“So what kind of music do you listen to?”
I freeze in terror. Quickly, I run through my options, suppressing my instinct to blurt out reputation-destroying words like “One Direction” and “Top 40 Pop Hits.” I consider my interrogator, who just told me, “I really liked Hozier, but he’s so mainstream now.”
“Alternative,” I decide. That’s a safe answer, right?
I unashamedly went through my One Direction phase in high school: The posters and magazines in my room back home and my iTunes library bear witness to this. (On a side note, raise your hand if you were heartbroken when Zayn left the band.)
But I know the stigma associated with liking One Direction, so if anyone ever asks about my favorite musical artist, I generally say something like Taylor Swift — still mainstream, but acceptable. If I’m really trying to impress someone, I say that I like alternative rock, like The 1975 or Kodaline, which, admittedly, are still quite mainstream bands.
But why are we so obsessed with liking music that isn’t “mainstream”? If a song is on the Top 40s Charts, isn’t that an indicator that it’s good enough to be liked by many people? Hozier is still Hozier, even if more people like his music and are aware of it. Whether or not music is mainstream doesn’t affect its quality or its content, and interestingly, music seems to be the only commodity that decreases in value when more people know about it. (The lines at Sushirrito and the sustaining power of name brands prove that popularity can boost “coolness” too.)
By only listening to obscure bands, I think we run the risk of missing good music. I’m not saying that “What Makes You Beautiful” is the apex of musical achievement, but I also don’t think it’s a crime to enjoy listening to it. Millions of other people do.
While hanging out in my friend’s dorm room, his Spotify playlist landed on the newest One Direction song. I gaped as he started singing along. “You like One Direction?” I asked incredulously.
“Why not?” he shrugged. “I like good music.”
Maybe because of his status as an international student, he didn’t realize the American stigma of a guy liking boy bands. Or maybe he’s right. Good music ultimately should tap into your emotions; it should make you happy. And if listening to One Direction on repeat is what you enjoy, I think there’s nothing embarrassing about that.
Contact Samantha Wong at slwong ‘at’ stanford.edu.