December 6th, 2009

An Epiphany, Of Sorts

My comprehension of music as something that could connect with you emotionally came fairly late in my childhood. In 1997, at the age of twelve, I received a little CD player/radio and a copy of Now! 38 on CD. For a while, I didn’t really buy much music, other than a couple of singles here and there.

In The Beginning

In 1999, I discovered two bands that remain at the core of my love of music today — Counting Crows and Barenaked Ladies. I can’t actually remember how I found Barenaked Ladies, but I heard a Counting Crows track (Hangin’ Around) playing in the local branch of the now-defunct MVC and bought it there and then.

Those two bands changed the way I perceive music. Counting Crows especially is a band whose music can make you laugh, cry and everything in between if you’re in the right place. In time, I started to reject any band whose music I couldn’t ‘connect’ with, and my discography was very small.

Hitting the Mainstream

When I started my second year of University, things changed somewhat. For the first time in my life, I was living alone, and did so for nearly three years. This meant I had music playing almost literally all the time. My limited discography wasn’t really up to it, so I ended up listening to BBC Radio 1 a lot of the time. As a result, I absorbed a lot of “mainstream” and pop music through the osmosis that occurs when you’re working with music on in the background.

I learned very quickly that listening to bands like Counting Crows and Barenaked Ladies while trying to work is a futile effort — you spend all your time thinking about the music you’re hearing rather than actually working. As a result, I started buying the odd pop single here and there for those occasions I wanted to listen to something that keeps my head empty.

“Those songs don’t have any lasting value! What’s the point in buying them?” a friend of mine said, missing both the point of my purchases and the irony of making that statement about digital content. For a long time I purchased songs by these groups with the reasoning that they make good “programming” songs — empty of soul, but catchy and pleasing to listen to nonetheless. The idea that you have to emotionally connect with music for it to be “good” still reigning supreme, and a group of women singing through an autotuner about having a one night stand simply doesn’t cut it.


Over the past year, several things have happening to radically alter how I perceive music. Some of them that particularly stand out:

I’ve spent a lot less time with some of my friends who, much as I love them, are music snobs. Any music that isn’t within their definition of what’s good is automatically deemed rubbish and/or stupid, and therefore not worthy of being called “music”. The phrase “I only like real music” is common here.

I’ve actually paid attention to what’s being said in a lot of these songs, especially by those I recognise as being talented but outside my preferred genres. For example, I used to think that “rappers” are stuck-up egotistical idiots, but listening to Timbaland’s The Way I Are makes it clear that at least the people behind that song are having fun and not taking it particularly seriously.

I’ve started playing a game with my girlfriend where we take a stupid, shallow-sounding lyric and attempted to discuss the meaning behind it as if we were reviewing a play. In many more instances than I could’ve imagined, the lyrics aren’t actually as shallow or stupid as they seem.

The game goes as follows: When a song comes on the radio that you don’t particularly know or care the meaning of, take a chorus lyric and discuss. For example, given the following lyric:

I’d give it all up just for you, just to have you near me…

I asked the question “Is she saying that she’ll drop her life, job and friends for this guy, or just drop her pants?” Given the context of the rest of the song, in this case the singer is talking about giving up her existing life in order to be with the man she loves.

By God, He's Got It!

Very recently, this has all “clicked”. Girls Aloud don’t just make good “programming” music, they make good Pop music. The statements “My favourite band is Counting Crows” and “I really like Girls Aloud” are, in fact, absolutely compatible.

Buying “She Wolf” by Shakira because the “Arrroooooo!” in the chorus makes you laugh is also absolutely fine.

All of a sudden, I’m enjoying music a lot more. Listening to, say, Talylor Swift’s album is no longer a guilty pleasure — it’s simply a pleasure. I’ve not lost touch with the connection to music from bands like Counting Crows can give, it’s just that I seem to have finally learned that there’s a place for all genres of music no matter how “deep” it may be.

Except heavy metal. God, how I hate heavy metal.


All links are iTunes links.

Stunt by Barenaked Ladies
The album that got me hooked on Barenaked Ladies.

This Desert Life by Counting Crows
The album that got me hooked on Counting Crows.

The Way I Are by Timbaland
This is the song that broke my preconceptions about rappers being stuck-up idiots. Especially the lines “I ain’t got a motorboat, but I can float your boat” and “Your body ain’t Pamela Anderson’s, it’s a struggle just to get you in the caravan”. Makes me laugh every time.

She Wolf by Shakira.
Cheese-tastic, but the awfully half-hearted wolf howl in the chorus absolutely makes the song.

Give It All Up by The Corrs
The song used in my lyrics game example.