person in her own right, a regular pop activist, which is what good pop journalists should be anyway. Congratulations, we look forward to many more years of first-rate contributions from this amazing talent!
For the jury: Hans Nieswandt
Text - english
Annett Scheffel (Die feine Kunst des Draufscheißens - Musikexpress)
When an author manages to inspire readers with a portrait of an artist even though they have never been fans of her music before, when she arouses curiosity and entices them to listen to the songs again through her article, then she has achieved her goal. Annett Scheffel has achieved this with her piece on the New Zealand musician Lorde. She used the publication of her third album, "Solar Power", in 2021 to trace the development of the now 25-year-old, whose musical career had already begun ten years earlier.
Scheffel's text for Musikexpress, "Die feine Kunst des Draufscheißens", describes with a loving eye an artist who eludes the market and the social media world and only returns when she feels ready. In this way, Lorde represents the part of her generation that refuses to consume, buys second-hand and lives off-grid. Scheffel succeeds in panning between video call to New York City, depicting a dreamy young woman looking out the window during the phone call and telling what happens on the street between the Brownstones, and a scene change to the interview, in which Ella Yelich-O'Connor (Lorde) talks about New Zealand, her second home NYC, a trip to Antarctica and her genesis through music genres as well as looking at the really important things: Nature, friends, swimming in the sea.
Without Annett Scheffel, we would never have heard about it so sensitively.
For the jury: Susanne Baller
Text - german
Hashino Yukinori (Okuda Hiroko: The Casio Employee Behind The “Sleng Teng” Riddim That Revolutionized Reggae - nippon.com)
Hashino Yukinori has written a very good text on an exceptionally great subject: "The Casio Employee Behind the "Sleng Teng" Riddim that Revolutionized Reggae." Starting with the catchy beat and preset sounds from "Under Mi Sleng Teng", the 1985 dancehall world hit by Jamaican singer Wayne Smith, he follows the history of the preset. The song's signature sound, programmed for the Casiotone MT-40 in the early 1980s, was used by Smith and co-writer Noel Davey as the basic building block of the hit. Jamaican digital dancehall is thus based on the preset rhythm pattern (Casiotone preset) of the pocket calculator manufacturer and was the work of a young developer who had a music theory education. Okuda Hiroku, whom the author of the text interviewed at length, thus stands for a crazy story between two continents. Debates about appropriation, chiselled history of technology, intercultural or nerdy expertise: Missing. Hashino Yukinori places this small music history in the big one, but tells his or rather "her" story straightforwardly and clearly. And rightly relies blindly on the really extraordinarily interesting material. He has succeeded in producing a readable, very informed and, despite its straightness, strangely touching text, which we hereby award.
For the jury: Mascha Jacobs
Audio - german
Azadê Peşmen (Deso - Der Rapper, der zum IS ging - funk (ACB Stories und Qzeng Productions))
The story Azadê Peşmen tells is disturbing, confusing and captivating, but above all it is still unheard of in this depth and sensitivity. Yet the facts have long been known: Denis Cuspert made a name for himself as Deso Dogg in the Berlin rap scene, fell in with Islamist fanatics and joined the terrorist organisation IS. He preached hate, sang propaganda songs, committed atrocities in Syria and is almost certainly dead by now. Media reported years ago - only they rarely did so as carefully as such a complex and monstrous biography demands.
For almost five hours, Azadê Peşmen and the team from COSMO and ACB Stories lead us into Denis Cuspert's labyrinth of hopes, tensions and contradictions, and later into his abyss. Step by step, we feel our way forward: Islam and terror experts explain patterns, psychologists classify favourable factors. Former music colleagues share their incomprehension and family members their despair. Azadê Peşmen brings us closer to Denis Cuspert as a person than any blockbuster story before - and yet maintains the necessary distance at all times. Taking stance without expressing an opinion. Azadê Peşmen presents many perspectives, but always with the goal clearly in mind. Media- and self-critical. Self-confident, but also transparent about the limits of their own research. "Deso Dogg - the Rapper Who Went to the IS" is a gem of modern journalism.
For the jury: Christoph Lindemann
Audio - english
Danyel Smith (Black Girl Songbook - The Ringer Network/Spotify)
In the multi-part podcast series "Black Girl Songbook", Danyel Smith brings us closer to African-American music history. A musical history that forms the basis of countless popular music movements of the 21st century, but is often misjudged as the driving force of pop culture. The skills, genius and virtuosity of African-American performers are also rarely contextualised in the media.
Smith's starting position is one that has a lot of catching up to do. “Black Girl Songbook” addresses intersectional discrimination. The work of Black women musicians is finally treated with the respect, care and depth that they deserve on a broad scale.
Danyel Smith is a music journalist and author, was the first Black editor at both Billboard Magazine and Vibe Magazine, where she later also served as editor-in-chief, and has worked for publications such as the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly and Time Magazine.
In her podcast, Smith deliberately breaks with the conventions of music journalism. “Black Girl Songbook” which Smith records in her bedroom for acoustic reasons, does not pretend to be objective, biographical stations are not recited one after the other and the work of African-American female musicians is considered outside a white mainstream discourse. In the most intimate way, Smith conveys connections, analyses and reclassifies moments in pop history, and then also plays the appropriate musical examples.
What’s really behind the stories Whitney Houston, Billie Holiday or Alicia Keys? Why should we look critically at genre designations like "neo-soul" and question genre boundaries in general? Danyel Smith addresses all these questions in “Black Girl Songbook”. And in doing so, she tells us with a flair and conviction that directly conveys the force and meaning of her narratives to us listeners. She also invites other players from the music business to share their perspectives. A far-reaching and long overdue survey and retelling of US music history. Smith catches up with what should have been caught up with long ago.
