The Music We Consume

By Jeremy Silverman.

Pop music is trash. It’s useless. It doesn’t mean anything. You should listen to real music.

But why?

Maybe it’s because it doesn’t have complex melodies (see: Taylor Swift’s Out of the Woods, Style, and Look What You Made Me Do). Maybe it’s because the beat isn’t syncopated (see: most of the Chainsmoker’s discography). Or maybe it’s because of the listener and their historic role in the world. Who comes to mind when you think of radio, hit-making, bubblegum pop music? Ariana Grande? Taylor Swift? Justin Bieber? And who listens to people like that? Mostly young girls.

While there are exceptions (as there are to every rule), there seems to be a trend that the music that is most consumed by young teenage girls is considered vapid and brainless by older and self-claimed “more sophisticated” music listeners.

Young girls are perceived as having bad taste in music, preferring the shiny and hopeful bops of One Direction over the jaded poetry of someone like Bob Dylan. This isn’t to say Dylan’s songs aren’t incredible works of art (eg. Desolation Row), but it shines a light on who gets to call music “good” and what aspects of a song define it as “good.”

Not to get too Hobbesian in my moral philosophy, but definitions of “good” and “bad” lay in the eye of the beholder. These qualitative boxes arise from subjective preferences of what each individual prefers or detests. Subjectivity is king when defining music. For young people, this can be illustrated by the struggles of the aux cord.

In a car (or at a party) with people you don’t know too well, it can be intimidating to be offered the aux cord. Your palms clam up with worry that your music isn’t “good enough.” Of course, your music might not be right for the situation you’re in, but that doesn’t make it good or bad. Someone will like your music and someone will not. What matters is that if you like it, then it’s good for you.

What is the point of music? What makes a song “good” and what makes it “bad”? People who run crusades against pop music (and are all apparently experts in music theory) will say it’s the complexity of the beat and arrangement, the innovative melody, or the poetic lyrics.

But, unlike the answers you may hear from people like that, it’s equally important for music to make you feel something - and that can be captured very clearly in pop music.

There have been stories upon stories of people who are sick in the hospital, suffer from depression and anxiety, and are even just experiencing bad days who turn their moods around thanks to “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift. With a repetitive chorus (“Haters gonna hate, hate, hate / Fakers gonna fake, fake, fake / So I’m just gonna shake, shake shake / Shake it off, shake it off”), this song has been bashed for being too surface level and not lyrically important. But that doesn’t change the fact that this song makes people dance. It makes people smile. And, for three minutes and thirty-nine seconds, it can make people forget about their troubles.

So, when most people claim to find music through passion and feeling, why are songs that make people feel things dismissed? Is it because happiness isn’t a “complex” feeling? Is it because enjoying yourself is considered “immature”?

Don’t get me wrong, there is some pop music that is clearly manufactured for radio play and is meaningless, but there are pop artists who put in lots of thought into their music - and are dismissed because a majority of their audience is made up of tween girls.

Ariana Grande is a main target of people who ride the pop music high horse. They bring up songs like “Problem” and “Break Free” to defend their position that pop music is meaningless. But they neglect to listen to deeper cuts like “Get Well Soon” which not only has a heartwarming message but is sonically produced with enough vocal harmonies to create a one-woman choir.

Artists like Grande play to arenas and stadiums filled with the most basic girls imaginable. (That’s not a bad thing. Just a statement). I’m sure PETA would sue if they saw how many Ugg boots are in Madison Square Garden every year at iHeart Radio’s Jingle Ball festival (which boasts artists like Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Charli XCX, Shawn Mendes, and more).

But, just because the music these artists put out isn’t always complex, doesn’t mean it’s ruining society. It’s just considered to be a menace to society because it gives young girls a voice to be heard and a platform to feel represented. How is a young girl - braces, pumpkin spice latte, and all - supposed to connect to Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Paul McCartney? She’s not. And how is an old man - raised during the Vietnam War - supposed to obsess over Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello? He’s not. But, why is the old man allowed to tell the young girl that her preferences are invalid? Why can’t she tell him his preferences are invalid? Why is he more likely to be seen with a “good” music taste?

As Hobbes would say, things (in this case: music) are not inherently good and are not inherently bad. Rather, we give these labels to what we enjoy and what we dislike.

In this scenario, both parties should be allowed to enjoy their music preferences without the worry of being labeled elementary or uncultured.

While there are a plethora of really unpleasant pop songs, a genre as a whole is rarely “bad.” Unless your field requires knowledge of music theory and critiques of new music, don’t refer to all forms of popular music as “trash.” Hating popular music doesn’t make you cool. It doesn’t make you smarter; it makes you insecure of being compared to a teenage girl. And that shines a light on more than just your music preferences.