In a million and one different ways musicians and music fans could describe why a genre or track makes them feel a certain way. They can express why the composition is particularly noteworthy, or how the themes behind the lyrics are crafted with pinpoint rhythmic precision. Perhaps it is the bass that is hot and heavy, reverberating deep within your chest. Maybe the song perfectly encapsulates what a moment in time meant for the listener.
Eventually, if you leave them long enough, they will reach a point where language breaks down and there is a gap between the internal experience and the ability to articulate it. I believe it can be argued that this space between ‘experience and articulation’ can be summerised as the perceived authenticity in the musical production. And this argument goes a long way into explaining why certain demographics like music that you can’t stand.
Nothing is created in a vacuum, the reason that genres persist for so long in specific geographical and cultural locations is due to the authentic expression of a shared experience. This is also responsible, in large parts, for thematic consistency in the stories that they share, Hip hop and Rap being the most prolific example. Here we have a once counterculture movement that expressed the desire for wealth, security, self-affirmation and the resentment built over generations towards government authority and privilege that has been used against them.
Even American country music, while often looked down upon due to stereotypes and historical grievances, are simple but passionate expressions of their daily lives and how precariously it balances on their trucks, horses and other frequently mocked items. Even entire decades have clear expressions of political, social and artistic movements.
The 60’s were about sexual liberation, the 70’s were heavily influenced by social and governmental politics with the rise of rock and punk, the 80’s was about…well…. I think we are still trying to figure that out. The 90’s was a low fi, D.I.Y response to the over saturated, manufactured mess of the 80’s and so forth.
While it might be rather reductive to generalize an entire decade, the point is that we connected with the music at that moment in history because it expressed something that our culture felt to a large extent. There was a perceived authenticity in its expression, and any industry in a capitalist world would be foolish not to capitalise on it.
Without wanting to remark on the morality or lack thereof in capitalism during this article, the point is that an industry is primarily interested in creating consumable products. One of the most effective marketing tools any company has is the ability to create a synthetic or artificial feeling of identity confirming branding. This is what has led to the infamous Top 40 billboard. Music that frequently exhibits style over substance. While many of us may find the music vapid, it’s important to remember that much of the music is not targeted at those of us in our 20’s and on wards, it’s for those teenyboppers everyone seems to have a problem with.
When you’re thirteen it’s easy to see, within your limited experience, an illusion of authenticity in the vague declaration of love, heartbreak and social angst. It could even be argued that it’s an important developmental stage. When every emotion you’re experiencing is brand new, they are going to feel extreme when contextualised by your small range of experience. Eventually we grow up, have adventures, fall in and out of love, lose friends, find ourselves and eventually those promises by our teen pop crushes, while holding nostalgic place in all of our hearts, don’t seem anywhere near as authentic as they once did. We have a better understanding of how the world works.
Then there are those artists that we discover later on that had much more subtext going on than we could have possibly recognized. Look at how Niki Minaj, Kanye, Beyoncé and many more political musicians subvert genres, tropes and sexuality to create a nuanced portrayal of the African American, female and Queer community.
This is in no way a defense of the tasteless cultural appropriation that has been persistent in the western music industry but merely a pragmatic argument for the less than desirable but not entirely offensive practices within it.
You connect with your music because it connects with your experiences in a perceived authentic way. Just because you don’t see the worth in a different way of connecting, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. You don’t have to like every artists just because they are intelligent or political. You don’t have to connect with everything that is of worth in our ever rotating world of pop culture. It is high time, however, that people calm down and accept that in such a connected world of diverse experiences, there is more than one way to connect, more than one way to be authentic, more than one way to express yourself.
While it may be frustrating to see people get swept up in music that is a farce to you, maybe you’ll find people are far more receptive to your tastes and opinions about music if you stop being a dick about theirs. Don’t shame others for their taste in music unless it’s blatantly offensive and even then, have a conversation about it (I would like to take a moment to recognize that it should not be expected of minorities and oppressed sections of society to be an encyclopedia to the more privileged and less informed). Don’t talk about what is and isn’t ‘real’ music but share what is a ‘real’ experience for you and then listen to the other side. Who knows, maybe you’ll find something you never expected.