I feel like making an example of someone else while I'm at it, namely this guy I vaguely knew from the dorm last year. I read his blog, with its unmodified template, tiny font, etc. from time to time, and it's generally okay, though unspectacular. The guy's generally okay himself. (Isn't that great, how I pass judgment on a person's entire life in one sentence? Quite Christian of me, really...) Reading one of his recent posts, though, right after looking at a few people's shared iTunes libraries, reminded me of why I hate most people's taste in music.
Said post had one of those memes of the type that are widely copied, namely "My Top 10 Albums of All Time," which in this case is supposedly original. I'll reprint his list here for your amusement:
"My Top 10 Albums of All Time:
1. Incubus - Make Yourself
2. Guster - Lost and Gone Forever
3. Rufus Wainwright - Want One
4. Ben Folds - Rockin the Suburbs
5. The Godzilla Soundtrack (TRUST ME ON THIS ONE)
6. Red Hot Chili Peppers - By the Way
7. Fall Out Boy - Take This To Your Grave
8. Christina Aguilera - Stripped
9. Jimmy Eat World - Bleed American
10. No Doubt - Tragic Kingdom
Runner Up: Linkin Park - Hybrid Theory, John Mayer - Room For Squares, Dashboard Confessional - The Places You've Come to Fear the Most"
Do you see what's wrong here? I'll give him this: Some of the songs on some of those albums are catchy and worth listening to. Ben Folds and No Doubt come to mind as musicians that have indeed proved their relevance and originality, and Guster is indeed quite catchy, though inconsistently so. I also know that some of my readers would find almost nothing wrong with this list. [shrugs] That's fine—I just think this guy needs a sense of proportion.
Christina Aguilera? The title of that album, Stripped, came up in Adv. Fiction Writing the other day when a girl wrote a story by the same name and wondered whether the connotation of that name being an album title would be a problem. Whether that story title was a particularly good one or not, we agreed that it in a few years, the Aguilera connotation, at least, won't matter—that album will be so unimportant and obscure that you'll need a footnote to explain what it was. John Mayer? Linkin Park? Jimmy Eat World? Rufus Wainwright? Most of these albums have been put out in the last couple years or so and have had about zero impact upon the world of music as a whole. They may sell a lot of albums, but most of these artists provide good examples of what not to do when trying to put together a significant album.
The commentary that accompanies the list is obviously meant to show us how "original" he is, as he notes, "I thought of this one in the shower today.....kinky, I know." Well that's an original thought, associating being in the shower with the term "kinky." I'd never have thought of that. After explaining the concept of listing one's top 10 albums—"Like, CDs you listen to straight through, and could not live without"—he adds this witty aside: "Makes you think, huh?" No, not really, guy. There's a real lack of thought in this process.
As I see it, this guy here has fallen prey to musical shortsightedness. It's almost certain that these albums won't be on his list in 10 years' time—and if they are, then there's something wrong. His friends posted their lists, falling prey to an opposite but equally common problem, namely "Look how eclectic my taste is in music." Their lists, too, contain some recent bands with staying power—No Doubt, Counting Crows, and Ben Folds Five—then a whole lot of crap music like the Dance Hall Crashers, Rosebud, Ozma, and Damien Rice. Then there're the requisite Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel albums, which probably aren't in particularly heavy rotation on their playlists at all—you've gotta look like you're eclectic, though, or lose credibility and coolth.
As for iTunes libraries, I see eight people with shared music on iTunes right now. Let's take a look, shall we?
This first guy is apparently into melancholy, atonal "Generation X elevator music," namely Bob Dylan, Blur, Blondie, Björk, Belle & Sebastian (for this band, think of the really geeky music store employee in High Fidelity who ended up with the chick from Roseanne—he liked them), Beck, The Beatles, Aphex Twin, Brian Eno, The Cure, David Bowie, Depeche Mode, New Order, Joy Division, Pavement, The Pogues, The Police, The Pretenders, Radiohead, The Ramones, The Replacements, The Roots, The Smiths, Sonic Youth, Talking Heads, Tom Waits, The Velvet Underground, The White Stripes, and Yo La Tengo. We can sum this guy up pretty quickly as one of those "the '80s were better" people who claim to have a handle on "real" rock music.
At least the first guy respects the sanctity of whole albums, though, rather than just collecting a big mix of random pop singles like the next one on the list. This chick has a more "Generation Y pop" plus "the obligatory standards" feel: her collection reads like a Who's Who of the last year in Top 40 music, including Busta Rhymes, Britney Spears, Cake, Christina Aguilera, Clay Aiken, Coldplay, Elton John, Elvis, Fiona Apple, Fleetwood Mac, George Michael, Hanson, Janet Jackson, Jason Mraz, Jay-Z, Jennifer Lopez, Jewel, John Mayer, Justin Timberlake, the obligatory few Coltrane songs, Kelly Clarkson, Ludacris, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Maroon 5, Marvin Gaye, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Michael Jackson, Missy Elliot, N*Sync, Natalie Imbruglia, Nelly, Nelly Furtado, Norah Jones, The Pretenders, Radiohead, The Rolling Stones, Sarah McLachlan, Shakira, Sheryl Crow, Sublime, Tina Turner, Toni Braxton, Tori Amos, Vanessas Carlton and Williams, Grease, Rent, the obligatory two Veruca Salt singles, Weezer, and Yellowcard. Ugh...
Continuing in this vein depresses me and takes too much time, so I'll quit it. Right there, though, you've got two of the more prevalent types of playlists, full of the stuff they think will make them seem cool and eclectic.
Why do I care about all of this, and what qualifies me to pass judgment on it? Those are the necessary questions, I suppose, ones that I oughta answer to remain credible. Let's see. For one thing, these musical choices are ones that I think show the utter conventionality and short-sightedness of a lot of people our age. They listen to the "latest thing" and forget what came before it. Those who try to be "off the map" and hip/eclectic fail, too, because the smattering of older or more obscure bands they include in their playlists are still part of the conventional scene. That's one of the conundrums of the "society of the spectacle" surrounding the music and entertainment industries—no matter what you do, you're still on the map. You can never really reach the "outside" of the spectacle of consumerism. The Beatles? Simon and Garfunkel? The Rolling Stones? The Beach Boys? Gee, kids, you're really reaching there. While the few people I've cited surely don't constitute a statistically sound sample, they're still pretty representative of the trends I've seen in playlists here at the university. Such slavish, petty desires these young ones have...