I was browsing through Spotify’s curated playlists the other day, and stumbled upon one called “Guilty Pleasures.” Extremely curious as to what the “experts” and algorithm classified as such, I clicked…and promptly felt a mixture of confusion and anger as I scrolled through the tracks. “Good” by Better Than Ezra? “Jerk It Out” by Caesars? “Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus? “NO RAIN” BY BLIND MELON?! One of my favorite songs of all time, and one I have absolutely no shame about loving, I’ll add? I’d like to have a word with whomever created this absolutely ridiculous list (yes, the computer, too). The description for the playlist read Embrace your secret favorites, which just sent me right over the edge. Who are we keeping our enjoyment of these songs a secret from? And more importantly, why are we supposed to keep it a secret?
There’s a scene in the 1998 teen comedy Can’t Hardly Wait that’s always stuck with me. As protagonist Preston (Ethan Embry) calls a radio station from a pay phone so he ask Barry Manilow about the true meaning of the song “Mandy,” a stripper in an angel costume (Jenna Elfman) interrupts during his moment of truth because she needs to call a cab. She incorrectly interprets his motivations and launches into a heartfelt story about her own potentially embarassing celebrity crush. “Scott Baio,” she raises her hand in sheepish admission. “We all have our things.”
We do, indeed. And even if you think you don’t…you do. Thank God for that — it’s what makes the world go ‘round. So why do so many people feel so entitled to judge what other people enjoy? I’m not talking snotty teenagers; I’m talking fully-grown adults who should know better than to believe there’s such a thing as a superior opinion. And yet there they are, pretty much every day, spewing vitriol all over the internet from their offices, apartments, and mom’s basements.
Since the day I started twirling around in the living room at age two to Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” and Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock,” my love for all kinds of music has surpassed my love for pretty much everything else in my life. No matter how hard I may have tried in college, though, I could never quite be a “music snob.” I mean, I skipped class in high school once with my best friend to go buy Hanson’s Underneath, so I’m pretty sure that safely disqualifies me from any and all elitist circles (it’s a fantastic album, BTW).
Anyway, one thing I’ve truly never understood is the concept of guilty pleasures. Yes, sure. I understand the concept on a basic level. But the idea of feeling bad about enjoying something so completely harmless as a song makes absolutely no sense to me. Never has and never will. Art, literature…any form of entertainment, really, is so incredibly subjective. Ultimately, how each of us reacts to a particular album, TV show, or movie has very little to do with its actual content, and everything to do with how it makes us feel. And how it makes us feel has everything to do with our unique personalities, interests, backgrounds, and values. Even when a ton of people like a particular band or song or show, each one probably has at least 10 reasons why, most of which can’t even be explained.
What resonates with me might not resonate with you, but our differences don’t make either of our opinions “trash” — a reality that has clearly not made its way to a frighteningly large amount of people. Why should some rando get to say what I or other people should feel guilty or inferior about liking? If we’re really trying to lean into the idea of “being yourself” and “being authentic” that seems to be oh-so important these days, there’s certainly no need to assign value judgments to fucking Harvey Danger songs, even if it is just for a silly playlist. I WILL NOT BE SONG-SHAMED.
Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not saying there’s not a place for arts and entertainment criticism. But more and more, I find that the tone of many reviewers is more holier-than-thou than authoritative. In a weird way, it reminds me of the dudes who list their Myers-Briggs type in online dating profiles. Actually, I’d love to see a Venn diagram, because I’m confident there’s quite a bit of overlap there. Good criticism fully examines the work at hand, attempts to understand from a place of curiosity rather than condescension, and ideally enlightens with some sort of thoughtful conclusion about the piece. These days, you’d be lucky to even find one of those elements in any given article; don’t even get me started on the Jagged Little Pill “takedown.”
Am I taking all of this too personally? Maybe. But music taste IS personal! The songs that we select to soundtrack all of the moments in our lives, large and small, are inextricably and forever connected to us. Honestly, it’d be weirder if you didn’t feel a slight sense of ownership over your favorite bands and songs.
I’d be lying if I said that I’ve never cracked a Nickelback joke. But the older I get, the more I realize how totally silly and superficial it is to look down my nose at anyone for relating to something in a way I don’t. If I played them one of my favorite bands, they might shrug, too.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to finish listening to “Flagpole Sitta.”