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Are We Becoming Snobbier and Less Egalitarian Regarding Our Music Tastes?
WHILST many argue…
IN THIS PHOTO: Taylor Swift/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press
there is ‘guilty pleasure’ in music, I would defend there is no such thing: tastes are subjective and everything is welcome in the musical Noah’s Ark. I feel, as society has become more gentrify and people hanker after a more ‘desirable’ form of life; music and how we digest it is becoming more rigid. It is impossible to love every type of music out there – we all have cut-offs and genres we are not hot on. I am not big on some commercial Pop and I have never had too much time for anything heavier and louder than Metal. I can appreciate those who do love those extremes but, to me, we are more enriched and informed as a music fan if we embrace as much as possible. Many might say that, being a big BBC Radio 6 Music fan, I am neglecting a lot of music and going after the ‘cool’ and ‘trendy’. Rather than limiting my scope and ignoring everything outside the 6 Music remit, I am exposed to a greater spread than I would if I caught the bigger commercial stations. Whilst BBC Radio 6 Music does not play a lot of chart music and goes for the more credible material; I have discovered so much I would not have done were it not for the station. I have discovered African rhythms and picked up on older bands I was foreign to years ago. My browsing of streaming sites is fairly broad and I like to see what is happening across all music.
Running my own blog; I am sent requests from all around the world and every corner of the sonic sphere. I reject the odd request but, largely, I am open to everything that comes my way. I found myself doing something rather unexpected at the weekend: watching the BBC Radio 1 and 2 feeds of The Biggest Weekend. I watched the BBC Radio 6 Music acts – including Beck and Courtney Barnett – and enjoyed the performances there. I caught some of what BBC Radio 2 was broadcasting but it was when watching a set by Taylor Swift that I got a big shock! I have not really listened to her music because her peers, like Katy Perry and Anne-Marie, have never really floated my boat. Whilst her songs might take a while to bed-in; I was impressed by her stage command and the interaction with the audience. Post-gig, she was being interviewed and came across charming, incredibly friendly and receptive – out of breath but willing to provide good information and quality. I have ignored Swift until now and assumed her music/persona is not worth investigation. Whilst you might not see me at the front of one of her upcoming gigs, I am looking at her music and giving it a fair shot. I have attached myself to Pop talent like Sigrid and Mabel and interviewed a few new U.S. Pop artists whose sound gets close to the commercial core.
I have also extended my psyche to include Country music and genres that, until now, remained dusty at the back of my mind. Whilst I have not lost my senses and embraced everything with no filter, I am becoming a lot more receptive to music’s spectrum. I feel a lot of people are closing themselves and becoming more tribal with their music. The fact we have radio stations that cater to specific tastes/ages often means people find that safe nook and never really venture from it. Even the most broad-minded among us turn their nose up at something. I find a lot of people with my tastes refute anything Pop-based because they assume it is all for teens and those whose ears constantly bleed! There is a lot of crap out there but we are all missing out on music that subverts expectations and could easily find a home – I know we are all limited for time when it comes to searching and study. I can see a link between the way society/music is changing and how we observe music. Most of us rely on technology and want things fast and easily. We tend to stay in more and listen to less ‘physical’ music – C.D.s and vinyl – than we did before…we are browsing online and not as sociable as years before.
Once was the time we spent time in shops perusing shelves and dedicating hours investigating what was new and out there. Streaming services and journalists can make recommendations but, with music journalism read faster and not as popular as it was, I feel we are taking little scraps of information and not reading too deeply. There are loads of blogs but so many people dip in and out and the sections dedicated to reviews are not drooled over like we used to with music magazines. So many people have their own identity and seem to see music as what defines them and who they are in the world. Maybe we are fearful of what people will say if we confess to liking something ‘uncool’ and we get a bit defensive about our tastes. I am not suggesting we all throw our records away and start from scratch. We all need to be more daring and less stuffy when it comes to music. I am making changes and not writing stuff off without giving it a fair shot. If we listen to an artist and dislike it then we have tried and given it time. I have gained some new respect for Taylor Swift and Pop artists like Paloma Faith, even if I am not going to buy more of their music and go see them play.
