When I’m asked what kind of music I listen to, I have given two standard answers. The first was to say, “Well, my three biggest musical influences are Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, and King Crimson. So what kind of music do you think I like?”
This induced a fascinated response like, “So you like pretty much everything,” which I would say was essentially correct.
Over time, my answer had evolved into, “There are only two kinds of music: good and bad.”
This often induced a thoughtful, introspective nod followed by something like, “So you’re saying it’s a question of personal taste.” This gets a nod from me, and we move on.
Lately, I’ve come to rethink that position. What I’m saying can be challenged by one simple question, which I’m shocked no one has asked me:
What is “bad” music?
Truth of the matter is, I don’t know. And neither does anyone else.
I know what music doesn’t appeal to me personally. So does everyone else. But does that make the music bad? Of course not! Because somebody out there likes it! Sometimes it’s millions of somebodies! It’s all subjective.
With a few exceptions, I’ve never been a big fan of country music. Does that mean it’s bad? Not according to the legions of fans who fill the same concert venues to see the bands I enjoy. Country may not be my cup of tea, but plenty of others sip from that cup with great enthusiasm.
The same goes for the EDM that runs rampant through the clubs or the bubblegum pop enthusiastically consumed by teenagers. To my ears, it’s so much crap. But clearly some find it more than palatable. It’s certainly not bad music to them!
I find myself on the receiving end of this equation from time to time. I adore jazz, yet many I know find it absolutely torturous. Does this stop me from enjoying it? Hell, no! Progressive rock, post-rock, fusion, Sinatra … I love it all. Some flat-out hate it. And that’s okay.
Detractors to this thought process will immediately go toward the “what about” argument. “Well, what about this? What about that? Surely you’ll agree that this band/style sucks!” Until recently, yeah. But not any more. The music world is too big, and there are always exceptions to be found.
So what are we really saying when we declare certain music bad? The more I think on it, the more I realize I’m saying, “I don’t really care for that. You might find it interesting, but it’s not where I choose to plant my flag.”
So what kind of music do I like? “Well, there’s music I like, and music I don’t particularly care for. Though I realize anything is possible.”
Yeah … that makes sense.
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I’ve pretty much landed in the same spot that music is highly subjective. The distinction should be personal and whether I like it or I’m not into the music, not whether it’s good or bad.
Essentially, I used to dismiss country, punk and certain heavy metal as “bad.” I regarded country as hillbilly music, while punk and heavy metal were “all about noise and speed.”
After many years, I’ve come to two broad conclusions. Not all country, punk and heavy metal are created equal, and I can find music in each of these genres I like.
More importantly, who am I to judge whether music is bad when there are other folks who dig it.
Just because I have a hobby musician background doesn’t make me a better judge.
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Interesting article, Cedric. Thank you. I find it instructive to listen to Mozart’s Musical Joke in order to see what he considered “bad” music: tunes that do not get off the ground; square, stiff phrasing, clichés; lack of imagination, predictability. These can be found in all styles of music. As do all their opposites.
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