FEATURE: Mos Def? Definitely Maybe! Why Do Our Musical Tastes Change Over Time?



Mos Def? Definitely Maybe!



Why Do Our Musical Tastes Change Over Time?


IF someone asked me to name…


IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

my favourite ten albums, I would have the Devil’s time getting a coherent and fixed list. Maybe there is no actual answer to the question I posed at the top – our minds do often attach significance to records one moment and wane years down the line. I am pretty sure Kate Bush’s The Kick Inside will not shift as my number-one album choice but, as it made it to the top of the list recently; who is to say that will be the case this time next year?! I am as passionate and dedicated to music as anyone and do not treat great work with anything less than ardent respect and focus. I raise this point because none of the albums that are in my top-ten is from the last few years – it is not as though something major has fallen from the skies and blown everything into chaos! My life situation is as it was a few years back: why, then, should my mind be split when it comes to clarifying certainty and what resonates with me? I am solidly behind Kate Bush but I have found albums that were in my top-ten recently – such as The Bends (Radiohead) and Blood on the Tracks (Bob Dylan) – have slipped further down and been replaced by other works. I guess we are entitled to change our minds but my confusion is mirrored by many others.



I ask people, when I interview them, to name three albums that mean a lot to them. A lot of them can answer with no hesitation: some find it hard to narrow them down whilst others say the same thing: “This list could change in the next couple of days”. It seems odd many of us are unable to crystallise our favourite music and albums that mean so much; in spite of the fact we have our minds open and are quite decisive. The same can be said of my favourite songs, too. I have a few that are always going to be in the top-ten but, when thinking hard, the same situation occurs as the album quandary: no new entries are confusing things. Is it possible to get that sort of epiphany and clarity nowadays?! My parents and people of their age are pretty unwavering when it comes to their tastes and what means most to them. I do not shift my opinions that much but it is interesting studying why it is hard to be clear and consistent with our musical choices. I mentioned how a few albums have fallen out of my top-ten and been replaced. I have found, in a big move, Paul Simon’s eponymous album and Joni Mitchell’s Blue have come from lower places and made it into the top-ten. I have been listening to the records for many years but have found, all of a sudden, they have connected in a profound way and replaced rather huge albums.


IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

I have found, in addition to individual songs and albums; certain genres have crept into my fashionable wardrobe and others have gone out of style. Many claims our tastes peak when we are teenagers and, from then, we get less cool/fussy and settle, in certain ways. I can get behind that but, at thirty-five, I have noticed big shifts and changes come into my mind. There are no physical and external factors that could have contributed to that oddity. I am not alone in this: many people I have spoken to say they have fallen out of love with a certain album or found a new appreciation for a certain genre. Maybe it is a process of ageing and being open to new suggestions. I do not argue tastes change but it is strange to think we can suddenly go cold on certain albums/sounds and embrace others so immediately. I have been doing a bit of research and found one article that looks at how our tastes change over time:

In your teens, you blast whatever is considered "popular" at that moment. Then, your interest in current jams falls in your 20s and early 30s before bottoming out around age 33.

That's according to a new study that measured when and how quickly people stop keeping up with mainstream hits.

For the study, Ajay Kalia, product owner for taste profiles at Spotify, compiled the songs that each user of the streaming music service in the U.S. listened to in 2014. Then he cross-referenced that data against user age and the popularity of each recording artist”.



An interesting study added a new perspective:

New research charting broad shifts in changing personal music tastes during our lifetimes finds that - while it’s intrinsically linked to personality and experience - there are common music genre trends associated with key stages in a human life.

Whereas the first musical age is about asserting independence, the next appears to be more about gaining acceptance from others

The explosion in music consumption over the last century has made ‘what you listen to’ an important personality construct – as well as the root of many social and cultural tribes – and, for many people, their self-perception is closely associated with musical preference. We would perhaps be reluctant to admit that our taste in music alters - softens even - as we get older.

Now, a new study suggests that - while our engagement with it may decline - music stays important to us as we get older, but the music we like adapts to the particular ‘life challenges’ we face at different stages of our lives.

It would seem that, unless you die before you get old, your taste in music will probably change to meet social and psychological needs.

One theory put forward by researchers, based on the study, is that we come to music to experiment with identity and define ourselves, and then use it as a social vehicle to establish our group and find a mate, and later as a more solitary expression of our intellect, status and greater emotional understanding



There is a lot of evidence to say we are affected by psychological and life events: attaching meaning to various sorts of music and albums. I, as I said, have not seen any real changes over the past few years but seem to be dispensing with once-lauded albums and unable to answer the question clearly – when it comes to deciding my favourite song/album. What worries me is how, even though I adore certain albums, I am less committed and passionate than before. Maybe certain radio stations have opened my mind; the fact I feature so many new musicians means I am paying more attention to them. Is my enigma a result of my adolescence and music peaking – songs I cherished because they remind me of better times are being replaced by ones that bare significance now? I just turned thirty-five, and so, I am looking at new horizons and, subconsciously, soundtracks that motivate new thought and dreams. Whereas I have kept a fairly rigid playlist the past few years; the fact I am making changes and adopting a new mental attitude, in a way, has impacted how I view music and what is in favour. A lot of the albums and songs that make up my top-ten/twenty are from childhood and my teenage years. Perhaps I have reached a point where I am past nostalgia and familiarity and ready to embrace new influence. An article published in The New York Times looked at when our tastes peaked and what sort of songs we listen to:



“…It turns out that the “Creep” situation is pretty much universal. Songs that came out decades earlier are now, on average, most popular among men who were 14 when they were first released. The most important period for men in forming their adult tastes were the ages 13 to 16.

What about women? On average, their favorite songs came out when they were 13. The most important period for women were the ages 11 to 14.

Granted, some results of my research are not surprising. One of the facts I discovered is that Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” is extremely unpopular among women in their 70s. Thank you, Big Data, for uncovering that nugget of wisdom!

But I did find it interesting how clear the patterns were and how much early adolescence matters. The key years, in fact, match closely with the end of puberty, which tends to happen to girls before boys. This also adds one more piece of evidence to the growing scientific consensus that we never really leave middle school and high school”.

Maybe I am getting old and entering a new (if scary) phase of life. I am not sad I have lost the spark for certain albums but wonder if it is as a result of psychological stimulus and environmental factors – or it is a lack of concentration and inevitable fickleness. Unless a record hits that hard and means so much, we are not going to hold it in such high esteem for our entire life. I am becoming more daring with my tastes and listening to music, as recently as last year, I would not normally embrace. The opposite is true: some stuff I loved recently has left a bad taste and my music library is changing rapidly. It is exciting seeing how various styles of music stick in my mind and how my general approaching to music changes. What I do want to happen is a certain clarity come through to ensure those epic and life-affirming albums I hold so dear…



NEVER fade from my memory.