“What kind of music do you like?” It seems I’m asked this question just as often as I’m asked my name. I have taken to responding with “I like good music,” because of course I consider the music I like to be “good.” I used to respond with specific artists or genres, but quickly stopped after realizing the extent to which people judge your entire character based on your music taste. The majority of people’s impressions of me could depend on my answer. If I tell someone that I like Kanye West, I might receive a confused and quizzical expression and be labeled “uncultured” before the subject is quickly changed. If I name obscure folk groups, I might come across as someone who goes out of her way to make herself look superior. If I decide to name a pop act like Taylor Swift or One Direction, I’ll be labeled as ditzy and shallow. Immediately, I am labeled based on what I find musically appealing. Asking what music other people listen to is often a tool for people to make a quick judgment on another’s personality and character. It can be used to evaluate your compatibility with another or to dictate the people whom you will befriend.Multiple studies have been done to determine why different people like different types of music and to decide whether taste is something genetic that we cannot control, like being near-sighted, right-handed, or having blonde hair. A study done by Nokia found that approximately 50 percent of our music preferences are based on our genes, and the other 50 percent are based on outside influences. According to this study, developing superiority complexes based on music tastes is as laughable as developing a superiority complex based on any of the aforementioned hereditary traits. Even though half of music taste is based on a knowledge of musical theory or is developed objectively—is music shaming a valid form of passing judgment on another person’s character?
The simple answer is no: this type of judgment is never valid. It begs the question of who, if anyone, is allowed to deem themselves “qualified” enough to judge a piece of music. We can assume that someone qualified might have studied musical theory extensively or be able to play multiple instruments. If they say that Beethoven is better than Iggy Azalea, is someone who does not share this opinion inferior? One can infer that they are not musically knowledgeable, but this does not render them inferior.
The answer to the question of whether or not we can judge people for their taste lies in the fundamental reason human beings listen to music and experience art—to enjoy it. We must remember that music is something people listen to for pleasure, not to demonstrate something about themselves or their personality. Because most of us are not musical experts, we have no right to call others out on what they listen to. Even if I were knowledgeable enough to decide which music is good, the quality of the music has no correlation to the enjoyment a person feels while listening. Music should not become something we engage in to seek another’s attention or validation, or a ticket into a certain group of people but rather something we listen to in order to feel empowered and happy. Art is made for enjoying, and enjoyment can be difficult when people are constantly judging others by something as subjective as where they find their own happiness.
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