Sounding Off: There is no such thing as bad taste in music 

Two people sit down and share some music together. In this article, Zelin argues that it should be impossible to judge someone else’s choices in what to listen to, as we really have no way of knowing all of the circumstances that bring a person to want to hear what they are listening to. 

A week ago, I found myself in a situation. It was midnight, and I needed to drive about two hours to get home before I slept. A stop at the highway rest stop told me I’d be unable to get coffee for the trip, so I turned to an old friend to get me through the trip: music. On that drive, which I spent headbanging and screaming the lyrics of words I have no idea how I remember, the idea for this article came to me. Honestly, many of the songs I was listening to were not ones I’d consider among my favorites, but at that moment they were the only thing I could trust to keep me awake. When I look back on that, I want to use that as an example of how music is such an individualized experience, and how a piece of music affects one person is truly only known to them. Because of that unique reaction, it really should be impossible to judge someone else’s choices in what to listen to, as we really have no way of knowing all of the circumstances that bring a person to want to hear what they are listening to. 

According to Marie Charlotte Götting of in June 2019, “68 percent of adults aged between 18 and 34 years old reported listening to music every day, and the majority of their older peers also enjoyed music with the same regularity.” That’s a pretty significant statistic, and it doesn’t even account for those who listen to music less frequently, or consume other forms of audible media. In short, the human race listens to things a lot. The miraculous thing about that is while so many of us are united in our love for listening, we often cannot agree on what should go into our ears, and that’s honestly great for all of us. If we all agreed to listen to exactly the same thing, we’d be an incredibly boring bunch. 

To keep us all from being boring, we should all encourage each other’s listening habits, no matter what they are. Telling someone their taste is bad has absolutely zero value to society, and only serves to further homogenize our culture. On top of that, while someone’s reason for listening to something might be as surface-level as needing loud music to stay awake, it might also be for a much deeper reason. For example, two songs that I can’t get through listening to without crying are “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” by Elton John and “Santa Fe” from the “Newsies” movie soundtrack. Both of them might not have any connection to someone that isn’t me besides that they’re both featured in Disney movies, but to me, they’re two songs that remind me of how I felt as a kid going through my parents’ divorce. 

If you don’t personally resonate with a certain musician’s music, a certain genre or even a specific song, that’s totally your right. Just as some people have special connections with certain songs, some people don’t like songs, and they shouldn’t be judged for their taste either. The key is that negative feelings about other people’s individual relationship with music don’t belong in a kind society. 

Now, I wish this was a hard-and-fast rule, and that there were no caveats, but alas, that’s not the case. There is plenty of music out there that is intentionally hurtful or insensitive, and that’s not ok. For example, the song “Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones depicts graphic imagery related to enslavement, and also other racist and sexist tropes. Listening to it and using the excuse “but it’s catchy” should not fly. On a lighter note, listening to music in inappropriate settings – e.g. blasting it late at night in your dorm room so that it’s audible to all of your floormates – is also not ok. 

Besides those exceptions, feel free to go wild with whatever you want to listen to, whether it’s extremely popular, extremely obscure, anywhere in between or not music at all. Only you know how what goes into your ears affects you, and that’s what makes the magic of music so special. Let’s all do better to preserve that magic for everyone. 

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