A Musical Personality

When I was a high school senior, I adopted a pretty aggressive policy of refusing to have shame about my music tastes, which meant that I began to openly acknowledge my love of music that I never would have previously have admitted to enjoying.  It resulted in more than a few discussions on the subject, including debates over country music and “mindless” pop, and derision and fake fighting over who was wrong about what type of music.  But one instance in particular always stood out to me as particularly bizarre, when I told a few friends that I was listening to Taylor Swift and was greeted with surprised laughter.

That’s not so much the part that has stuck with me; it was wordlessly aggravating at the time, to be sure, but what strikes me more is how my longtime friend later explained his reaction.  Pointing to the Jimmy Eat World album I was in the process of reviewing, he explained that he simply wasn’t expecting me to be listening to Taylor Swift because there was such a big difference between her and this other type of music he had previously considered to dominate my musical tastes.

It’s an occurrence that required some degree of the high school atmosphere, not to mention that I think his perception of the “big difference” between Jimmy Eat World and Taylor Swift was largely overstated and uninformed, but I find it to be a great example of a poorly reasoned but widespread mentality.

This friend had for years perceived my singular genre of choice as being various degrees of rock (and to be fair, this was largely the appearance I maintained, however inaccurate).  He had decided that those musical tastes matched with my personality as he knew it, but Taylor Swift did not; I can’t tell you what his perception of her was exactly, but I can imagine how a female artist playing light, poppy music could have conflicted with his view of my music tastes.

But this is precisely what I find bizarre, and it forces me to ask: Why do we assume what someone’s musical tastes say about them?  Why, with a medium so subject to personal interpretation and affected by volatile emotions, do we jump to conclusions?

By no means am I innocent in this; I’ve been susceptible to this mentality in the past and still have to try to force myself away from it.  It’s natural to subconsciously form ideas about artists, even if you’ve never properly listened to them, and when somebody tells you that they listen to them, you assume that they listen to the artist for the things that define them in your mind and see it as some part of their personality of which you were previously unaware.  The failure in this, beyond the fact that snap judgments about artists usually aren’t correct, is that doing so looks at this as a new facet of someone rather than examining the appreciation they hold for other music and guessing that the same reasoning is in play here.

What’s gotten me particularly thinking about this lately is that I’ve started listening to Jimmy Buffett, having previously made uneducated assumptions that led me to believe his music didn’t match my tastes.  Admittedly, I’m pretty abysmal at reading general perceptions of anything in music, but I’m imagining that most people who haven’t listened to Jimmy Buffett much would have the same misconceptions about his music, and if they heard of my newfound love for his work, would probably express this type of surprise.  But one of the things I appreciate most about his music is how relaxing and calming it is, and that’s something that I find in songs that have been my favorites for years upon years now; I’ve been kicking myself for not having delved into the sea of music he’s released years ago, because I’ve wasted so much time not enjoying it.

This same logic applies with Jimmy Eat World and Taylor Swift.  Both artists tell compelling narratives of love and loss, emotional stories told with heartfelt lyrics; they may fall into different genres and I would certainly argue there’s a different tone to them both, but I would argue they have a good amount of common ground—it’s what made Jimmy Eat World’s cover of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” so effective.

I could sift through a lot of examples of music I love with varying degrees of contrast between them, but it all comes together to say one thing: I believe that the music a person listens to can say a lot about who they are, but only if you listen to them.  The world of music—and the world of people—becomes much more compelling if you take the time to appreciate the nuance and personality behind people’s enjoyment rather than relying on rushed judgments and larger stereotypes.

I’d love to hear how all of you feel about this; why do you listen to the music that you love?  Do you think the assumptions people make about your tastes are accurate?  Leave a comment below and let me know!

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2 comments

  1. This is so true! But really we NEED contrast in music… sometimes I ❤ a particular band from a genre I don't listen to or I like only one song by an artist…I don't get it why people make a big deal about variety in choices

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and I’m glad to hear I’m not alone in feeling this way! It’s certainly very bizarre the way people try to box up tastes in music.

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