Oh, simple thing, where have you gone?/ I’m getting old and I need something to rely on. – Keane, “Somewhere Only We Know”
According to a recent study, the music you listen to from age 12 to 22 is the music you will go back to, or prefer, for the rest of your life. There have been studies like this before, and most of us are aware of this anyway, thanks to frequent admissions across the internet that go something like, “Today’s music is sh*t. Music was great in the _______[insert decade in which they were teenagers]”. Sadly, I have not been able to make this statement yet. Even though I’ve been out of that age range for a few years, nostalgia hasn’t properly kicked embarrassment and oblivion’s ass yet.
Though I’ve never been consulted on any of the studies (I offer myself freely as a test subject, if you’re conducting one), I am a perfect candidate for it. For one thing, I fit neatly into the most recent decade – I was 12 to 22 from 2000 to 2010. I am also somebody who hasn’t listened to contemporary music since the end of that decade. Well, I did try a couple of times, but very, very few things had any sort of significant effect on my pleasure neurons. I don’t even listen to music of this decade intently enough to hate it.
But, we also have to take into account the fact that I wasn’t only listening to contemporary music in the 2000-10 decade. I am a perfect test subject because I only started listening more selectively – like an old/hip person age 23 onwards. Up until age 22 I had no taste at all. I was completely open to whatever came my way, completely willing to give anything a chance and thus had a varied, eclectic, listening life. Of course, I had my favourites, my obsessions. The music that defined me at the time. But, because I am came to much of it without any prior information, music whether old or contemporary, targeted at my specific age + gender + cultural bracket or not, met with the same curiosity at the initial stage. I judged freely, for I had none to please.
I angered many, of course. I had some of the greatest conversations with my father when I was fourteen or fifteen about contemporary artists such as Westlife. While my father approved and encouraged me reading books in English and watching movies in English, he drew the line with music. And not just Western music, but popular music of any kind. He had a sizable record and cassette collection, which contained only one Western pop record – Boney M (yeah, yeah, because my Daddy was Cool). ABBA was a bit too much, and we were one of the few families I knew who didn’t have a copy of Thriller. (Thankfully we were spared Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”, George Michael’s “Careless Whisper”, The Eagles’s “Hotel California” etc.) I once borrowed a Bollywood album Mohabbatein, and had to immediately switch the cassette player off and return it the next day.
You’d think this was extreme parenting, but it all came down to a matter of taste. Being denied resulted in my hunger for absolutely everything, and my conversations with him made me feel my opinions were respected, despite my age. Because, he didn’t dismiss pop music for its infantile, sexual baiting. He dismissed it because he thought it wasn’t very good. He praised the percussion on Shakira’s “Whenever, Wherever”, while he thought the squeaky clean, asexual, near-spiritual Westlife had songs that sounded the same.
In fact, my father’s attitude to what young people should be listening is an approach I wish record companies would also take – that it should be good music first, before deciding who it must be for. Last year, I put on Apple’s Top 40 playlist, because I figured I should, at least, try to listen to what was going on. The repetitiveness drove me crazy after a while, but there were a couple of interesting results. Autotune or not, I enjoyed Selena Gomez’s voice, and wished she had better songs to sing. I was surprised to find a rather Irish sounding number by Ed Sheeran on this chart. Yes, the production lacks variety, but you can say that about any decade. How much of folk, country, psychedelia, nay disco and punk has survived? There’s oversaturation in every decade, because record companies always want to give the public what they already like. They rarely ever tell the people what to like. The hot new thing is only doing what has already been hot for a while, and what was only recently new.
There was way too much rap in my decade. Way too much alternative rock (most notably “piano rock”). Nu Metal existed – the horror of it. And though I have forgotten, for good, much of it, I cannot claim it is the best there ever was. I love the seventies, a decade I wasn’t even born in, but very, very specific artists and genres in it. I love glam rock and punk and some of the singer-songwriters and the burgeoning electronic scene and very few progressive people and surprisingly, a smattering of country. And if you pit that against ALL that the decade produced, it hardly makes up one-third of it. Much of it I find dull and forgettable. I attach no idealism to that decade, or the decade that I lived through.
If you can separate the romanticism from it’s intrinsic but personal value (it’s music you like, not what critics say you should like), no decade is the best and no decade is the worst. Okay, so the 60s has way too many undoubtedly big names, but the other decades don’t necessarily fade away in comparison – even the 2000s. Since the 1980s, it has been hard to separate music from visuals, where you appreciate the work of art in its entirety in artists as different as Madonna and The White Stripes, and so, I will even claim that Sia’s “Chandelier” – as a complete entity and not just music – is a brilliant piece of art that will continue to impact in decades to come. Nothing else comes to mind 2011 onwards, but I more than welcome the opportunity to correct my ignorance.
Music relies much on memory. You don’t retain the Maths and Geography you do, but you probably remember what you were listening as you were trying to concentrate on them. You need to jog your memory sometimes, and that is what happened when I recently listened to the devastatingly talented Alan Cumming perform Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know” – a song from my decade, not his. I liked it then, but I deeply love him performing it now. He conveyed the song to me in a much more affecting way than Keane did the first time around. Or maybe I understand it better, now that I’m getting closer to its intent:
What was/is your decade of music? Is it the music you go back to, or have you adopted some other time? What music do you like?