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“Is it okay to like this?” Music, embarassment and taste

When I was younger, peer pressure to be a fan of a particular band or singer was strong. What was bodacious one week was lame-o the next and continuing to play your tape of the turtle power rap when everyone else was doing the Bartman would force you out of the popular crowd faster than sitting next to the kid who ate bogeys all day. As I got more confident in my musical preferences, I realised very quickly not what I liked, but what I did not like. I did not like Oasis, Blur or Pulp, and therefore growing up during Brit pop meant I was fairly sure that music as a whole was not my thing. Through this time, I would occasionally hear snippets of songs I did like on late night radio or at cooler friends houses. I would later identify this style of music that hooked me as American Alternative; college rock. When I heard bands like R.E.M., the Pixies, Husker Du and later Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Live I knew I had found something I could identify with and a whole genre of music that made sense to me.

Once in this mindset, I listened to every song and band within this genre. If they sounded American, made their break on college radio and didn’t sing about cigarettes OR alcohol then they were one of MY bands. Over time, the number of new artists and songs wasn’t enough to sustain me, I grew bored and the music of other genres that I was exposed to was calling me away. I was hearing styles of music that interested me, but I was denying myself them because they didn’t fit with my preconceptions of what my own musical taste was. In a way, I didn’t like what I liked. I had intellectual reasons for disliking songs, bands and even whole genres, but how I thought of them and what I felt about them was different. It was only when I read more about the bands I idolized that I realised how much broader their tastes were than mine. On a program about R.E.M., their bassist Mike Mills talked of his love of Grandmaster Flash. Michael Stipe talked about what he called the most important band in modern music, The Sex Pistols. Black Francis talked about how “Here comes your man” was based on an old blues song. There was so much I was missing, and it was because I was stubborn, snobby and a little naive.

Musical taste is more subjective than taste in movies, games or television. With so much variety of opinion, people can get confused as to what they should like. Naturally, peer groups introduce their members to new music, but they also enforce a loose set of guidelines for their members to follow. Just as with what you wear or how you talk, what you listen to influences how you are seen by your peers. To fit in, it’s only natural to be part of a “scene”, to find a group that broadly fits your existing tastes and limit yourself to it. This is not a phenomenon particular to school or college; some people remain in their self assigned groups throughout their life. They have the same mindset, whether it’s the mainstream X Factor viewer who only buys songs with the Cheryl Cole seal of approval, or Metal Heads that think that “The Big Four” are the pinnacle of musical development and that the differences between Black Metal and Deathcore actually mean something important.

Some genres will always speak to particular demographics more than others. Chirpy pop music will always play well to young girls who just want to dance, and grinding, banging metal will always speak to self pitying, white fifteen year old males who are angry about…well something or other. Typically music tastes don’t change, but grow. Everything that I liked when I was at school I still like now. It’s just that in between The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight and Debaser, I can quite happily feel the blues with Son House, stick it to The Man with Rage Against the Machine or get stupid with Andrew WK.

Sure, there’s still stuff that speaks to me more deeply. Band of Horses and Deathcab for Cutie seem like bands that have attained perfection to me, but to others they probably sound like navel-gazing, dreamy nonsense. I know now that the stuff that I like I can’t help, and nor should I want to. We only get one life, and music is one of the greatest gifts we’re given. If there’s a song you like, don’t deny yourself because it’s not what the critics, your friends or worst of all your parents don’t agree with. I’m not saying all fifteen year old girls should have ipods full of anthrax and Pantera, or that aggressive crew-cut white boys should be smashing chairs and moshing to The Scissor Sisters. I’m saying that if you’re singing “Alejandro, Roberto, Ronaldo” in the shower before dressing head to toe in black while powered with the pure energy of hate, don’t be ashamed. Be proud.

On that note, here’s a few songs most people I know will laugh at me for liking. I care not.

And lest you think I’m weird, here’s some songs I’m proud to love.
Band of Horses
Arcade Fire
Malcolm Middleton

Published inEditorial