Taking Up Arms Against Music Snobs

I am cripplingly insecure about my musical taste.

But today I will bare all, in the hopes of finding peace and liberty.

For the record, I am writing this post while listening to Josh Groban’s newest album, All That Echoes. It took a couple of listen-throughs before I liked it, and now I love it and I have been incapable of listening to anything else since Tuesday.

So, why am I insecure? Two main reasons:

1. My music taste is not particularly sophisticated.

2. I don’t know about (or pay attention to) the theoretical or technical side of music enough to make any kind of intelligent comment about it. “I like it” or “I don’t like it” is about all I can manage.

There’s a third reason, I suppose, which is that I have been made to feel ashamed of my preferences in the past.

Like a lot of kids, I was bullied in middle school. One of the myriad reasons was that, having been a sheltered homeschooler before 6th grade, I was out of touch with everything “cool,” including whatever the oh-so-knowledgeable 11-year-olds were listening to back in the day.

Clearly I was missing out on so much.

Having escaped to a different prison for high school, I half tried to keep my head down and avoid notice and half just tried to be not-uncool. For this reason, I was ashamed whenever I found out that I liked something that was disliked by people I admired. I listened to the radio a lot in high school (but I almost never do now), so my musical taste consisted mainly of Nsync, Michelle Branch, and Matchbox 20. (And for this I was also mocked by the music snobs I worked with.) In my senior year, I did go through an Eminem phase—and was called a “poser” because it started after his most-recent-at-the-time album came out, because … that makes sense? (Why are you a “poser” or “not a true fan” because you didn’t hear about something sooner? How is that your fault and how is it a reason for judgment???)

In college, my first year was spent in a Nirvana and No Doubt phase (*waves* hi, Liese! the ND concert in 2004 is still one of my favorite concert experiences!). When I graduated after year four, I was a new fan of Josh Groban and Nightwish. A couple years later, I began a love affair with 80s music and in 2010 I finally confessed and embraced the love of Bon Jovi that I had been secretly harboring for ten. f**king. years.

And this is why I have a deep and passionate loathing for music snobs.

So what DO I like? Well, the thing is, my taste is very broad and nearly indiscriminate. (I draw the line at dubstep and Justin Bieber, though.) I am most likely to like music that is more dramatic, intense, louder, even borderline bombastic (Nightwish, show tunes, Florence + The Machine), and upbeat songs that I can dance or work out to (Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Maroon 5). Generally I’m less favorable to very slow songs, but if I connect with the lyrics, that trumps almost anything else. For example, “Timshel” is my least favorite Mumford & Sons song, but I still like it. Usually I don’t like songs where the singer is either too whiney or too shouty, so I really don’t like punk. Except I like metal so … I don’t know, I am a confused individual.

My music taste is very emotional. Maybe that’s another reason why I’m so sensitive about it. I never not sing in the car, and when I’m alone, it’s rarely done with any amount of irony. Usually I will belt out Adele, Phantom of the Opera, and Josh Groban with all sincerity.

A typical ride in my car

I usually like a song for the following reasons:

  1. The lyrics grab me somehow—be it for political, personal, funny (ironically or not), or aesthetic reasons
  2. The tune is catchy or particularly beautiful
  3. It makes me feel a certain way—hopeful, cheered, sexy, kick-ass, peaceful
  4. I associate it with something—the movie I heard it in, the person who introduced me to it, the circumstances where I heard it, a story or character it reminds me of, etc.
  5. And sometimes I just have no damn idea

And isn’t that ultimately why anyone likes any song or tune?

There is some music where I just don’t see the appeal, like Coldplay (boring) and, as I said, dubstep (yes, it really does sound like a jammed printer is having angry sex with an old-school Internet dial-up tone).

Then there is music that I don’t mind, I’ve just never gotten into it. This is usually stuff that “everyone” seems to know and like, thus making me more embarrassed that I don’t: the Beatles and Queen are the first to come to mind.

Clearly I have nothing against popular music. I do get excited when I’m ahead of the curve just because it so rarely happens, but then I’m already insecure about my music taste, so it’s not like I’m going to tell people about it anyway, so that doesn’t even make sense. What annoys me is when it feels like something is being shoved down my throat, or I’m somehow made to feel “wrong” that I’m not into something. It’s the same way with books—I don’t mind that a billion people have read The Hunger Games. I mind when I hear “OMG YOU HAVEN’T READ THEM YET??? WHY? DO IT NOW!! YOU WILL LOVE IT!!” Maybe I will, maybe I won’t, just don’t pressure me or presume to know how I’ll react already!

