Swanson: The Unexamined Song is Not Worth Listening


By Gavin Swanson, Opinion Writer

Why do you like the music you do? It’s probably not a question you ask yourself very often, but I think it’s one worth asking. For most of us, I’m sure the question doesn’t even make sense. You like the music you like because you like it, so why should you have to justify it? I don’t pose the question in a judgmental way to make you think the music you listen to is bad, but rather, so you can appreciate the music you listen to even more.

I originally started writing this article in an attempt to get people to examine all of the art they consume and enjoy, but I realized that defining why you like something is only difficult with music. Why do you like a certain movie? Because it’s funny or some other easily identifiable trait. Why do you like a certain book? Because you enjoy the characters or the story. But why do you like a certain song? You’re not entirely sure. You just kind of like it.

To begin appreciating the music you listen to on a deeper level, it’s simplest to begin with generalities. Why do you like a song? Because it’s catchy or because you like the lyrics. Fair enough. You’ve thought about the song that you’re listening to, and you’ve managed to identify that the song was catchy enough to add to your library. Now that you’ve opened the door it’s time to think about it more specifically. What makes that song catchy? Was it the hook? The vocal melody? The beat? The rhythm guitar work? What part of that song sticks around in your head after you stop listening to it? This is the where the appreciation starts.

You’re now starting to think about the song with an understanding that’s deeper than just “liking it.” You are recognizing the elements that captivate your attention and earn your admiration. When you identify the parts of music that you enjoy, you will start seeing it in other songs you hear. But don’t stop there; you can dive even deeper into it. If you’re a real music buff, you can recognize things like time signatures and chord progression and appreciate when artists use these song-writing tools to their creative advantage. Note though, that as cool as it might be to acknowledge those features in a song, it’s definitely not necessary to appreciate your music. I have only a very basic understanding of these concepts and still manage to find cool aspects of songs.

With this newfound ability to examine and deconstruct songs, you can start listening to the weird music that your hipster friend listens to and maybe begin to understand why they listen to it. Sure, it’s not a very catchy tune, but the artist is doing a really cool thing with the synthesizer. The melody may not be your taste, but the drummer keeps changing the beat between the verses and the chorus. Recognizing details like this creates an even greater bond between you, the listener and music — even music that you don’t personally enjoy.

This practice does come with its risks. You may discover that some songs aren’t as great and creative as you originally thought. This shouldn’t discourage you though. You shouldn’t feel ashamed of liking songs that aren’t the greatest. These are your guilty pleasures, and even the most pretentious of music listeners have them. Sure I enjoy music from critically acclaimed acts like Fleet Foxes, Sufjan Stevens and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but I’m not going to pretend that I won’t sing along if somebody puts on “Straight Up” by Paula Abdul. In the end, all that matters is that you find a new appreciation for your songs and begin to look at music in a new light.

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