In my American Studies class, we recently covered a topic on tastes, another form of classification and categorization in American society. As if we needed to differentiate ourselves more, we began to compare and contrast likes and dislikes. It’s true — we think we can form a judgment on someone based on what someone likes to wear or listen to or read. As this lecture progressed, I — naturally, of course — began to judge myself.
As an avid listener and lover of music, I jumped to questioning what my taste in music said about me, if anything. Is the music I like “too mainstream”? Is my music taste “cool” or the types of songs played in Portland coffee-shops? I still love Disney music — so does that basically equate my music taste with a 10-year-old’s? I soon realized that, for me, it wasn’t that simple.
I have never had a favorite genre or singer. If someone were to see my music playlists, I would expect a lot of confusion. To others, my playlists — consisting of everything from the Beatles to Kid Cudi to the “Les Miserables” soundtrack — might definitely seem like a computer malfunction, a jumble of musical chaos without structure or pattern. In fact, as I am writing this, my music transitions from rocker James Bay to electronic duo Matt and Kim to Chillstep (10/10 would recommend).
My diverse music interests meant that I couldn’t be pigeon-holed into one genre or artist, so maybe I was an exception to criticisms of taste. There was no way I could be judged for having a bad taste in music, because I listened to almost everything. I could be a chameleon, molding to anyone’s music preferences and blending into any musical event or conversation.
But on the other hand … maybe this ability to conform to anything actually meant that I had no taste. My existential crisis surrounding music deepened as I wondered if having such a breadth of artists and songs — rather than depth — was also something someone would criticize. In a way, did being a fan of everything mean being a fan of nothing?
But if music is a form of expression, and we are free to express ourselves in any way we choose, then I was definitely overthinking. If I had taste or not, it didn’t matter — it’s a lost cause to compare myself to anyone who claims musical authority since we are all different. How much worth should we put on someone’s claims about liking “that band before it was cool” or complaining about “trash music these days”? Most people who make fun of or criticize music don’t actually have any power to judge what someone else loves or enjoys.
We all have different feelings and modes of expression, so our musical judgments placed on others are usually worthless. Since everyone celebrates music in different ways, then the notion of having bad taste in music seems to be an authoritative construction that is illogical. For example, one of my friends solely listens to the kind of “mainstream” music I would refer to as Today’s Top Hits. Some people might judge her for listening to “empty” and “generic” music, but how can I, or anyone, judge her if she really vibes with Taylor Swift — even if it’s not necessarily hip to someone else?
My reflection also made me realize my hypocrisy — despite my claims about the freedom to listen to anything, I am definitely guilty of judging others for their music tastes. I have teased that same friend for only listening to popular songs and for being uncultured when she admitted she didn’t know some of the artists I listened to. Next time, I’ll be less quick to make musical judgments upon others — I mean, unless they listen to The Chainsmokers. That’s a line I don’t cross.