Today was my first Contemporary Debates in Music lecture. Apart from the pure 100% unadulterated joy I felt in finally getting a tutor with the same sense of humour as me, I also took some time to perfectly solemnly reflect on the different cultural expectations placed on different types of music. Fortunately, this was the topic we were discussing in the lecture.
The interactive task the lecturer set for us was as follows:
- Zie would play for us a sample of music
- We rated the music on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is ‘meh’ and 5 is ‘great’
- We also wrote down a few reasons or explanations for our rating
Some of the samples were less obvious than others, but the first one we heard was pretty obvious to everyone in the room. (Not just because it was on youtube and had the name on the screen right in front of us) One Direction’s ‘The Best Song Ever’. Ok, it’s not the greatest song in the world, but it’s not a pile of shite either, right? I gave it a fairly sturdy 3. 3 for average, good to listen to but not amazing.
(1: meh. 2: fairly shabby. 3: averagely good. 4: not bad. 5: great. You might notice that I tend to be fairly unenthusiastic about my ratings.)
The funniest part of the tutorial/seminar aspect was this: we had to discuss why we gave the music the rating we did. Most people gave ‘Best Song Ever’ a 1 or a 2, with the reasoning that it was bland, average, very generic. However, some other people also gave it a 3, and the best part of it was them trying to justify it. a) you don’t have to justify your taste in music, idiots. b) “I like it, but I mean, I know it’s not good music, but it’s catchy and fun to dance to, I mean, the lyrics are rubbish, but I enjoyed it” (It’s weird how the phrase ‘I mean’ sprang up so often, but hey, I’m no expert on linguistics) I don’t know why they were so angsty about admitting they liked it. It’s not like it says anything about them as a person. Ok, so you like fairly generic average pop music? Ok, me too! I’m pretty sure everyone in the room secretly liked it and just didn’t want to admit it.
The trouble with trying to compare ‘Best Song Ever’ with the 1812 Overture, for example, is that they’re not doing the same job. The function of those two songs is completely different. I mean, when was the last time you were dancing around the kitchen and put on Handel’s Water Music? Or Les Mis? And you don’t go to concert halls to listen to Bastille perform with the intention of sitting in rapt silence as they play. They’re just not really comparable in that sense.
My favourite metaphor that I made up was a clothes metaphor. Think of pop music as being hats and classical music as coats. You might walk home with a brand new hat and be all “guys, check out this cool hat!”, only to have them respond “yeah, but it’s never going to keep you warm. Not like this coat.” “Well, of course not, it’s a hat.”
Hats and coats, people. It’s the next thing in the musical community.