What do All Time Low, Yellowcard, Ke$ha, Chingy, and Taylor Swift all have in common? Before you start formulating a bunch of judgy, sarcarstic answers, I’ll just go ahead and say that they’re all artists I’ve typically considered to be “guilty pleasures,” a term I’ve recently begun to deconstruct and reevaluate. What leads us to define a band or an artist as a “guilty pleasure,” and why do we attach a sense of guilt to music that we sincerely enjoy? As someone with an especially eclectic taste in music, I’ve come to accept that my preferences encompass everything from emo, post-hardcore, and indie-folk, to hip hop one hit wonders and even a few irresistibly catchy pop songs that eventually climb their way into the iTunes top 10. And while I wouldn’t have included Miley Cyrus’ “Bangerz” on my “Top 10 Albums of 2013” list, I don’t feel guilty about having enjoyed listening to the entire album multiple times when it came out last fall.
We all have songs in our iTunes or Spotify libraries that we feel slightly embarrassed about, just as we all own music that we consider a little more “cutting edge,” which gives us a certain “indie cred” or makes us feel as though we have more refined tastes. This same description could also be applied to our Netflix queues or our bookshelves; most of us enjoy supplementing our typical cinematic and literary diets with at least a few rom-coms and beach books. Our tastes and desires are often unpredictable; a song will catch our ear or a movie or book will appeal to our senses “just because,” and it’s a bit ludicrous that we feel the need to justify our reasons for liking it and attach so much meaning to something that gives us a certain pleasure.
I certainly have different reasons for liking bands such as The Smiths or From Indian Lakes as compared to bands like All Time Low or New Found Glory. The former are bands I appreciate for their strong musicianship, unique songwriting and lyrical depth, whereas the latter are bands that feel fun and carefree to listen to and usually find their way onto my running or road trip playlists. It wouldn’t feel fair for me to say that From Indian Lakes are a “better” or “more talented” band than All Time Low; they’re just different bands who appeal to different audiences and sensibilities. I’ll admit that the more nuanced, intricately constructed songs that From Indian Lakes write tend to appeal more to my general tastes and senses, but I’ll also admit that All Time Low’s tightly crafted melodies and soaring choruses are total ear candy to me, and I admire the way in which they’re able to deliver such consistently strong, catchy pop punk songs.
I derive a great deal pleasure from listening to pop punk bands and pop singers, and even though I have friends and colleagues who give me shit for listening to them, I don’t attach any guilt or shame to these pleasures. I probably listen to “poppy” bands and artists just as much as I listen to artists in the “indie rock/emo/post hardcore” vein, and I don’t see one grouping of artists as “less than” the other. Rather, I feel like both groups complement each other and lend a nice sense of balance to my listening habits. I mean, I gotta have a little Miley alongside my Morrissey…
Maybe we should consider replacing the term “guilty pleasure” with “just for fun.” It still provides an accurate description of bands and artists who you might not take too seriously or whose lyrics don’t necessarily make you pause and reflect, but it sounds way more positive and accepting. If we reframe our language in this way, it might free us up from feeling that silly sort of guilt and embarrassment that sometimes comes with admitting to your friends that you’re kind of a huge Britney fan (even though you mostly listen to indie rock…) We all have a wide array of preferences and things that appeal to our senses, and sometimes they have no real rhyme or reason. So let’s embrace them all, whether we think they serve to enhance our intellectual prowess or whether they’re “just for fun.”