Seven years ago on this day, Apple opened its iTunes store. Music that had once been confined to CDs was no longer bound by such physical concepts. The iTunes store forged a new path for music lovers in the way they accessed and enjoyed their tunes. If you had an iPod and an internet connection, vast quantities of songs were at your fingertips. And they still are, albeit in much larger numbers now.

Yesterday, as my sister was packing up to go back to Vancouver, she played for me a couple of songs by a singer named La Roux. As a name, I had no idea who La Roux was. Only after hearing a few of her songs did I recognize her from an episode of Ellen. But the fact still remained, I didn’t know who this singer really was or anything about her music (though I must admit, I am intrigued by her music and sense of artistry).

How do these two concepts fit together you ask? That’s a good question. The common denominator is music. When people ask me what kind of music I like, I usually end up saying “pretty much everything.” And that’s true, I like a variety of genres. I’ll listen to pop, R&B, hip hop, house, trance, country (yes, country), alternative, rock, and so forth. But what I like from those genres are the popular songs, the ones that make it onto stations like Amp or Energy. So in a sense, when you get right down to it, my favourite kind of music is pop.

Pop music is a funny thing. It’s so broad as to encompass almost anything and yet it is also very defined. However, the former is what makes it so reviled by music snobs. It assimilates into itself songs which do not really belong in that category. Popularity and air time with radio stations that play “all the hits, all the time” strip said songs of their former obscurity and, to a large degree, their appeal. I remember very clearly when the Black Eyed Peas came onto the scene and how angry diehard BEP fans were when they became “popular.” They’d say things like, “I knew the Black Eyed Peas before they were famous,” and they’d say it with such disdain for the average listener who might have assumed the BEP were just another new band that was made for popular consumption.

On the flip side, there have been bands that can actually be classified as “pop;” bands such as The New Kids On The Block, Backstreet Boys, and N’Sync. You can also include singers like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Madonna. Most recently we’ve seen the rise of Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber. The problem with these musicians is that despite having really catchy songs, they are so despised by anyone not seeking to be one of the masses. Cue the Borg reference and my own taste in music. (By the way, if you get the reference from the “Assimilation” poster, you can never not call yourself a geek.)

I really enjoy music by all of them (with the exception of the last two singers). There, I said it. I like N’Sync. I also happen to like Cher. And Madonna. Basically anything that has a “fun” sound to it. Is there anything wrong with that? No, there isn’t. But for some reason, I have always been embarrassed to let on that I listen to pop music. That question, “what’s the last thing you listened to on your iPod?” has always haunted me and almost always resulted in a lie.

Sometimes I marvel at how of all the people who surround me, only a select few listen to the same music as I do. It seems that almost everyone has this ‘evolved’ sense of musicality, and that I’m still slummin’ it with the regulars. For instance, Coachella has popped up in my newsfeed a couple of times over the past few weeks with articles related to the giant origami crane that has been erected over the stage (I think). Had it not been for this artistic expression, I would never have even heard of Coachella (as of this very moment, I still don’t know what goes on there). Roskilde. Coachella. Woodstock. What??!!

What worries me is that I feel like I am part of the ‘masses’ and not some elite class of citizens who have a higher sense of what ‘good’ music is. It’s like a twisted version of wanting to ‘move up in the world’ where currency is knowledge of obscure bands. Kind of  like a stock portfolio, you must diversify and go beyond what is easy and popular. And then I think about our students and how they are handling this kind of pressure. Is there such a thing as ‘bad’ music? Has this become a new way to sort the ‘in’ crowd from the ‘out’ crowd?

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against those who seek to explore music which is not mainstream. I’ve even made attempts myself, but generally to little avail. I would commend those who can go beyond what is on the radio, expanding musical horizons. It just worries me that that same positive reinforcement has negative effects on those who are comfortable with their choice in music. What can I say, you like what you like.

/bow

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