If you have ever been young, chances are you have been told that the music you love is garbage. Maybe it was a parent, maybe a teacher, maybe an old fogey on TV; it might even have been a peer with a cool older sibling who molded his or her tastes. Whoever it was, he or she was 100% wrong, totally misunderstood what music is for and had absolutely no right to tell you that. Here’s why.
Music is one of the most personal things you can experience. At its best, it gets all the way in you, through you, messing with your head and your heart, speeding or slowing your pulse, triggering your tear ducts, making your heart swell until you’re sure it’s going to burst out of you. I don’t care what kind of performer does that for you; if they do, they are by definition a good artist. I’ll say that again because I feel it so strongly: If an artist moves you, he or she has succeeded in creating good art. And if you love something, if you feel it in your bones and your veins, it’s not up to anyone else to say that it’s crap. Because they are necessarily wrong.
I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard older generations (and jaded, too-cool-for-school youth) bemoan the decline in the quality of popular music, and I understand where they’re coming from–but I vehemently disagree with their assessments. I would argue that the intended effect of popular music is to appeal to a very wide range of people, which can only be accomplished by tapping into emotions that are a fundamental and near-universal part of the human experience, and that isn’t as easy as it sounds. Successful pop songs are an integral part of cultural cohesion and the bonds between a society held together by common experiences, regardless of their content or technical merit (and really, who’s deciding how to judge technical merit?). Popular art will always serve a powerful cultural function, and while it will superficially seem quite different between generations, it is fundamentally the same thing. If you listened to pop music in your youth, you are committing hypocrisy by criticizing today’s pop music.
It’s one thing to admire and value a song or artist from an academic, music theory perspective. I don’t wish for one second to suggest that music theory is worthless and music academia is silly. But when it comes to experiencing music, one-on-one with just you and a pair of headphones or killer sound system or even live as one of thousands in a crowd, the music theory is almost besides the point. In the same way that fine art is about touching something in your heart and soul at least as much as it is about technique, I think it’s utterly foolish to criticize someone for the aural art that makes them feel something as deeply as a human can feel.
By all means, let me know if you disagree.