I’m still bitter about all the people who told me—5 years ago and without irony—how wonderful the Twilight series was.

Now, I can (AND DO) change my mind all the time. But no amount of shaming, of telling me why I’m “wrong,” or telling me why this or that band sucks/is awesome, is ever going to do that mind-changing. I like it or I don’t, and only I can determine that.

So from this day forward, as is implied in the title, I am taking up (figurative) arms against music shame and snobbery.

As I’m writing this, I am reminded of my favorite scene in Mr. Holland’s Opus when he convinces a student not to quit playing the clarinet by playing “Louie Louie” for her and asking her to explain why anyone would like such an uncomplicated, mindless, repetitive pop song. When she says, “Because … it’s fun?” he says, “Yes! Music is supposed to be fun.”

Oh, look! I found the clip here (it starts about 2:50 in this video). I didn’t quote it exactly, but the spirit is the same.

. . .

So here we go: I love Bon Jovi. I love Josh Groban. I love Florence + The Machine. I love Muse (except their new album—and I don’t even know enough about music to explain why). I love Mumford and Sons. I love The Spring Standards (you’ve never heard of them? TO YOUTUBE WITH YOU!!!) I love Nightwish. I love Lady Gaga. I love Maroon 5. I unironically love “Call Me Maybe.” I love Michael Buble. I love Beethoven and Johann Sebastian Bach. I love 1920s jazz. I love show tunes and I will always, always, always, always love The Phantom of the Opera. By Jove! I still listen to Backstreet Boys and Nsync and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. And if it be a sin to listen to Ke$ha’s “Die Young” as I make dinner and dance around my kitchen, I am the most offending soul alive!

No shame now. Screw it. Yes, Josh Groban is probably over-the-top, but I think his voice is gorgeous, I think his self-awareness is charming, I admire that he is doing what he loves, and a lot of his music is simply uplifting. Yes, “You Raise Me Up” may be overexposed and cheesy, but you know what? When I saw him in concert in 2011, and the entire audience was singing it with him, I had tears in my eyes. AND IT WASN’T ALLERGIES.

And just for the heck of it, have some really crappy pictures from the most recent concerts I’ve been to:

Nightwish, Sept. 2012

Nightwish, Sept. 2012

. . .

Mumford & Sons, August 2012

Mumford & Sons, August 2012

. . .

(OK, holy crap, I forgot how great the pictures were that I took of the Josh Groban concert. This is why I paid the big bucks for the good seats.)


Josh Groban, August 2011

. . .

Bon Jovi, February 2011

Bon Jovi, February 2011

And if you and I differ in our music taste? Guess what . . . that’s fine! Just don’t tell me I’m “wrong,” and I shall extend to you the same courtesy.

One last thing: Lest you think I don’t  like ANY indie music, here’s a video from one of my favorite indie bands, The Spring Standards, a group I discovered in DC in 2010 and still follow:

. . .

Have you been harboring secret music shame? Feel free to confess in the comments. Or, if you like, leave me some recommendations. I’m always open to a new music experience.

6 thoughts on “Taking Up Arms Against Music Snobs

  1. Oh my GOSH, your Josh Groban concert picture. Wow.

    This whole post reminds me of the original idea behind Pandora: that people would put in one thing they liked, react to a song *before* they learned what it was called or who sang it, and only after listening to it the whole way through would they, perhaps, learn that they genuinely liked Celine Dion when they couldn’t have the kneejerk “OMG I *can’t* like CELINE DION” reaction. That was why it was connected to Pandora’s Box, because no one knew what would come out of it.

    (Maybe you knew this already. Forgive my repetition if so)

    Oddly enough, the ‘cool people’ didn’t really like country in grade school or high school, so I got some gentle ribbing for that back then…but Facebook tells me about how many of them have gone to see Rascal Flatts or gone to the Downtown Hoedown since. Heh.

    • I never thought about that being the concept behind Pandora (and the name), so you’ve taught me something new. I haven’t been able to get into Pandora because when I listen to music I’m usually in the mood for something more specific than what that site delivers. Maybe I should try to change that, though, and broaden my horizons.

  2. I could not agree with you more. The only people who get me more riled up on Facebook than people being mean about politics are people who are mean about music. I hide (from) them. Also, your description of dubstep made me laugh-screech. Thanks for that.

  3. Also, it’s possible that you might like this combo of dubstep and violin. But then again, maybe not. It does involve a furry hat, though. :)

    • I don’t think this is the one I’ve heard before, but I kind of liked it, actually. The contrast is fun, and since the dubstep had more of a supporting role, I didn’t mind it so much. And the violin is always pretty.

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