Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tastes Good


           I can’t drive my car without listening to music. I can’t do my homework without listening to music. Some nights, I can’t even sleep without listening to music. That’s fucked up, and probably unhealthy. But I don’t care. Music is the most universal form of entertainment on the planet, and probably the most convenient. It isn’t demanding in any sense of the word, and I can have access to all of it from my computer—plus it’s free if I want it to be. In our generation, it’s essentially an implied facet of life. I mean, who doesn’t listen to music? That’s a completely absurd idea to most of us. And, just like food, each person has his or her own personalized taste of music.
The phrase ‘music taste’ is an all-inclusive category that attempts to generalize the preferences and favoritisms of a person in terms of what they enjoy listening to. In my opinion, it gets tossed around rather haphazardly: “he has great taste in music.”, “ew, no, her taste in music is awful.” I hear talk like that a lot, especially when people are fighting over whose iPod to play at a party. But I have a fundamental problem with saying someone has a poor taste in music. Like, what exactly does that mean? How is music preference assessed in a qualitative fashion? What makes a person’s taste in music good or bad? It doesn’t make sense to me. I can’t go out to dinner with my friend and tell him that he has shitty taste in food…it would be meaningless. Music preference, just like food, is entirely subjective and unique to each person.
Despite the arbitrary nature of judging music tastes, many people proudly boast their own preferences and compare themselves to others in a competitive fashion. So then, what do the people who use the phrase in a contrastive manner think they’re saying? To find out, I asked a few people who considered themselves “tasteful”.
“What do you believe makes your taste in music good?”
A: “I think I have a really wide variety in regards to my interests. I'm also patient with songs and artists when other people will give up on them, I will try and find some redeeming aspects to them.”
B: “It's diverse and sounds good and it’s original.”
C: “I understand the art of good lyricism and instrumentalism, as I play music, and really know how to distinguish actual art and talent from a song that is purely aesthetically pleasing.”

“In terms of the actual songs themselves, what makes a particular one good or bad?”

A: “There are a lot of things to take into account: the lyrics, the rhyming schemes, the background music, beat, tempo, sound of the vocals (if there are vocals).”
B: “Lyrics, if like- an emotion/story/truth is told. That's pretty important, and if it sounds good I guess. And sounds different. If it's relatable, makes you feel something.”

“Does your definition of good music change depending on the setting or environment you're in?”
C: “Yeah, when i'm working with my dad in the summer on the farm, the only appropriate music is bluegrass, but if I'm on the table, I really only want to hear something that goes really hard. Likewise, dance music almost exclusively lacks art, but it serves a wonderful purpose: it makes you move.”

First of all, thanks, to all my interview subjects. Now, let’s look at their responses. The idea of novelty/originality comes up more than once. I guess that the theory is: if a song is undiscovered—a gem—then that somehow automatically makes it better. In the same vein, people that listen to arcane bands seem to believe they’re elevated over those who listen to traditionally popular music. Another trend in the responses is the mentioning of artistic and lyrical aspects of songs. By this logic, a song could then be lyrically brilliant but still sound like utter dissonance.
My point in all of this, and I think subject C had the right idea, is that the concept of “good music taste” is extremely circumstantial, and the notion that someone can have a better taste in music than another person is comparable to someone having better taste in food; they’re both misleading.


*I wrote this in defense of someone who many consider (including myself) to have poor musical taste. I disagree with many of the things I wrote.