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Two Cents Presents: How 45 seconds with my radio forced me to face my music snobbery

Posted on 02 April 2011 by Mylynda Guthrie

I walked to my car at 4:51 a.m. today, hunched and shivering against the persevering Ohio winter wind. I cleared just enough space in the windshield’s lacy frost to make out the familiar corners and stops on my daily route, and gently encouraged my car to accelerate towards work. I was idling at the day’s first red light when the silence hit me…I had forgotten my cds.

“Well, I guess I can turn on the radio,” I thought. After all, there were still millions of people listening to radio stations every day – so listening to popular radio for the remaining 8 minutes of my drive shouldn’t have been torturous.”You’re not that condescending, Mylynda!” I proclaimed, and hit the dial.

Ah, wrong!

I have somehow absorbed enough of the current state of pop-culture to recognize Katy Perry’s voice, so it registered immediately that I was hearing the kitschy star. I listened in sleepy bemusement to an electronically tweaked melody about her wanting to be kissed by an alien and infected with his poison and shot with his supersonic lasers, but the real turn for the worse came when a then-unidentified-male voice chimed in with the following:

“I know a bar out in Mars
Where they driving spaceships instead of cars
Cop a prada space suit about the stars
Getting stupid hah straight up out the jars
Pockets on shrek, rockets on deck
Tell me whats next? Alien sex.
Imma disrobe you
Then Imma probe you
See I abducted you
So I tell you what to do”

I hit the dial again. Silence became decidedly golden.
There was a lot for me to be shocked by in that 15 seconds. “Imma disrobe you, then Imma probe you.” Really? Who wrote this crap? Later I got online and searched the song, which confirmed that it was indeed Katy Perry and that the unidentified rapper with the simplistic yet shocking lyrics was none other than Kanye West. For a split second I was confused, because I know a lot of respectable people and publications that hail Kanye’s consistent artistic intelligence. I also learned that the video just came out yesterday, March 31st, and that it already had over 2 million views and counting on YouTube. It’s hard for me to justify exactly why, but I felt pretty chafed by the entirety of it even though it had/has nothing to do with me and I had every freedom to do exactly as I did: turn it off.
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This post isn’t the first time I’ve tried to write out why I embrace indie music, and why mainstream media just tends to rub me the wrong way. Again, it has nothing to do with me, but I guess it just disturbs me to think of this darling little tween singing “tell me what’s next? Alien sex!” in to her hairbrush. And I don’t even have kids! I’m still working on being a grown-up myself. Whatever the reasons, I just can’t help it – I absolutely hate that song. I hate that people are already listening to it and enjoying it, and I hate that it will continue to line the pockets of Capitol execs. And most of all…I hated that Perry singing “Kiss me, Ki-Ki-Kiss me”  was stuck in my head all night. There is really nothing to that song. The lyrics – hers, too -are ridiculous. What really saves it from being rubbish is the beat, which is admittedly catchy in itself.

Apparently I AM A TOTAL MUSIC SNOB. How did this happen? I was raised by parents who didn’t even listen to classic stuff like the golden oldies or Bob Dylan; my mom’s favorite band is Journey and my dad listens to every popular song on radio and television from the ’70s to today…I don’t think I have actually ever seen him in possession of an album. My brother was in to what my dad was in to, then he was in to rap, then he was in to Taking Back Sunday and Dashboard Confessional (because I was…aww, those were the golden years), and now he swears by techno. He thinks it’s the effing bees’ knees, and there is no telling him otherwise.

I wouldn’t rather bleed out my ears then hear my preferred genres like I know some metalheads or classical enthusiasts would, but I still think most popular music today is completely awful. Once in a while though something I love crosses over and I can’t help feeling possessive and sad for its departure into megastardom. For instance, I became enamored with Mumford & Sons when I stumbled on a great performance from Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current’s YouTube channel. I eagerly played it for my alt-bluegrass loving betrothed, and we downloaded the album, listening to it all night long and dancing around our living room. Not two weeks later, Mumford & Sons played the Grammys and now they’re all over the place. A 40-something business woman who is usually a complete snot to me while ordering her “skinny vanilla latte, NO foam, seriously no foam” picked it up the other day, letting me know she “loved this new band” and telling me I should listen to it. I didn’t know whether to feel happy for her that a little bit of wonderful had crept in to her life and now her cd player, or reproachful.

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However, I guess cliches go all ways. It’s not often you hear a Belle and Sebastian fan hailing Swingin’ Utters or an Iron and Wine enthusiast praising the genius of Stormtroopers of Death.

I don’t really know where I’m going with this, to be honest. I’m sure I could go on forever and we could run in circles in the comments thread as well over which genre is best or why popular music is so overwhelmingly popular, and what is wrong with society today. Or we could wax about how we should be worrying about earthquakes and oil spills and poverty and not fighting over music – one of the only things that is supposedly universally binding – and I do agree with all that to some degree. This is an evergreen topic explored by many people, and there’s really no conclusion because music is subjective. I want to say I’m a true appreciator of music and art, and that I can see the value in any music and appreciate it for what it is, and what the artist was going for. I want to say that I’m not a snob.

But I just can’t help it. I hate that anyone could love that stupid song.

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