The Good Listener: Must We All 'Love' Music? Must We All Have 'Good Taste'?

Oct 3, 2013

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the flyers urging us to replace our nonexistent maid service is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, a pair of queries about the importance of loving the right music.

Jennifer Yousfi writes via Facebook: "I have horrible taste in music. How do I fix this?"

Christina Moore writes via Facebook: "What do you do when you're less than crazy about music in general, but are constantly judged for not "loving" music? You appreciate it, but don't go out of your way to pursue it. Mostly, I'm looking for how to deal with potential romantic partners who side-eye you for not being 100 percent into music."

To address Jennifer's question first, I'm fascinated by the idea of self-described "horrible taste." I get where the idea comes from — a divergence from what a key subsection of the population views as worthwhile — but to me, tastes can be generally defined as "things you enjoy." If you genuinely derive enjoyment from music that's widely viewed as "horrible" (by those who would cast judgment on such things), then there's no tremendously compelling reason for you to change, is there? You're enjoying yourself, you're not hurting anyone, and the only fallout is largely unnecessary embarrassment. Like what you like, you know?

So I'd interrogate the motive behind your question — "How do I fix this?" — to ensure that you're looking to extend the boundaries of what you enjoy, not reject the things that make you happy in order to please others. Then, if the notion of expanding your musical horizons excites you, I'd encourage you to crowd-source suggestions from your most music-inclined friends. Post a message on Facebook (or wherever) that reads, "I'm stuck in a musical rut — anyone want to make me a mix of their favorite songs?"

If your friends have been making fun of the music you like, then use their snobbery to your advantage: Hear their musical suggestions, listen to lots of stuff you've never heard, cherry-pick any discoveries that arise, broaden your tastes while making yourself appear more adventurous, and stay notionally open to the idea of returning to the safe haven of the "horrible" music that actually makes you happy.

Christina's question is a little more specific, but it still largely boils down to the perceptions of others — namely, those whose musical tastes are hardwired into their identities to the point where they "side-eye" people with other interests. The answer, to me, lies in the ability to separate gentle, playful, harmless teasing from judgment and condescension.

Music is just one of life's many riches, and countless relationships have thrived for entire lifetimes amid an imbalance of tastes and obsessions. A little bit of well-meaning fun-poking is fine, but the red flags come when the people you date seem to actually think less of you for the way you approach music — or any number of things, for that matter. Because those folks, whether they're conscious of it or not, came into the relationship looking for an excuse to think less of you. Ideally, no one would date them at all, but at least make sure they're someone else's problem and not yours.

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