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In Defense of Bad Music

One of the first CDs I got when I signed on as the heavy music manager for WBCR was Five Things You Didn’t Know About the Gonks. The case cover was promising─cool art, good track names, a weird enough band name to intrigue─so when I started listening to the albums I had for the week, it was the first on my list.

I don’t know how to say this gently: it was bad. So, so bad. Off-beat drums that kind of reminded me of middle school music class and some of the flattest vocals I’ve heard. I listen to a lot of artists with vocals that grew on me after seeming weird, though, so I kept going. I remember thinking: it has to get better. It cannot all sound like this.

It did. It did all sound like that.

In The Gonks’ defense, I did like the second track, I’m A Lonely Night Driver, and the instrumental fifth track, I’m Dead. Lonely Night Driver has much better vocals, and is less busy and arrhythmic than the other songs on the album. But the bad tracks were bad. Honestly, you need to listen to it to understand what I mean. It genuinely left me speechless when the last notes played, and I have yet to find the words for it. Somehow, it went so far left into horrible that it looped back around and I kind of loved it. So, I did the only thing I could think of: I subjected other people to it.

That is, at the next meeting, I played the worst of it for the other managers. I don’t know if they found it as funny as I did─admittedly I was running on fumes and minimal sleep when I listened to it, as is expected of college freshmen─but in a strange way, it made me feel more like a part of the team. I think of it fondly, as much of a mess as it was to listen to.

My least favorite thing about music enthusiasts is some of the pretension around what is “good” and “bad” music. Part of it is about acknowledging that everyone has different tastes and ideas about what good music even is, sure, but that’s not what my point is. It’s that something doesn’t have to be award-worthy and transcendent for you to enjoy it.

One of the easiest examples of this I have s Taylor Swift. When I was in middle school, a girl in my class gifted me a CD of Speak Now (probably as a joke, given that 11 year old boys weren’t exactly her target audience), and I listened to it so much that the CD is scratched beyond belief by now. Do I think that album was revolutionary? No. Honestly, some of the songs I listened to obsessively as a kid make me cringe now. But I remember singing along to them off-key in my room, with my shitty boombox, and it makes me happy.

I've listened to some of her newer albums out of curiosity, and even though the music is so diametrically opposed to what I usually listen to, I genuinely enjoyed it. When I had a crush on a guy who was very into Taylor Swift, I didn't have to fake excitement when he told me about an unreleased twenty-minute version of All Too Well─even if it was founded mostly in nostalgia. I still like to joke that I’ll know if that version of the song is ever released because I’ll hear him screaming.

To me, that’s what music is about at its best─making you happy. Bookmarking pleasant moments in your memory. I find 2000s pop fun to listen to, despite how generic it can be. I go back to The Beatles every now and again, even if John Lennon isn't a great person, because I remember my dad playing their songs for me as a kid. I still listen to my favorite songs from my emo phase, though I will unironically argue for that being good music.

Roger Ebert summed it up better than I can in his 1999 review of The Mummy─“There is hardly a thing I can say in its favor, except that I was cheered by nearly every minute of it. I cannot argue for the script, the direction, the acting or even the mummy, but I can say that I was not bored and sometimes I was unreasonably pleased. There is a little immaturity stuck away in the crannies of even the most judicious of us, and we should treasure it.”

There is a little immaturity, even in the most musically pretentious of us. Listen to some goddamn bubblegum pop.

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