Have you ever confidently put your iPod on shuffle when someone passes you the aux cord? If you have, may I take this opportunity to digitally bow down to you and your savagery. For the rest of us mere mortals however, the thought is uncomfortable at best, sweat-inducing at worst. We all have a dark, unspoken musical past and present, a group of songs and artists that we repeatedly listen to yet go out of our way to hide all evidence of. Why exactly do we feel the need to do this? Sure, having ten individual Naruto theme songs on your phone might not be the coolest thing your Tinder date could accidentally discover about you, but chances are there is some equally damning material on their playlist history too—so why bother to cover it up? In fact, why do we make such a point of judging other individuals based on who they listen to and how often?
Don’t mistake me—everyone, absolutely everyone, has the right to have and espouse an opinion on music and how they perceive it. What I mean to say is not that we should all blindly accept anything we hear as certified gold, nor am I implying that we should necessarily respect or agree with other people’s tastes in music. What we should respect is the right to have a taste in music, realizing that we should in no way attempt to influence said taste, or to put down or devalue another person based on their preferences.
Example: I have a friend who likes Justin Beiber. Not only does she like Justin Beiber, she somehow finds deep, near-spiritual meaning in the song stylings of Justin Beiber. Don’t ask me how, or why, because I absolutely don’t understand it. The main point is that although we as a pair may have spirited debates regarding the meaning behind his lyrics and the quality therein—e.g. she argues he is some kind of pop messiah responding eloquently to subcultural trends affecting today’s youth, while I argue that the only thing his songs have ever afforded me is a deep contemplation on the wonders of free will as I exercise said free will to turn the radio off—I would never question her inherent “taste” in music or validity as a creative voice based on this one particular preference which I happen to consider misguided.
Because really, who is anyone to talk? We all have some variation of a “guilty pleasure” artist or genre we indulge in and fail to share with our friends and peers, but should something that speaks to you, even if it only does so on the basest, most superficial level, ever need to be concealed to save face? I will go on record and say that when I’m getting ready to go out by myself, my make-up prep soundtrack is completely different than the one I play if others are getting ready in the same space as me. My public getting ready playlist is filled with all kinds of synth-pop darlings and 80s alternative numbers that are intelligently designed by yours truly to imply my effortless sense of cool. My private getting ready playlist is somewhat different, manifesting itself in the form of a mutant amalgamation of Japanese idol-metal, soul-suckingly vapid Korean pop, dirty rap (think Earl Sweatshirt and Art Vandelay), ancient (like circa 2004) techno, and I’m fairly certain that the theme from Mortal Kombat works itself in there somewhere alongside “Caramelldansen.” So now you have a faint idea of how schizophrenically I apply eyeliner.
Returning to my earlier point, the idea of a pre-existing hierarchy of “good” versus “crap” is inherently flawed because it is constructed by us with the understanding that the value of music lies in how interesting or traditionally cool it makes us appear to outsiders. If it brings you enjoyment, calms your nerves, or makes you feel ready to melt the faces off your enemies, even if for the briefest second, hasn’t music done its job? And do we have the right to assert our own pre-conceived pretensions onto someone else when our own musical skeletons lie safely behind the closet door?