You’re not cool for hating pop music

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.

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Photo by Mitchel Lensink.

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.

Saving the world through shopping

I want the world to be a better place but I also want to sleep in. That’s why I love doing things that let me feel like I’m making a difference without exerting myself.

I have a very beautiful friend who also wants the world to be a better place and actually puts in the effort to do so. She’s a great person to know because she finds out which organisations are worthy and then plans events so lazier people like myself can join her in saving the world. This month, she organised a clothing-swap fundraiser that resulted in everyone getting new outfits while also raising money to support peace in Syria (the organisation that received our donations is “Preemptive Love Coalition“, if you’re curious).

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After having everyone clear out their wardrobes, she collected and organised the unwanted clothes and had everyone round to her house for a Pop-Up Op-Shop. We left a donation and then found new outfits from other people’s no-longer-favourites, so I got to spend an afternoon basically shopping and left feeling like I’d made a difference in the world. All the unclaimed clothing was donated to refugee families so I got to feel doubly warm inside.

We live in a beautiful world (yeah we do, yeah we do) but also there is a lot wrong with it that needs fixing. I also know that it’s a lot easier to take part in worthwhile causes when someone else actually does the bulk of the work for you. I hope you all have a friend like mine (if you are that friend, bless you), because people like her allow the multitudinous sleepy people like me to make a difference.

Am I a good person or am I just lazy?

While catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen since before I left for Canada, I mentioned that I was now a vegetarian. When she asked me why, I explained that my flat in Vancouver didn’t have any decent appliances to cook meat so it felt like an unnecessary expense. Eventually, I found I didn’t miss it so fully embraced the vegetarian lifestyle.

It made me realise that a lot of the decisions I’m proud of and that I associate with my identity are not necessarily because I’m a good person or intent on breaking societal expectations – they’re mostly due to laziness.

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I’m a vegetarian – because animals are cute, but mainly because I hate the way raw meat feels and cooking it is a lot more effort than cooking veges. You won’t get sick if you undercook a carrot, but that pink chicken on the other hand…

I don’t shave my legs – partly because I think the societal expectation that women need to shave their legs is ridiculous, but also because I really hate shaving. One time I shaved my legs after 6 months of not doing so, and it took me half an hour to achieve dolphin-level smoothness. I’m now going on a year and a half of leg-hair growth and I really don’t have the time to spend forty five minutes removing it (not to mention 5 minutes every week keeping it at bay).

I use a Diva Cup – because it’s better for the environment, but really its major upside is you don’t need to change it multiple times a day. Put it in in the morning and take it out 10 hours later – that’s it. Plus one menstrual cup lasts several years and you better believe I’m too lazy to buy pads and tampons on the regular.

It extends past those examples. I often catch the bus because then I don’t need to spend time finding a carpark. I don’t wear a bra much because putting one on adds about 30 seconds to my morning routine. I prefer hanging washing on the line because I don’t really know how to use the dryer. I go barefaced 90% of the time because I hate taking makeup off in the evening when I’m sleepy and want to go straight to bed. I’ve had the same phone for close to 4 years because the effort involved in getting a new phone feels like a little too much.

I love knowing that my choices are good for the environment and I love feeling that I’m not subscribing to all the beauty rules women are tacitly told to follow. And while I’m proud of these little decisions I make in my life, I’d be lying if I said it took a lot of effort. When it comes to school or work, I put in all the effort, but in my everyday life I crave laziness and downtime. Sure, I’m motivated by the thought that my choices make a difference in the world, but I think I’m equally motivated by knowing those choices are actually easier for me than the alternative.

Here’s to living a sustainable, defiant lifestyle with minimal effort – and if you have suggestions for more ways I can be both lazy and efficient, let me know!

On body positivity

First off, let me be clear – I am all for the body positivity movement. I am a feminist and I have a body – there’s no way I could be against it. How could I not support a movement that aims to lift people of all sizes into the spotlight and show that not only proportionate size 6 blondes are beautiful? I think it’s wonderful that social media has given people a platform to show off the fact that beauty doesn’t have to come in the narrowly prescribed ideal.

I have a lot of privileges: I’m white, I’m young, I’m able-bodied, I’m middle-class, I’m fairly average size-wise. In most ways, I see myself represented all around. The body positivity movement faces criticism for not including more people outside of these categories – for example, disabled people are constantly left out of these conversations. I can’t speak for them (though here is a good article on that subject) but I can speak about my own experience of something I feel that body positivity is ignoring.

Acne.

People see pimples and either assume hormonal teenager or unhealthySomeone who eats too much chocolate and drinks too much soda. Someone who doesn’t wash their face properly. Someone who doesn’t take care of themselves.

Like most people, I had acne as a teenager. And when I left puberty behind, my skin cleared up. Aha, I thought, I’ve finally grown out of it! Which, sadly, was not the case. I was blessed with a couple of years of calm skin, only to have my hormones freak out on me at age 20 for no discernible reason. It is incredibly frustrating thinking you’ve outgrown acne, only to have it rear its head again as an adult. Now, at age 23, it’s calming down again, but I’m still left with scars and hyperpigmentation that make my bare face far from clear.

