Editorial :: When Bad Music Happens to Good People

You’re driving down the highway, windows down, sunglasses on, music turned up so loud you’re wondering where the threshold is for blowing out your speakers. You’re feeling pretty damn good about yourself. Suddenly you see brake lights, and traffic comes to a dead stop. Now you’re sitting in a sea of cars who can all hear your choice of music – and it turns out you’re not so proud.
Or, if you’re like me, you’re sitting at the Christian Science Center in Boston with headphones on, and some students come up to you and ask if they can interview you on camera about coffee. You begrudgingly say yes, but of COURSE their last question is: what are you listening to right now? Somewhere in the world there is a classroom full of people laughing at me as I obviously try to hide the fact that I was just listening to Faded by Soul Decision (props if you know it – I think it made an appearance on the Now CDs back when they were still in the single digits).
I’d be shocked out of my pants if you said that some version of this story has never happened to you – the shame of admitting you’re listening to a song widely recognized as terrible. But why does it happen? If I enjoy Soul Decision enough to be listening to them of my own volition, why is it that I don’t want to tell anyone?
I’ll tell you why. Because nobody wants to admit that some bleach blond boy band from the year 2000 actually recorded a song that connected with them somehow. Even if “connected” just means it brought a smile to their face. Nobody wants to admit that the thing that brings them back to a happy childhood memory is a song by three androgynous kids yelling Mmmbop. And certainly nobody wants to admit that listening to Milkshake makes them feel like they can actually bring all the boys to the yard.
So we label these songs guilty pleasures, because somehow the admission that you’re aware the music is sub-par will save you from the judgement of others (it won’t, but good try). We fear that genuinely enjoying these songs is somehow a reflection of our character. As if liking a song that is purely about whether or not you’re taking someone home tonight makes you a bad person.
Well guess what – it doesn’t. It makes you awesome. It makes you human.
Most of the time, I’m happy to go to town with anyone analyzing the impossible time signatures of Animals As Leaders, or the genius that is Maynard James Keenan, or any other topic on the more sophisticated side of music. But go ahead and judge me all you like – sometimes, I just need me some Soul Decision.
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