My taste in music has run a very interesting course. When I was a toddler, I listened to the melodic genius of Raffi and a group of cowboys that yodeled (in addition to some bizarre band of women that my mom played to get me to take naps). In elementary school, my bus driver played Froggy, so naturally I became a country fan, and then because my best friend listened to pop music, I got into Kidz Bop and the popular songs of the time, like “Survivor,” “Hollaback Girl,” and “Hey Y’all.”
Admittedly, I enjoyed most of that music because it was just what was happening around me, as is often the case when you’re a novice human being. In fifth grade, I dabbled in becoming emo, and in sixth grade I fully committed to the emo lifestyle, thus completing the transformation with appropriate musical tastes like The Used, Fall Out Boy, and Avenged Sevenfold. Throughout middle school, I continued delving further into this genre, with Bullet for my Valentine, Atreyu, Underoath, Linkin Park, A Perfect Circle, and all those sorts of bands people who shopped at Hot Topic were into. (I could write an entire novel about my emo phase.) In high school I experimented with some more indie music, like Mirah, The Shins, and Cloud Nothings. But an interesting change came about my junior year.
My junior year, I started listening to old people. This is just a funny way of saying I started listening to music from the ’70’s, ’80’s, and ’90’s. (To clarify: I’m referring to these decades from the 1900’s.* See footnote.) I began listening to the radio more because I had my license, and the emo stuff I was into wasn’t necessarily radio-worthy for the masses. So I settled for classic rock stations and fell in love. At first, it was Led Zeppelin and Nirvana, and then I met a quiet girl with a wicked sharp taste in music who introduced me to Queens of the Stone Age (not necessarily old music), the Toadies, Meat Puppets, Hole, Soundgarden; after her, I met my boyfriend, who gave me Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots. And so this era of classic rock/grunge shit is what I live by now. It’s what my heart beats to.
All of this is leading up to my pathetic ignorance of pop culture. Backstory is always critical to understanding; you need to know exactly how naive I am.
I’m quite removed from pop/hip-hop/trap music– so much so, that I don’t even know the proper descriptor of modern mainstream music. My closest friends have music tastes that are sisters or cousins to mine, and I don’t watch TV or listen to the radio anymore. I’m on social media, but just the bare minimum. So there’s a huge dissociation in my life.
I also want to mention that I don’t think the popular music of today is any lesser than my personal tastes. There are definitely pop songs that I do enjoy a lot, but the rest just isn’t for me. Kind of like how some people like ingesting cyanide, but that’s not really my personal preference. (I jest.)
Anyway, I was at work the other night, and a few of my coworkers were talking about Kanye West’s new album. Now, I know enough to know who Kanye is, and that he’s married to Kim Kardashian and has a child named after a direction on a compass rose. But I don’t really know any of his music, and I was curious about finding out, so I asked:
“Kanye sings ‘Heartless,’ right? What else does he sing though?”
The one girl started naming songs that all sounded obscure and foreign to my knowledge. Maybe I’d heard them at Forever 21 or something, but I couldn’t pick them out by name. Then I said this hideous piece of idiocy:
“Well I know Kanye sings ‘Hotline Bling’ and ‘Started from the Bottom’–”
The girl looked at me. “Are you serious? That’s Drake.”
Their disappointment was palpable. The other girl laughed and shook her head, the one guy chuckled in pity. I was so embarrassed.
“Oh my god, I’m sorry. I’m so uninformed; okay, I know who Drake is…” My words didn’t have my back on this one. I had to live with the consequences of my choices–and the consequences were razor-sharp. I also should mention that the group of co-workers I was speaking to were all black and I started panicking that they’d tease me about thinking “all black guys look alike.” It really wasn’t that I thought Drake and Kanye were the same person, it was just that all modern rap music blurs together for me. Even now–here–, I am being trapped by my words in my frantic attempt to justify my lack of knowledge.
So, the next day I researched Kanye West to see what was wrong with me, and also what was all the commotion with the Grammy’s that people were posting about on Facebook. (It is probably no surprise that I did not watch the Grammy’s, and if asked, I would have legitimately guessed that it was a movie award program.) During my research of the Grammy’s, I watched a video where Stephen Colbert explained the situation and I had some laughs, but amidst the clip, I noticed Stephen referred to Kanye as “Yeezy.”
I had heard “Yeezy” before, but I never knew who it was. So I looked that up, and I guess this mysterious “Yeezy” figure is actually Kanye.
At this point I feel seriously alien to my culture. Who else is parading around as multiple personalities? What’s next? That people are going to tell me that Eminem and Slim Shady are one and the same? What other popular icons am I confusing with each other? Is there some other girl who actually sings Vanessa Hudgens’s “Good for You”? How do I prevent publically humiliating myself like that again?
I’ve decided that I will never speak on pop culture again. Until I Google every single artist, research every slang word on Urban Dictionary, and listen to every pop song and its Vine spin-off, I will never comment or inject myself into a conversation about pop culture ever again. I will quietly observe my peers discussing their modern culture as I keep listening to the angsty lyrics of old bands.
*=I mention this because of a funny story. In high school, I was browsing through our school library, which is very outdated and untouched; it’s only ever utilized for the computers in it. I came across an encyclopedic book series about music, one of them entitled “Music of the ’90’s.” I said to myself, “Well, I like ’90’s music; I’ll give this a read-through.” But when I opened it, it was about the music of the 1890’s. And so that gives you a little insight as to how ancient our high school library is.