I see body positivity videos and articles proclaiming titles like I finally feel good at my size – and you can too! And I am truly so happy that they exist, and that the authors found beauty in themselves. But it’s hard to take the message that I too can overcome my insecurities when I cannot think of single example of a person with acne portrayed positively. Having a pimple is either a punchline or plot device in tv shows. Characters with acne are coded as ugly in novels. The only people who get any kind of public acknowledge of having acne seem to be YouTubers who offer tutorials on how to cover it up. I’m not saying that those tutorials are bad (totally the opposite, I love me a beauty guru who gets my skin). All I’m saying is that it’s hard to feel comfortable – let alone beautiful – when society tells me my skin is ugly. If flawless skin is smooth and even, I am flawed.

Maybe it’s selfish of me to want more space for myself in a movement, because it’s obvious that society has already carved out plenty of spaces for me to exist in. But I still don’t think that there is a space for this particular part of my identity – my acne and my scars – to exist openly. I want to feel like it’s okay to have skin that doesn’t look perfectly airbrushed. I want a world that doesn’t tell us there is only one way to be beautiful.

*In case anyone is wondering – I am not unhealthy. I promise you that I take excellent care of my health and body. This is just how my skin is. I really don’t want any recommendations for what I could be doing, because that’s not the point of this post and honestly, I’ve probably already tried it and it didn’t work.

On politics and social media bubbles

Fair warning: this is a mostly a musing but also about the US election, so if you’re well over reading about it, you might want to ignore this post.

Like most people, I spent last night in front of a news channel feeling increasingly bewildered at the results of the 2016 election. I feel like I’ve been in a state of shock ever since.

As someone not from the States, my main US-news source is virtual. I don’t have a TV and I haven’t read a newspaper since March, so I get my news from social media. The past few months, my newsfeed has been a constant stream of Hillary Clinton support, of videos explaining policy, of celebrity endorsements, of articles about her actions. And I let myself believe that, because saw nothing but support, she was clearly going to win. Everything I read made it seem like her winning was inevitable (plus the odd conspiracy theorist commenting that the election was rigged in her favour).

But obviously, that didn’t happen.

It made me think about the danger in believing that your world is representative of the actual world. In my little bubble, it feels like everyone believes in the same things I do, so it’s hard to see that the real world is not quite as tolerant and welcoming. Social media is an amazing way of sharing knowledge and opinions, but on the flip side it can act as an echo chamber where your own thoughts are reflected back to you, warping your idea of what’s actually going on in the world.

I don’t know what the future will hold for the US – and how that will affect the world at large – but I know that I’ll be reading my “suggested articles” with a grain of salt from now on.

New eyes

I didn’t know what to do with myself today. It was Labour Day so I didn’t have work, but I also didn’t have anything to do. I did my washing, I watched (far too many) episodes of Gilmore Girls, I played the ukulele until my uncalloused fingers cried out in defeat. I still felt restless and listless, so I decided the only thing that would save my brain was peach rings (I’m currently ignoring the possibility that they’re made with gelatin because I am too in love with their sugary goodness). On a spur of the moment, I decided to take my polaroid camera out with me and take some pictures of the walk to the store.

I go this route at least three times a week, so I’m well used to it. But there was something about having the intention of taking photos that made it feel different. I’m not saying the walk was magical or that I was overwhelmed with the beauty of mundanity – I’d like to think I’m not that pretentious. But it made me look harder at the things I often noticed but never gave much thought, and to pause when I saw something I thought was beautiful. You can’t capture the moment when you’re always on the move.

I really believe in having reminders of the everyday, of the mundane; maybe that’s why I’m doing my photo-a-day challenge. Taking pictures of a well-trodden path helped remind me how lucky I am to be living in such a beautiful neighbourhood, and (hopefully) will stop me forgetting that fact once I’m no longer here. Life may be a bunch of sequential transient moments, but those moments turn into memories, and memories don’t need to be transient too.

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It’s not the end of the world

IMG_7317Sometimes my head gets too full and I find myself mentally falling into a hole that I don’t know how to escape from. Negative thoughts will start swirling around my head and I’ll panic, thinking for sure that there is no way I can deal with all of my problems. When I fall into one these stress-spirals, it’s hard for me to think straight. Everything seems huge and everything seems terrible. Sometimes the only thing that can get me out of it is to sleep it off. Usually peace comes with the sunrise, but it’s not exactly a quick fix or something that actually solves the problem in the first place. After experiencing a couple of those episodes recently, I’ve realised that the most useful thing I can do for myself in those situations is to breathe deeply and tell myself over and over again – it’s not the end of the world.

Years ago, I remember my mother saying those words when I was distraught over something that seemed huge at the time. It didn’t change the fact that I was upset or that I had to deal with whatever consequences ensued. But it gave me the reminder that I could cope with whatever happened. Because even though losing a friend or failing a test or getting rejected hurts, it’s not the end of the world. My problems aren’t inconsequential or irrelevant, but they aren’t so powerful as to ruin everything that exists. It may seem obvious, but when I’m in that negative place it’s hard to see anything else. This mantra helps me put things into perspective and talk myself down. And I hope next time a stress-spiral attacks me, I can starve it of its power with those words.

Unless you’re performing risky experiments that could potentially start the inevitable zombie apocalypse – relax. It’ll be okay. It’s not the end of the world.