Quite a while back, I wrote a post outlining “Three Legitimate Reasons for Hating Pop Music.” That post, (which claimed not to bash others’ music tastes) was essentially just me bashing others’ music tastes, going so far as to pretentiously declare that I might cause you to listen to artists with “genuine talent,” and that “reader discretion” was advised. While that post still exemplifies some of my frustrations with the music industry and the consistent unoriginality of chart-toppers, I’ve since come around to realize that there isn’t a single compelling reason to keep yourself from listening to pop music if you enjoy it.
Allow me to make a statement that may shock you if you would place yourself into any of the following categories: folk aficionado, metalhead, self-proclaimed musical intellectual, bass junkie, indie music scout or classic rock apologetic.
There is nothing inherently wrong with liking popular music.
No matter how many times you let someone know that you listen exclusively to progressive jazz fusion, you can’t deny that you secretly enjoy the bassline to Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy.” If Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” hasn’t left your vehicle’s CD player since 2006, you can still recall the few times that you’ve scrolled through the radio frequencies, landed on your local pop station, and listened for the remainder of the drive (not forgetting, of course, to dial back to the classic rock station before you leave the car). Even if you decry the merits of any music not written by one of the great classical composers, claiming that Mozart’s work is inherently superior to any work produced after 1900, you have assuredly heard the infectious melodies of One Direction and subtly tapped your foot.
The reason for this is that the enjoyability of any variety of media is entirely in the eye – or ear, rather – of the beholder. As you, your opinions, your emotions, your beliefs and your surroundings change, your tastes change with them. Much to the chagrin of any hipster, there are no particular aspects of a piece of media that can be quantified to determine its quality.
A common pitfall of humanity, especially in modern western culture, is to try to find one’s identity in the uniqueness of your choices in media and entertainment, when in reality, there are few things that could give your identity less meaning. The fact that you listen to a certain variety of music or only read certain books is, in the grand scheme of things, utterly meaningless.
“Wait,” you cry. “Are you suggesting that my music is not superior to everyone else’s?” After all, your tastes are what define you. The idea that your affinity for the intellectual rhythms of mathcore does not somehow set you apart from everyone you know is borderline blasphemy.
Yep. That is exactly what I am suggesting.
No matter how much of your identity is wrapped up in letting others know the distinctions you make in your personal consumption of media, it can’t define you. Attempting to place yourself in a predefined group of likeminded consumers warps the idea of identity just as much as accepting mainstream ideals and diagnosing yourself with Bieber Fever. Man chooses to tell himself the lie that he can find the truth about himself by knowing what he likes, when nothing could be further from the truth.
Paul tells us many times in the Epistles that a Christian’s identity can be found only in the work of Christ. Therefore, be glad! You are free from worrying about such petty conflicts as what your friends might think of your music choices. Whether or not you listen to songs at the top of the charts, your identity isn’t found in the media you choose to consume. This idea isn’t exclusive to mainstream music: it also applies to those who refuse to listen to Christian music because they think it’s uncool. (It’s not necessarily good to listen to Christian music exclusively, but that may be a topic for another post.) In fact, the idea that discriminating between media in any way makes you a better person or one of superior social status is eliminated by the work of Christ. The idiom rings true that “the ground is level at the foot of the Cross.”
This cuts the choice of whether to listen to pop music to two simple criteria: whether the song is acceptable to listen to, and whether you enjoy it. Acceptability is a criterion which is generally considered to be pretty subjective, being more of a conscience issue than anything; and enjoyability quite obviously varies from listener to listener. Therefore, if you were to boil the choice down, it becomes simply a matter of whether you legitimately enjoy the music. If you do, great! Listen to it! If you find yourself agreeing with my former self in the belief that pop music is dull, inartistic drivel, then don’t. No one is forcing you to. It’s a simple matter.
When it comes down to it, popular music is just that: music which happens to be popular. It’s not a reflection of your quality as a human being, and certainly not what you find your identity in. Relax about what others think of you, rest in your identity in Christ, and don’t be afraid to play some One Direction when people are looking.