For the jury: Dalia Ahmed
Multimedia - german
Mariska Lief, Wero Jägersberg (Dichtung und Wahrheit - Wie HipHop nach Deutschland kam - HR)
This documentary almost didn't make it into our ranking. I am very happy it did. The film manages to straddle the perfect fine line of showing German regional cultural prowess, providing entertainment, being educational as well as explicitly addressing ethno-cultural minorities in Germany. The HR (Hessian Broadcast) documentary series by journalists Mariska Lief and Wero Jägersberg outlines the influence of Frankfurt am Main and Hesse, as well as the influence of several rap musicians of color from the region, who have and will forever shape German pop and music culture. The authors managed to secure in-depth interviews with indisputable German rap heavyweights such as Azad, Sido, Moses Pelham, Sabrina Setlur or Haftbefehl. The documentary further sets in stone their icon status, which they as prime pioniers of German musical arts often do not get granted by the white mainstream. All interviews are adorned with fancy beauty shots of the individual star guests, which at some point you just really look forward to, and each episode ends with an appetizing teaser: The binge factor makes it's way to German public television! An insightful and fun journey through time through German pop culture history with a good mix of beautifully selected archive material, exclusive anecdotes, that have never been told and new footage.
For the jury: Malcolm Ohanwe
Multimedia - english
Arthur Buckner, Linda Diaz (Why Is Brandy Called The "Vocal Bible"? - PBS)
We jurors in the multimedia category don't make it easy for ourselves. Again and again we discuss what exactly constitutes an outstanding music journalistic work in this category. Is it a particular technical innovation that distinguishes this genre? The story packed behind an app or AR glasses? To be honest, we are still in discussion here about where we stand and where this category could go.
What we could quickly agree on was that it's about journalistic contributions that know how to bring together - mostly visually - the facts to tell a story. But facts alone are not enough. The internet is for everyone. And anyone who understands how to explain a pop cultural phenomenon across genres and nations with protagonists who couldn't have been chosen more perfectly deserves the prize in this category.
The YouTube video "Why Is Brandy Called the "Vocal Bible"?" by Arthur Buckner and Linda Diaz makes music history come alive and fulfils all our expectations. Brandy Norwood, who went through the roof with her self-titled debut album "Brandy" in the 1990s, is honoured here as a singing talent and a role model for young black women all over the world. Away from any role-specific clichés.
Congratulations to all those involved here for this outstanding work!
For the jury: Niloufar Behradi-Ohnacker
Of Music Journalism,
Alex Barbian (SINUS Podcast - SINUS)
SINUS has completely convinced us as a jury. Alex Barbian himself describes his podcast as a "music magazine to listen to", and that is exactly how he conceives it, and that is also how it feels when you listen to it: as if you are leafing through a music magazine.
The project's great strength lies in its multifaceted nature: although a proven rap expert, Barbian by no means limits his choice of topics to the hip hop scene, but also nerds out through indie, punk, pop, rock and whatever else seems worth listening to. Knowledgeable, open-minded and affectionate, he devotes himself equally to established artists and newcomers in the music business. In addition, he always lets the media and business side have their say.
The range of topics is matched by the range of contributions: SINUS contains interviews, portraits, reviews and retrospectives, conversations at eye level and - of course - lots of music tips. The listeners are provided with these in the form of an accompanying playlist that can be conveniently consumed.
The fact that this thicket of personalities, genres and formats, which grows wildly in all directions, does not look like undergrowth in the end, but like a well thought-out park, borders on a small miracle. It is due to the competence, the certainty and the unshakeable calm with which Alex Barbian has been guiding through this acoustic garden since autumn 2021. He designed it himself, laid it out and planted it, he keeps it in good shape and he waters it with his heart and soul: absolutely worth the price for us.
For the jury: Dani Fromm
Steven Meyer und Victor Pfannmöller (Tanz in die Freiheit - Russlands Ballrooms - MDR)
In collaboration with Victor Pfannmöller, Steven Meyer, who is actually mainly active as a writer, excelled in capturing a thrilling pop-political subculture in a 15-minute video report. The MDR (Central German Broadcasting Service) film shows how the African-American gay and trans* dance form of voguing has prevailed in Russia despite the conservative and hostile attitude towards homosexuals in the mainstream there. The only 21-year-old student and voguing dancer Alex is portrayed in a very dignified and yet very intimate fashion. The authors manage to make the very young protagonist feel comfortable and speak freely about his sexuality and his family in a country where there would be many reasons not to do so. The film avoids insensitive anti-slavic clichés that we often see in German media and nevertheless deals critically with Russia's homophobic politics, but it also shows its colorful LGBTIQ community. The video footage of the Russian Ballroms are the absolute highlight of the film. The dance shots from the intro to the end stun with their aesthetics. The dramaturgical structure, which leaves as a cliffhanger whether Alex will win his next ballroom competition, also provides an exciting viewing experience.
For the jury: Malcolm Ohanwe
Walerija Petrowa (Der Aufstieg von Harry Styles - Zwischen Hype, Männlichkeit und Queer-Baiting - Brust Raus (SWR/DasDing))
Why do we all seem to love Harry Styles at the moment? Walerija Petrowa explains it on the YouTube channel „Brust Raus“ („Chest Out“), which she hosts together with colleague Aurora Lu. And she does this with at least as much depth as humour. Taking Harry Styles as an example, she discusses topics such as structural racism, masculinity, sexism and queerbaiting, explaining the terms also for those, who haven’t yet heard of these discourses before. With „Brust Raus“, the two young public broadcasting journalists and their team aim to empower their audience by analysing pop cultural themes and issues with a lot of verve and together with their community. And with their weekly curated playlist they also deliver a matching soundtrack.
For the jury: Aida Baghernejad