Is All Music Really Good Music?

By Joy Lee

Yes, and no.

It’s a question we ask ourselves quite often, but rarely sit down to truly think about.
Artists we consider to have indisputably impacted music culture include The Beatles, Whitney Houston, Eminem, Michael Jackson, and more. Not only can we collectively agree on this because our parents loved them, but also because many artists we look up to today idolized them as well.

Our respective tastes in music come largely as a result of our environments and interests. Maybe we’re born with it, maybe it’s Tumblr. Maybe it’s having a youth pastor, or maybe, just maybe, it’s discovering Hamilton. While the person standing next to you is beginning to cry because someone played a “G” on the piano, another is in the middle of a standoff; clutching onto Frank Ocean’s Blonde as their opponent waves around Luke Bryan’s Crash My Party.

We have the freedom to stream privately what is hated publicly.

Generally, we aren’t able to discern what qualities make anything worthy of praise unless we’re fairly knowledgeable of an analogous subject. It’s the common dilemma we face on deciding whether the canvas in front of us is blank, or if it actually depicts a snowstorm made up of seemingly infinite hues of white. This doesn’t really matter when it comes to liking something though, does it? We listen to songs, add them to our playlists, skip half of them five seconds in, and repeat. Unless one of us is deciding who gets to win the Grammy for Album of the Year (Spoiler alert! It was Taylor Swift’s Folklore), there isn’t any pressure on us to rank what we listen to. We always glitch out a bit when we’re asked what our favorite song, artist, or album is, because ultimately, why do we need one? If all of your friends make fun of EDM without knowing you live a secret life as a Rave Mom, you might make a separate car playlist to appease the masses, but won’t bother to do much else.

“It do not matter” - Lil Uzi Vert, 2016.

Production, lyricism, and public image matter much less to us than we might think (regarding our main question), simply because of how subjectively we interpret them. Music lovers call Kanye innovative or raise concerns over his mental health. Grimes is considered a whimsical experimentalist, while also raising concerns over her mental health. How much importance do you give to celeb updates on Snapchat? Would you stop listening to someone if you found out they had been accused of bullying or harassment? Do you care about the sound, the words, both, or neither one?

Even though technical elements can make us hate a song, they can also be the reason why others are obsessed with it. Being able to coin anything as beautiful might seem as though it takes away from the power of the word itself, but in actuality, it provides more dimensions into how we view the world (try looking into the String Theory). To Enlightenment thinkers like Immanuel Kant, beauty is both subjective and objective due to our various levels of refined taste— hence, when our knowledge of technical elements do come into play.

All music can be, and therefore is, good music.

Even if it couldn’t, we most certainly are not in a place to put down those that listen to anything else. Institutionalized racism and sexism within the music industry continue to damage the careers of black, queer, and female artists today. By ridding our own conversations of harmful judgements that promote white supremacy and silence victims of assault, we can achieve an actual sense of purity in taste as a society. There’s no better way is there to spread a love of music than to encourage its growth! We all use music as an outlet for some reason or another, so really, it’s on us to provide the same tool for those who haven’t found one yet.
We don’t worry about how younger generations will judge our music taste, so why should we worry about anyone else? When all is said and done, the confidence we have in the quality of our playlists directly reflects the confidence we have in ourselves.