Your taste in pop culture cannot be a substitute for your personality. Or can it?
For someone who turns her nose up at The Office fanboys referencing the show to signal compatibility, I sure do read a lot into people’s Top Artists on Spotify.
I am constantly trying to remind myself that we can’t help what we like.
Our tastes in music, of course, can become deeply tied up with our identities and define how we want to be perceived by others. And my relationship with the music I listen to is probably a teeny bit toxic. I mostly reserve my affections for alt R&B and neo-soul, determined to never be the kind of person who listens to just about anything. As a self-proclaimed indie girl, I have held my little roster of ‘obscure’ artists close to my chest for years now, terrified at the thought of getting caught listening to anyone featured on Top Hits 30. I know how silly that is, but just being able to say “I heard it first” gives me a rush.
I’ll admit, never having mutual faves to fawn over with friends while growing up was kind of hard. What started out as an organic dislike of the cut-and-dry sound of pop hitmakers (yes I know how condescending that sounds), led me to corners of YouTube and SoundCloud (this was pre-Spotify era) that I didn’t know existed. Coming across a whole new world of independently produced music was like stumbling upon a secret little magic grove in the forest. And boy did I love it.
Looking back, I realise that the desire to be a part of this niche community was somewhat fueled by my experience of being othered at school, thanks to my multiple minority identities. Brb, just throwing up in my mouth a little from a flashback of explaining exactly where I’m from for the thousandth time.
Having an indie/alt playlist was me taking back control, being different on my own terms, and setting myself apart on the basis of something as arbitrary but impactful as taste, rather than a bunch of shit I had no control over. Being the odd one out never felt so good. I became used to, even embraced, being met by blank stares after raving about an Oh Wonder track. I took pride in introducing such indie gems to whoever seemed interested enough, feeling smug about being the cool friend who shows you cool new music.
But of course, as much as I cared about the freshness of the music, I also cared about my status as the antithesis of a basic bitch. And how could I do that if my favourite indie artists emerged from the trenches of obscurity and became too popular? I wanted them to expand their audience base, but not too much. I feared that they would lose their original sound to the demands of commercial music making.
I loved the idea of discovering an artist before they blew up, but hated the one of having to listen to them after they blew up. Mainstream? We don’t do that here. So I felt this misplaced sense of protectiveness, this need to guard the hidden treasures that I had worked so hard to curate. I’m acutely aware that genuine fans of artists support their growth much more unconditionally than I did. Wanting to gate-keep songs to continue feeling better about myself was some downright obnoxious behaviour. Regardless of this self-awareness, I still struggle with secretly being a snob, which is now not such a secret anymore.
I was properly outraged to hear Alina Baraz on the soundtrack of a The Bold Type episode (I mean, how dare they???). But one of the best things about music is that it can be enjoyed by just about anyone. And I am slowly starting to grasp how unsustainable it is to attach my sense of self to the level of fame enjoyed by a bunch of musicians who don’t even know I exist. Having more people know that they exist is inevitable anyway, because in the times of Discover Weekly playlists can any music be truly underground anymore? As the lines between genres get more and more blurred (sometimes I really can’t tell the difference between contemporary and alt R&B), and those producing beats from their bedrooms find legions of adoring fans thanks to the expansive reach of the internet, the ground of exclusivity is slipping from beneath my feet for good.
So yeah, allow me to swallow my pride and admit that You Right by problematic queen Doja Cat ft. tryhard f-boi The Weeknd is an absolute bop.