Have we lost sight of parity and providing a fair shot to everyone? I see people in coffee shops with earphones in and demanding the frothiest and most unique/pretentious drink around. They have their playlists and keep to themselves and, if one dare approaches them to recommend some music, there is a fear they’d sneer and walk off. There are those among us who keep their eyes open for everything but I am seeing so much insulting and narrow-minded comments on social media regarding music. If the Biggest Weekend festival has shown us anything it proves what a spread there is available out there. Maybe we prefer one station over the other – that does not mean we cannot check out what is happening elsewhere. Are critics responsible for how we treat music and what we count as ‘good’? An interesting article brought in a North-South divide a certain snootiness when it came to London critics’ viewpoint of northern Indie artists like The Sherlocks:
“…That’s because the Sherlocks are representatives of a growing trend in British music: the straightforward indie rock band who are hugely popular in the north — the north-west especially — but whose fame falls off a cliff the moment you get south of Birmingham. ‘We’d sold 9,800 copies of the Sherlocks as of this morning,’ Korda Marshall, who signed the band to his label Infectious, told me earlier this month. ‘I reckon a good 6,500 to 7,000 of those have been north of Birmingham.’ You can see the relative levels of popularity when you look at the group’s upcoming tour dates: their show at the 2,600-capacity Manchester Academy is long since sold out; there are still tickets available for their London gig, at Heaven — which holds 1,000 people.
IN THIS PHOTO: The Sherlocks/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press
This divide is a real thing. A couple of years ago, I asked Spotify to hunt through its data to see which music was most popular in which of Britain’s big cities, going by its streaming figures. Indie rock was most popular in Newcastle, followed by Manchester and York. The only place south of Sheffield paying any attention was Brighton. Punk and metal were overwhelmingly northern genres, too, with the south preferring hip-hop and R&B”.
There is that ‘music snob’ that prefers the very best but is still open to suggestions and those who deny everything that they find different and outside of their comfort zone. There is a geographical issue whereby critics in London are less receptive to music from the North; those who write about Rock and Alternative sniff at Pop; those who like Rap and Hip-Hop might not venture into Folk, for instance. Jazz has always been that genre that people love to slag off but, with artists like Kendrick Lamar and Kamasi Washington bringing it into the forefront; I feel like the tide is starting to turn – not as fast and as readily as we’d hope for, though! With all the options and streaming services in front of us, we should all be exploring music more and less narrow as listeners. Maybe the technological grip and the way we are recommended music is backfiring and creating a more homogenised listener.
IN THIS PHOTO: Kamasi Washington/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press
If we are ever to see change and big breakthroughs in the industry then we need to look at the way we promote music and why we are becoming snobbier regarding tastes. There is that small sector that has a vast range of music in their collection but few people I know are as varied as they should be. Maybe we can trace back to musical quality in the mainstream and whether there are enough inspiration and icons to really grip the masses. It is a complex tangle but critics should be more accepting and open; we all need to get away from our routines and dip our toes into other bodies of water; the sociability that used to be in music – record store meetings and swapping records – needs to come back in some form or the other. The way things stand means so many of us are passing artists by and shutting doors without hearing a single note! Maybe the Taylor Swift song I am ending the piece with is not to everyone’s tastes but, as recently as a few weeks back, I would never have entertained listening to it and promoting what she does. Whether we spend more time listening to Classic or Jazz or tune into Radio 1 for an hour; have a look at various Spotify playlists and spend a day listening to as much different music, new and old, as possible. It may not change our mindset overnight but it will make a difference and, who knows, we could discover some new treats! Snobbiness can be a good thing at times but, with something as wide and exciting as music, so many people are letting fantastic sounds…
PASS them by.