As a quiet and insecure 14 year old, music felt like a way for me to define myself. I wasn’t sporty or outgoing, but I did know about music. I thought because I could read music, I had a better understanding about what was good music. I had this idea in my head that only people who truly loved music listened to obscure artists, because we went out of our way to find music we liked. I prided myself on having an iTunes library filled with artists no one else had heard of. I bought too small t-shirts from obscure MySpace bands, feeling smug every time someone asked me “who’s that on your shirt?” I blasted Metro Station on my iPod nano until the day “Shake It” hit radio stations; I then deleted them from my playlists and felt embarrassed they had ever been there in the first place. I felt like I needed to change my favourite songs if they became popular and fell into a weird rabbit-hole of obscurity, where I wouldn’t listen to anything if it was on the radio.
It wasn’t until I got a bit older and actually developed a personality outside of my tastes that I realised how silly it is to blanket-hate a genre of music for no other reason that its popularity. Your taste in music means nothing other than which particular vibrations tickle your eardrums. I was denying myself the opportunity to listen to so many great and fun artists for completely arbitrary reasons.
Recently I read a really great article called “The Mozart-like complexity of Carly Rae Jepsen’s biggest hits”. Musicology professor Nate Sloan points out that people have a tendency to dismiss pop because a lot of it sounds similar, but that that line of thinking is kind of ridiculous because “musical style is defined by stylistic cohesion. I don’t think it should surprise us that Top 40 has some sonic similarities. But I think the pejorative connotation is undeserved.” The argument of not liking Top 40 because “it all sounds the same” kind of falls flat when you realise that the vocals in every emo/pop punk band are sonically very similar and mostly about grabbing Juliet by the hand and getting out of this town. I’m not hating on that style of music – to be honest, I’m still very much in love with it – but it’s definitely hypocritical to think it’s a superior genre based on that line of thinking.
“Everything Except Country and Rap: What You Really Mean” is another fantastic article, going in-depth about why people dismiss musical genres – specifically here, country and rap. The crux of the argument is that people don’t want to admit to liking music that signals something they perceive as negative, in this case “something other than white, and something lower than middle class“. While dismissing pop music doesn’t have the same racial/classist connotations, it rings true on the representation note – I didn’t want to listen to pop because it signalled that I was similar to other people. At a time in my life when all I wanted was to be different, I hated that thought.
As well as it being unreasonable to not want to be associated with popular taste, it also makes no sense to hope that your favourite artists won’t become popular. Artists can’t survive off indie points – they need radio play, record sales and concerts with more than 20 attendees. Not to mention, even big-name artists don’t often tour NZ – by avoiding pop, I was limiting my choices of live shows, as well as basically hoping my favourites wouldn’t succeed.
I’m 23 now and obviously in a very different place – musically & in every other sense – than I was at 14. Fortunately, I’ve moved well past the “I’m not like other girls!” stage and liking what’s popular no longer seems like a bad thing to me. I’m still a slightly obnoxious indie kid: The Horrors are forever my favourite band, Laneway is definitely the best music festival NZ has to offer, and my iPod is still filled with obscure hipster bands. But I’m not writing off artists for silly reasons anymore – my current favourite playlist has the likes of Kesha & Selena Gomez mixed between CHVRCHES & Chaos Chaos. Yeah, I get sick of hearing the same song over and over again on the radio, but overexposure is not the same as “legitimately terrible”. My musical life has been so much more fun since I realised that.