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Why liking popular media makes me feel unpopular

How the persistent stigma around popular trends makes me feel embarrassed about my mainstream tastes

I vividly remember the blizzard that hit the Northeastern region of the U.S. in January 2016. However, it wasn’t the numerous feet of snow, chilling winds or even the school days off that have painted such a clear picture of that week. Rather, it was my discovery of the pop band One Direction.

Although I find it impossible to believe now, I’d never gotten into American music or pop culture before that year. As an Indian American student, I would spend most of my time jamming to Bollywood tunes with my parents. But during the 2016 blizzard, that changed. After falling into a rabbit hole of YouTube videos about One Direction, I quickly developed a deep admiration for the band and the industry it belonged to.

Positively overwhelmed by this whole new world, I couldn’t wait to return to school — it was an unusual feeling — and share my newfound passion with all my friends. Little did I know that my excitement was futile.  

Instead of being met by mutual joy, I was greeted by chuckles and scoffs. In the next few minutes, I discovered that liking pop boy bands such as One Direction was “uncool,” and I should probably avoid bringing it up in conversations with those outside my friend group. While my heart sank instantly, it wasn’t my friends’ words but rather their rationale that frustrated me. 

According to them, One Direction had developed a negative reputation over the past few years. After becoming so popular, the band was now considered generic and overrated, leading people to question the taste of those who enjoyed its music. Some also credited the band members’ physical traits for their success over their music, resulting in another reason to dislike the band. And after a small group expressed their distaste, other individuals, including my friends, followed suit. 

Unsurprisingly, stumbling upon this new insight disappointed me. It was disheartening to not be able to share my excitement with my peers and I questioned whether I’d ever find someone with similar musical preferences. For now, I decided to keep my “generic” taste under wraps.

Flash forward four years, not much has changed. Although my love for One Direction persists to this day, I try to keep it as private as possible, whether it’s ensuring “Private Session” on Spotify or thinking twice before bringing it up on a get-to-know-you survey simply because I fear judgement from my peers. 

This notion is also common across other media. When TikTok’s most followed creator, Charli D’Amelio, was first growing as an influencer, I’d often see comments criticizing those that enjoyed her videos. I’ve seen similar reactions to people idolizing pop artists like Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and Billie Eilish. Even classic movies, popular TV shows, fashion trends and trendy foods — think back to the avocado obsession of 2018 — are often frowned upon since they are mainstream.

Mainstream. That’s the real villain of the story here. From 2016 and onwards, I’ve realized that oftentimes, when a person, object or trend becomes extremely well known and widespread for a while, it starts being labelled as overrated or basic. In fact, it’s become a trend to bash on other popular trends. 

Before moving on, I recognize that people are entitled to their own opinions —  not every trend will be indulged in or liked by an individual. However, I’m referring to the situations when people dislike something simply because it’s popular. For example, in my experience in 2016, I soon realized that a lot of my classmates hadn’t even listened to One Direction’s music beyond the band’s hit singles. So instead of basing their judgement on their actual opinion, my peers developed a negative image of the band because it was so widely loved. 

The same situation has even occurred with dance moves, such as dabbing. After gaining traction in 2015 when numerous individuals gave in to the trend, dabbing eventually became something to be looked down upon, even by me. When I see someone dab in public, my instinct is to cringe — not because I don’t like the move but rather because it’s been labelled that way by those around me. 

I can’t speak on why many popular trends are fated to be criticized, but it’s nevertheless an unfortunate reality. For those like me, it’s not uncommon to feel slightly embarrassed for having a mainstream taste in music or other forms of pop culture and media. Sometimes, I’ll even hear others say that jamming out to Taylor Swift or watching “The Vampire Diaries” is their guilty pleasure in order to excuse their conventional behavior.

Needless to say, I can’t singlehandedly change the mindset of the countless individuals who frown upon others for their mainstream taste. Ultimately, even I’ve been on that other side so that I could stay on the same page as my peers — the pressure exists both ways. However, I urge everyone to consider whether it’s the actual trend you dislike or the stigma around its popularity that makes you feel that way. 

But even at the most fundamental level, disliking a trend or interest because of its popularity shouldn’t happen in the first place. The act belittles and sidelines people’s preferences, hobbies and passions. Most importantly, mainstream tastes need to be accepted, because others — like my eighth grade self — shouldn’t have their excitement fade away after sharing their new favorite band.

Niharika Singhvi is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at