There was one lucid moment in the past year of my musical breakdown which sums up the silliness and absurdity of music as culture. It happened around the time of Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” a fantastically brainless musing about partying and the days of the week that, with the help of the internet, turned one hapless teenage girl into the Antichrist.
Maybe it’s because I’ve come to cherish the weird and terrible instead of condemning them; maybe it’s just because I’ve stopped defining myself by what I’m entertained by. In any case, I didn’t get the outrage against “Friday.” If I was 16, still awash in brand name rebellion and mass marketed introspection, I’d probably have gotten offended and howled for her head with the rest of the uppity jackasses. So here’s one more reason why I’m glad I’m no longer 16. It’s a dumb song. The end. Get over it.
It was while I was in this line of thinking that I was treated to a performance of late 90s pop classics sung by a room full of girls drunk with nostalgia and beer. So many songs that I actually did rail against back in the day, songs I was sure would bring about the downfall of civilization, were being sung in earnest by people who this night acted like this music was civilization’s apex. I’ll admit that I had to get out of there after the third Spice Girls song, but I also realized that someday Rebecca Black, Justin Bieber, and the next test tube babies from the Disney Channel and American Idol will be the elder statesmen of all music. “Mmmbop” by Hanson is no less absurd than “Friday,” but it’s more tolerable because it’s not happening now. Because it’s history, and thus safe.
Beyond this moment and a few others, my past year has been spent loathing the grand idea of music. This isn’t to say that I’ve spent that time in silence; in fact, I’ve often clung to music as a means of evasion and inspiration. But any and all moments when music went beyond my headphones and me and became social in any way drove me nuts.
The earliest break was a continuation of a problem I’ve had since I began reviewing albums four years ago. Essentially, I think music journalism is bullshit. I knew it was bullshit when I started doing it, and I think it’s bullshit now, and there has never been a period when I didn’t believe this. Even more than any other form of media, music works on a visceral, personal level. Attempting to foist your tastes upon someone else, especially in the impersonal realm of media propaganda, is as illogical as it is invasive.
The last year has seen long stretches of time when I threw up my hands and stopped being a music journalist, but I’ve never quit for good. The question arises: if I hate music journalism so much, why am I still doing it?
The first and easiest answer is that I don’t write about music for music’s sake but for writing’s sake. I don’t want to be some desperately hip tastemaker. I’m fine with giving my opinions on a thing, but I don’t have the attitude that my opinions are law. In fact, I don’t really care if anyone picks up an album at my suggestion. I write to write, and I write for myself. Reviewing albums is good, constant exercise.
More importantly, I also review for myself. I’ve found quite a few really good albums that I wouldn’t have discovered had I not been reviewing music on a semi-regular basis. Even as I loathe the telemarketing aspect of music journalism, I’ve personally benefited, learned, and grown as a result of pursuing it.
My final point on why I write about music is that I’ve found that I really like interviewing people. A review is black or white, life-changing or total shit, but talking with people about what they do provides a lot of context to the work that is sometimes wonderful to discover. I did have a bit of a meltdown in the past when I realized that, with the possible exception of David Bowie, every musician in the world is going to answer the question of what sets them apart with the cliché that they’re honest and real. Nonetheless, I get much more out of interviewing than being a product shill (and in media, even when you’re savaging a product, you’re shilling it).
The other big reason behind my break with music comes back to age. Just as I no longer take music I dislike as heralding the apocalypse, so too do I no longer tie my identity to music I do like. I have favorite bands, I suppose, but my sense of brand loyalty is gone.
Furthermore, I’m falling out of the target audience. Pop music is a teenager’s game, and I’m a decade past the expiration date. I’ve heard the same lyrical themes of phony, desperate romance and phony, triumphant rebellion for my whole life. With every repetitive sentiment music becomes more pointless. I’m kind of over it, which means that music is kind of over me. It’s a strange and occasionally alienating feeling, but one I can live with.
Music, I still like you, even if you do sometimes act like an obnoxious twit who doesn’t realize that you’re wallpaper, not religion. We’ll be friends for life, and nothing will change that, but the time has come for a little clarity between us. It might help our relationship if you occasionally shut the fuck up.