So I’m on the bus this week and hit the random option on the MP3 player. I have
Jamie Cullum’s Twentysomething on it. I can tell by the soothing, inoffensive piano and casual melodies that strike fear into the hearts of hipsters everywhere. After all, if it is getting air time on this station, trust me, it ain’t cool. Playing Jamie Cullum on this station is like putting a whole bunch of tequila shots in front of 19-year-olds – it’s there for the taking.

Song plays. The lines are straight out of a second-year undergraduate’s journal – wondering about the world, where they’re going, the temporary joy of numbing one’s self through booze. So of course it’s gonna resonate with most folks. It’s simple, unchallenging and easy music that says everything and nothing at the same time.

My brother said to me, quite rightly, that he’s annoyed sometimes at my musical taste. He’s right. I listen to a lot of different stuff, but some of my musical taste is unchallenging and boring. Smooth jazz for example. It’s the bane of my brother’s musical experience. Or pop music – not all pop music, but the stuff that screams mainstream pap and can only be truly experienced as a bar tune or something a whole bunch of drunken students can dance to at the same time. One doesn’t listen to pop music exclusively, and if you only listen to pop music, you really, really need to get out more.

This being said, my brother is one of the most culturally interesting people I know. His tastes in music are amazing, his movie tastes resoundingly interesting and he reads a lot (one thing we have in common is the simple fact we’re both very cultured guys, just in different ways).

I like some mainstream stuff like Kanye West, don’t get me wrong. But once you’re out of university and into the “real world” your chances to keep your musical tastes fresh and interesting are surprisingly hard. If you’re not surrounded by folks who challenge you to be culturally different (not aggressively but simply through being exposed to different stuff) your tastes will narrow.

At Queen’s, one thing I resented about the place was the Mutual Validation Society of Music. This was no formal alliance. It was merely the viral/meme/whatever aspects of a certain band who’d become so accepted within certain circles in the “hipster” realm of Queen’s (if that’s really possible) that posers would quickly adopt the band as part of their lifestyle/party/walking theme music. In other words, it was the post-secondary version of getting your first piercing or getting drunk for the first time: once cool kids did it, it was safe for you to do it too. Don’t think, just do.

In the late 1990’s, being as Queen’s students love to position themselves as on-the-cutting-edge and above populism, there were two musicians who dominated the place: Dave Matthews and Ben Harper.

Dave Matthews. What can be said about this guy? His band’s biggest record, Crash, was basically an audio manual for How To Get Laid (at least, if you’re male). This record was opium for Queen’s students everywhere. Almost everyone I knew had a copy of it. It was par for the course at a party and had verbal “gems” like “hike up your skirt a little more… and show your world to me.”

Uh, yeah. Of course, nobody minded the fact the album was a drunken frat boy’s Ode to College Life and all the detritus surrounding it. sure, have fun with your music, but don’t buy an album just because someone else played it at a party. Lame ass.

Or Ben Harper, same deal. I can recall hearing the same song of his being played three times on the same street one night as I was walking home. In one house, there were a whole bunch of people dancing near the window to his music.

Gradually this gave way to Bedouin Soundclash, yet another band that “everybody” liked (their only saving grace is them being Queen’s born-and-bred).

Anyway, the point of this rant? I don’t think it is always bad to like popular music. But don’t listen to music simply because some folks in the hipster realm like it first. Listen to what you want because you like it, not because someone else says what you should listen to.

What is, not What Should Be.

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