With All Due Respect: Negative Opinions In Music

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I work in a record store. Which is to say, I work in a world revolving around music. Millions of artists, billions of albums, trillions of songs… there’s a lot out content out there. And a lot of ears listening to it.

With listening comes interpretation, and with that comes opinion. Obviously, everyone is allowed to theirs. No person is the same, and taste is subjective.

Or is it?

What drives me absolutely nuts is when I hear people – coworkers, customers, friends – dismiss music as bad. “Oh that album sucks; that artist is horrible.” Such comments tend to come out through sarcasm and irony, if not outright contempt.

So what is it about these opinions that gets to me? The sense of disrespect. These people can’t leave well enough alone. They seemingly have to express their distaste in an open and destructive fashion. Of course just as they have the right to their opinion, I have the right to disagree, if not ignore it. But for whatever reason, I can’t. It gets my goat; it raises my ire.

More often than not it seems that musical tastes are not subjective. When such people speak on what they do and do not like, they speak in universal absolutes: “This is music is good / not good.” Granted, there’s still personal opinion in those feelings. But it carries with it implications of generalization. At least depending on the speaker’s tone, that is.

The implied tone is one of, “I believe this music is bad. Furthermore I believe that everyone should share this opinion. Subsequently those who don’t are not just in the wrong, but foolish, and subject to the same contempt that I direct towards the music in question.”

So here we can see how I might feel angry in response to such opinions: It feels like a personal attack. Assuming they’re knocking a band or album I like, it feels as though I’m being knocked too. It’s mockery by association.

Really what it is is pure negativity, and perhaps understandable – it’s easier, if not more fun, to make fun of something than to let it walk by. It’s the epitome of bullying: The bully steps on others to make him/herself feel better about his/herself.

With music it’s about a sense of personal pedigree. “How can I show I have a strong, confident knowledge and taste in music? I know: I’ll speak with derisive authority against what most agree to be bad music.”

And there’s an important piece of the puzzle: consensus opinion. Ask most anyone what they think of artists like Nickelback or Justin Timberlake and there will come an unmitigated, almost unthinking response in the negative. Nickelback in particular are a favourite, default punchline in a record store.

Ten years ago I absolutely felt the same way towards Nickelback and Justin Timberlake. Like a lot of people I dismissed them as talentless, overplayed hacks, crapping out lowest-common-denominator “hits” for easy, big bucks. In the case of Nickelback I’m not even sure how I came to feel this way. Sure they were overplayed on popular rock radio, something I couldn’t avoid in most public work places. But as with most people I just seemed to fall into the arbitrary group decision that the band were above average bad.

A few years later, though, I came to a decision: I didn’t – and don’t – actually feel that way. Artists like Nickelback and Justin Timberlake, they’re harmless. My decision to target them with hate was entirely subjective, and of my own choice. They did, and continue to do, nothing to warrant any active thought on my part, let alone overly negative ones. They make the music they want to make; they sing the songs they want to sing. And so long as I’m free to ignore it, then I will, and I will walk on with peace of mind.

And that’s kind of a key thought here: peace of mind, free, unburdened by unnecessary hate. Negative thought burns a lot of active energy. Sure, we all have things that set us off automatically, unconsciously – I started this by talking about how peoples’ negativity sparks my anger. But bands like Nickelback used to spark my anger, too. And it was up to me to keep that anger up. It was absolutely my choice to maintain the habit of automatically resenting the band the second I heard the opening lines of “How You Remind Me”.

Epiphany: The title “How You Remind Me” is ironic, considering that the song would instantly “remind me” to hate the band, to resent their existence. And I won’t lie, they’re in a handful of other artists that I to this day have to fight the self-conditioned response to look at them with smug contempt whenever I even hear their names.

Ultimately I’ve come to respect such bands, musicians and artists. I’m a strong proponent of respect in general – we don’t have to like each other, but respect goes a long way towards peace and understanding. Subsequently I become very bothered by disrespect. Again, part of me feels that I myself am being disrespected when someone shares a negative opinion of certain music.

But there’s a bit more to it than that: Even if I don’t personally enjoy said music, I’m perhaps feeling disrespected on behalf of whoever might like the music being made fun of. I’m feeling indirect empathy, protective of the tastes of others against negative, mocking opinion.

At the very least I feel compelled to share the notion of discarding hate. Such negativity is just unnecessary emotional baggage, and contagious. We all want to fit in, to feel part of a group. And when something bothers us we want to feel we’re not alone in it; we feel better knowing that someone shares our contempt. But don’t we too feel good in sharing what we love? Don’t music lovers feel a unique rush of excitement when we meet someone who enjoys the same sounds? And isn’t that more emotionally healthy than hate?

It’s hard to maintain respect towards the disrespectful opinions of others. But maybe I’m taking their opinions too personally. These people aren’t actively trying to disrespect or mock me. Maybe it’s not so different from my old revelation: If the artists I used to hate were never trying to disturb me personally, then there was no reason to hold onto the hate I felt in response.

If the sounds of songs I used to hate can roll off my back like water, then so too can the hateful opinions of others. They can say what they want; they can feel how they feel. But I can disagree… with all due respect.

© 2017 Day By Day Mental

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