Is There Such A Thing as ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Music?

Music Opinion — The ‘Good,’ The ‘Bad,’ and the Complacent

There are only a few guarantees in life and most lie in plain sight. One is that you have a pulse (you can check if you’re unsure), and another is that you like music; coincidentally, the two seem to go hand-in-hand. Now, I’m not suggesting everyone is an aficionado—or more accurately in regard to music, a geek—however, any human being with a pulse responds to it. It’s why babies dance uncontrollably when a song comes on. Something inherent within us drives this response, and at times it’s beautiful, but at others, it’s tragic.

Have you ever been shuffling through music and a song comes on that instantly transports you? All of a sudden you’ve gone back in time to a memory; you feel the same way you did at that very moment, if only for four minutes. Music intertwines so naturally into the psyche and it sticks there permanently. Songs get stuck in our heads, make us dance carelessly, and soundtrack the most important moments of our lives. It’s no wonder we hold music so close to our hearts.

If you’ve ever called someone’s music taste into question, you can surely attest to this. People will more readily defend their music than an insult about their mother. Trust me. For years, I considered it an obligation to question current popular music. I’ve gotten into arguments with sorority sisters about whether Paramore was better than Bob Dylan; tiffs with friends who had listened to every Bruce Springsteen song in existence, but had never heard of Jack White; I’ve been on the verge of having a drink thrown in my face for telling a girl Rihanna made genuinely bad music. On one occasion, a girl gave me a look of sheer evil when I’d never heard Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” and asked me “do you even listen to music?”

I’ve been called a music snob for what I once deemed an obligation, and finally I realized, those people had a point. Music is simply a subjective matter, and no one will ever back down on their opinion of what qualifies as “good music” and what doesn’t, so how could anyone ever say their opinion is wrong? This is, in fact, the beauty of music; it affects everyone differently.

An unfortunate trend does arise from this truth, though, and it appears an unavoidable tendency to get “set in your ways” with music. Once we find what we like, the exploration stops, unless effort is put into avoiding what I call “music complacency,” or the natural aversion towards something new.

Consider another anecdote: you know that moment at a party when the stereo (or ipod dock, or laptop…) suddenly goes unattended? When whomever was playing “DJ” has gone to get a drink? That is my time to shine. I spring to action and swiftly unhinge my iPod from its holster, bringing some friends along to keep lookout. Keep in mind I’ve evolved; no more Radiohead, The Smiths, or at times of defiance, Juicy J at parties. No. This is the new me. I queue up Kanye West, Disclosure, and Mayer Hawthorne; now we wait. I stand there, arms crossed and smiling, expecting everyone to react with unadulterated celebration.

The first bars of “Black Skinhead” ring out over the din of drinking games. It’s glorious… but, wait; in slow motion someone arises from across the room. They saunter over to the stereo, unplug the iPod and mutter “this sucks.” I watch in helpless agony, as they return the soundtrack to “Top 40 Pop” on Pandora.

My friends shake their heads and look up to the heavens for an answer, but it all makes sense. In my haste, I never took into account that just as pop was new for me, what I played was new for everyone else. We were all in the wrong. Chalk it up to dreaded music complacency.

When a song comes on that we like, it’s as though that infant inside of us still wants to react and dance uncontrollably, but after years of awkward adolescence, when music and coolness got all mixed up with one another, we’re all jaded. Immediately, one questions “should I like this?” instead of “do I?” This shouldn’t be the case. When something sounds good, it’s so much more natural to simply go with it. There is no “good” and “bad,” there’s only music that resonates and music that doesn’t.

What’s the cure to complacency, you ask? Live music. It’s the great equalizer. There’s no opportunity to press “next” on an iPod, so you must give every musician a chance, even if it’s unlike anything you’ve ever heard. It brings music back to it’s core—someone pounding a drum in a circle of people—and if it sounds good to you, then who’s to say it’s not?

Article by Nicolas White

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