Tuesday, January 31, 2012


One of the most anxiety-inducing questions to me is, "what kind of music do you like?" Or, for the 21st century, "what's on your iPod?" I know that I'm a 25-year-old adult and should have my music identity all figured out, but I never know how to respond to this question because the what-kind-of-music-do-you-like question isn't like asking if you like strawberries or youtube videos of kittens. It's a deeply personal and incredibly revealing question. For example, at age 25 saying that your favorite artist is Justin Bieber says something about you (that you don't value quality music, that you're hopelessly at the mercy of side-sweeping boy bangs, and that you're maybe a little bit of a pedophile). For the record, Justin Bieber is far from being my favorite artist, but I know some Bieber songs. I saw Never Say Never. But I wouldn't list him as an aspect of the "kind of music I like" because I'm aware of what liking him might say about me.

This lack-of-a-music-identity problem has deep roots. In 9th grade, I was IMing my new friend Holly, and she asked for a list of my favorites songs because she wanted to make me a mix CD. (BTW, can we pause to bask in nostalgia for the glory days of AOL Instant Messenger and the heyday of Napster and the mix CD?) Holly was the first friend I made in high school, and we were on the cusp of a drama-filled best friendship. So when she asked about my favorite songs in the new stages of our friendship, it was a real make-or-break moment. I sat at my parents' huge biege desktop computer, hands hovering over the clunky keyboard, and I panicked. Not for one moment did I bother to think about what songs I actually liked, but I immediately began racking my brain for the most normal songs I could think of. I wish with all my heart and soul that I could remember all the songs I listed, but I do remember that I listed 5 songs and one of them was "Gray Sky Morning," by Vertical Horizon, and one of them was "Good Riddance," by Green Day. And it isn't that I don't like these songs. And I can't even remember what kind of music would have been a pure reflection of my 9th-grade tastes, but I distinctly remember feeling incredibly overwhelmed by the task of wrapping up my music preferences into a small, tidy bundle and sending them across the world wide web to stand as some sort or representation of who I am.

Obviously, this was a little dramatic. It was 9th grade. In retrospect, I recognize that almost everyone I interacted with in 9th grade was also probably self-conscious about how their likes and dislikes reflected on them as a person. But then I think about how painstakingly I've poured over my Facebook music interests, and it quickly becomes clear to me that this 9th-grade problem is seeping (gushing?) into my twenties.

Now I'm 25, and it's time I sort this all out. Right now.

At first thought, it still seems like a what-will-people-think-of-me problem. If I'm purposely leaving JB off a list of musical interests because of what liking him might say about me, then this must be part of the problem. But then I consider my TV/movie tastes. In addition to liking really solid, award-winning TV like 30 Rock, Mad Men, and Friday Night Lights,  I like all sorts of silly TV and movies, including The Bachelor and all things Amanda Bynes, and while I'm aware of what liking these things might say about me, I don't really care. I can confidently list a wide range of TV/movie interests, and I don't mind if someone thinks I'm lame for following Once Upon a Time or for having every line of You've Got Mail memorized.

The real truth of the music matter is that I'm just not that interested in music. I listen to music while I'm driving and when I go running (which is never). At some point, I was really into the idea of being interested in music, so I tried to build a respectable iTunes library. But now, I can't remember the last time I bought a new song in iTunes. Generally, the music I like is just the music that I've been hearing and not hating on the radio, or the music in my outdated iTunes playlists. So, for me to like Adele, or The Fray, or Lady GaGa means almost nothing about me. And for me to like Justin Bieber doesn't mean that I've poured over volumes and volumes of music and have hand-selected him as the epitome of all that is music. It means that I heard his songs on the radio and they were catchy. (And that I'm maybe a little bit hopelessly at the mercy of side-sweeping boy bangs. I can own it.)

So, my real answer to the what-kind-of-music-do-you-like question is simply, I don't really like music. And my music-identity anxieties come from constantly feeling like I should have a music identity. And that it should be awesomely knowledgable and insightful.


Kim said...

This just barely happened to me and I've come to the exact same realization! The person I told seemed to take personal offense and I think he thought I was just trying to avoid the question because of embarrassing teenage girl music tastes like the Biebs or Miley Cyrus but I genuinely never listen to music. Before when people asked I would frantically think back to what was possibly on my itunes (last updated probably in 2008) but I've finally accepted the fact that I just don't listen to music enough to have a genre identification or favorite artist(s).

Kim said...

Also, I wish we could watch The Bachelor together.

Elisa said...

Please. You did not just SEE Never Say Never as nonchalantly as this post implies. You absorbed that movie. It changed your life. I know this because I experienced it right along with you.

Josephine said...

Tim asked me about music over some gelato at that place that used to be on center street on one of our first hang outs and I got super defensive because, as we know, I am not really an authority on popular music. At all. (I believe we relived this at a bowling alley, right?) Anyway. Next time someone asks you this, you should lie and tell them you only listen to music that was written before 1800. (True story--one of my roommates. Romanticism and beyond was just too much for her, I guess.)