Why your least favourite band is fantastic
And why X Factor forced me to stop being a music critic
Turn on the radio. Wait to hear a song you’ve never heard before. Did you like it? Did you hate it? Did you even have a choice?
The fact is, you didn’t choose to like or dislike it. You had no control over those emotions. You never have done and you never will do.
Personal music preference comes down to how your brain is wired, personality traits, external influences and a number of psychological factors. There’s no room for you to take the culturally higher ground.
So why do you constantly attack music you don’t like? Why do you criticise people for their musical tastes? There’s nothing they can do about it!
Why would you go on a musician’s own YouTube page, play a song and select the thumbs-down? The song obviously wasn’t written for YOUR brain, so just be nice and move on!
Enough about you. That used to be me, too.
I’ve thought at times that I was somehow culturally more advanced than others, because I’d discovered a fantastic band hardly anyone knew about, while my friends were blasting out ultra popular artists like Taylor Swift or Ed Sheeran.
But it wasn’t true, I came to realise that. And it took me a little by surprise, I’ll admit, because I’d been reviewing songs for years as a music journalist — rating them, telling people which ones they should buy, which ones they should steer clear of.
Until one day I found myself at an X Factor concert.
And I haven’t reviewed an album or single since…
Damn you, Simon Cowell
Yes, my epiphany struck at an X Factor concert, at the Manchester Arena. NOT my thing at all.
I was there with my two daughters, teenagers at the time, as they were huge fans of the show and this was their main Christmas present.
One Direction were on stage, young lads who were living the dream after finishing third on Britain’s version of the world’s biggest reality TV show — with no inkling of the global fame and fortune that would follow.
My daughters leapt up and ran towards them. I briefly reflected on how I’d utterly failed to pass on appreciation of ‘real’ music like Radiohead, The Pixies, Lamb and Throwing Muses.
The noise in the arena was deafening. Not just teenage girls screaming but the odd male, and plenty of adults, too. I couldn’t, for the life of me, see what the fuss was about.
Then it hit me, the epiphany. Not in a religious sense, although the crowd was certainly worshipping the ground One Direction were strutting across.
It was the sudden realisation of something that made me feel very small. Although oddly, I had a big smile on my face.
I looked around the arena and saw the pure joy on the faces of 21,000 people. It mattered not one bit that I didn’t like the music. It was making these people happy. It was making my daughters happy. And that felt good.
The power of music to lift the mood was alive and well. It didn’t matter what the music was — it was working for all these people, and that gave it enormous worth.
As my slightly panicky eyeballs searched for my daughters through the dry ice and dancing masses, I realised I had no right to ever again pen a bad review about reality show artists.
A good reviewer can ignore personal taste to a degree, but it always clouds judgement. And who was I to judge whether this kind of music was good or bad? Who was anyone to judge?
As a music journalist I’ve always done my very best to support and encourage blossoming talent, often from my own area. Very few go on to make much money or many sales from their music, but they all earn followers, and that’s payment enough for most of them.
So is it a case of the more fans, the better the music? Of course not. If a new song is played to 1,000 people and 999 hate it, that doesn’t make it a bad song. If just one person connects with the music and enjoys it, that song has been a success in my mind — creativity has changed someone’s life for the better. Every artist should be buoyed by this.
What determines what music we like and don’t like?
Numerous studies have been conducted around the world to get to the heart of this. Research has found that the five main personality traits can have a major influence on what appeals to us.
The traits are:
- Openness to Experience
Of them all, the latter one, Openness to Experience, has largely been found to influence musical taste more than any other trait — especially when it comes to more complex, aggressive or rebellious music.
But it has also been found that musical taste is influenced by parents, or whoever was responsible for our upbringing. Our brain is a sponge when young and much of the music we will enjoy in your teenage years, especially, we will likely enjoy for life.
A favourite song can also be associated with a moment in time, the more intense, the more emotional, the stronger that bond.
We’ve all had moments where a song — or even part of a song — has taken us back to a particular meaningful moment in our lives.
And then there’s me. Figure this one out. On two songs — Radiohead’s 15 Step and Lisa Germano’s Sycophant, a two-second burst of sound (both different) takes me back to a school trip to Bacharach in Germany, where I can see a train going past as I walk alongside the River Rhine back to my hotel.
What’s that all about?!
I don’t consider it a particularly important moment in my life, but the musical recall is immensely powerful.
Say Thank-You For All The Music
There are many factors besides (mood, time of year, political views etc, etc), and many studies ongoing, to drill further down into what influences musical taste.
But get this — nobody should be criticised for what they like. Nobody should be lampooned for what they create.
Embrace the power of music on its grandest scale, and keep away from that thumbs-down button.