November 5, 2020 | Narrative
the difficulty of cultivating good taste in music
how my hectically eclectic playlists echo the essence of my personality—and why that’s so frustrating
I’m not typically one for envy, but oh, how I wish I had a knack for curating Spotify playlists: from the kinds that make you whip your hair back and forth as you fold laundry to those that assure you every little thing is going to be alright as you sulk in bed after a breakup. When I get ready to walk my dog each morning, I struggle to choose the music that will kickstart my day. I balance Billie Eilish with Florida Georgia Line, Adele with Usher, Celine Dion with Beastie Boys. Though, by “balance,” I really mean juxtaposing polar opposite genres to diversify my musical palette… What can I say? I really like variety. But the truth is that there isn’t a whole lot of variety in my playlists—it’s always the same formulaic blend of pop with country, pop with R&B, pop with alternative rock. And while I wish I could branch out musically, I always find my way back to the sweet sound of Usher’s “DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love.”
A few months ago, it dawned on me that it’s not the genre I care about when it comes to music—it’s the feeling that matters most. Having been stuck in quarantine for the bulk of this past year, music has become as crucial to my sanity as oxygen to my lungs. More than ever before, I was desperate to have my iPhone stuck on replay, to have the songs I knew like the back of my hand become the soundtrack to this chapter of my life. In an age of a novel virus, with global warming and political division reaching new heights, I wasn’t sure we would ever return to the reality we once knew. I felt like the world was a blind man walking along a tightrope between two cliffs, without a safety net below him. I yearned for stability—something familiar to sing along to that would transport me to a simpler time. Sure, “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen may have been ridiculously overplayed when it was at its prime; maybe I wouldn’t think it was that great of a song if it had been released today. But nothing is better than the feeling of turning the music up high, tuning the rest of the world out, (even if only for three-ish minutes) and letting the music take me back to 2012, when the idea that the world was ending was still merely a conspiracy theory.
Still, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me that I can’t venture outside my typical, yet random music taste. I can never create playlists that stick to a single genre; whenever I try to do so, I end up with my usual blend (mainly consisting of songs played at middle school dances). My taste in music is nothing short of basic—eclectic, yes, but not artfully so. It’s pretty much a carbon copy of me. Just like my playlists, I can be a bit all over the place. I’m aware of the fact that I’m no master of any particular area of study: I’m a STEM nerd who loves to write, a philosophical thinker who loves doing math, and anything (and almost everything) in between.
Yet my appreciation for all genres of music reflects my greatest worry: What if, due to the sheer breadth of my interests, I’m unable to delve deeply into anything and thus succumb to mediocrity? Usually, such a question prompts my friends to tell me that I’m worrying about nothing, that my incessant contemplation about whether or not I’m capable of delving deep into things already proves that I’m very much capable of doing so. Still, I can’t help but wonder if I’m stuck in a reality where I’ll never be the freethinking individualist that I claim to be, the one who “belongs” at Brown. And maybe my eclecticism is only superficial. I wear bright yellow rain boots, neon green Crocs, and hot pink sunglasses; anyone who knows me would vouch for this. But beyond these accessories, what truly sets me apart? If only I knew the answer.
I often turn to my friends for help in alleviating the boredom and frustration I feel with my own Spotify picks. One close friend tells me all about the latest obscure rock bands he’s discovered and been obsessed with, from Rise Against to Five Finger Death Punch. Just within the last week, he’s listened to five new albums and mastered 10 new songs on the guitar. And what have I done, in comparison? Had the same Katy Perry album on repeat since 2010. I occasionally incorporate a song or two from an “indie” artist—a bold and brazen act for me—courtesy of my friend and his encyclopedic knowledge of rock music. Still, I wish I knew how to cultivate a music taste that’s entirely my own. Instead, the only place I know to venture is within my confusing, complicated, hypercritical brain as I deprecate my milquetoast music habits.
My “top hits” playlists of various genres and decades may drive me mad, but I somehow can’t seem to change my playlist-making ways. Maybe part of me doesn’t want to change. If I did, long gone would be the days of catching grenades with Bruno Mars and flying starships with Nicki Minaj. I’m desperate to define my music taste, even as I proceed to call it unoriginal, unrefined, and all-around chaotic. Still, whenever I open Spotify, I find myself helplessly gravitating toward these mixes. Music, just like the rest of my interests, is something that should bring me joy, and I’ve already wasted too much time feeling guilty about my tendency to listen to disorderly collections of popular songs—songs that, in all honesty, are some of the biggest bops of all time.
I’ve always felt pressured to choose one genre of music, one area of study, and become an expert in it; this strict categorization has characterized my entire life. But I’ve never been one to box myself into any single set of interests, so there’s no reason for me to begin defining and limiting them now. I can claim my favorite type of music to be anything and everything that makes me want to scream and shout and let it all out with my friends in the car, while walking my dog, or wherever I am and whomever I’m with. And getting bored with my own music taste from time to time certainly doesn’t make me boring. I do tend to judge myself for doing or liking anything that conforms to the status quo, let alone trending hits. But, hey, a catchy song is a catchy song, no matter who wrote it or exactly how many enjoy it. As someone who strives to be an individualist, my interests shouldn’t be contrary to what’s popular, but independent of such a notion. It’s silly for me to even think that I can’t be this individualist or belong at Brown for liking something mainstream; it’s inevitable that I’ll like a popular song if I listen to music on the radio often enough. No, I don’t think that my playlists are anything to write home about. But they’re mine, and that makes them special. They’re what I want to listen to when I start, go about, and end my days. And maybe I should continue to expand my music repertoire—but in the meantime, I’ll keep doing my own thing, because if anyone should be marching to the beat of her own drum, it will be me.