What Your Uncool Music Tastes Can Teach You

I’ve become something of a Carly Rae Jepsen fan recently, and I’m not sure how I feel about telling you that. She’s the epitome of bubble-gum pop music (remember the summer hit “Call Me Maybe”?), not a genre I normally hit up for my tunes.

So why am I owning it?

First of all, TRY THIS ON FOR SIZE:

Beat that for catchiness.

Secondly, and more important for this post, if you have music you love which you’re slightly embarrassed to enjoy, you’re on the verge of learning something valuable about yourself.

You can learn that your personality – something that has a lot to do with the music you choose – is probably much more complex than you thought. You can know that you probably haven’t fully integrated all the parts of your personality into how you roll as a human being.

We all cast ourselves a certain way with our music tastes. We define ourselves in advance and group ourselves into tribes. “Cool” is all relative to which tribe you fit into.

Me? I like dour, rootsy Americana and alt-country songs about depression and history and hard times and stuff. It may be a bit niche, but it’s still and intellectual and non-mainstream, and it’s totally cool with the other folks in the roots music tribe. No one’s going to really give me a hard time for liking it, so it’s easy to own up to fandom and that particular musical self-image.

But just when you think you’ve figured yourself out, some new, extremely catchy or danceable or compelling or inspiring music comes along and catches your ear. It’s also usually not “cool” for you to like it – especially if you’re part of another musical tribe. You usually used to think it was garbage yourself.

It’s a humbling experience learning to own my Carly Rae Jepsen fandom, for instance. When I’m at a stoplight and blaring that Canadian pop singer, I might get some looks from the other cars. I definitely get some inner commentary from my inner music snob.

I’m OK with it, though. For me, developing “embarrassing” and “uncool” music tastes is a great signal to me that I’m more complicated than I thought. I’m not just a serious, broody, intellectual guy who listens to the Drive-By Truckers and Whiskeytown and Gillian Welch and Son Volt (I still love those bands and songwriters). I’m not just a part of one tribe.

Thanks to the pop music I’ve come to appreciate – Taylor Swift is also killing it right now, FYI – I’ve had to identify and express the really light and optimistic and youthful side of my personality. In the past few years, I’ve become an extravert after being a pretty solid introvert, and I’d say a basic non-snobbishness (if still critical skepticism) for pop has been one side effect. That’s been a legitimate surprise for me, especially because I don’t think I’ve ever related to pop music.

It doesn’t stop there. I have plenty of uncool musical tastes that would totally not fly in the court of coolness.

Through country music artists like Hank Williams or Buck Owens, for example, I connect with my traditionalist good ol’ boy side. I am, after all, still a farmboy at heart. While this kind of music is going to make most peoples’ ears bleed, it feeds my soul.

You might think that my musical tastes for Carly Rae Jepsen or Hank Williams (and trust me, there are more anomalies, like musicals and film scores and punk-ish rock and Celtic folk music and religious music and Disney movie soundtracks) are somehow embarrassing to me. That used to be the case. Today, I’ll totally take you out to the dance floor for any of them, whether it’s “Call Me Maybe” or “Hey Good Lookin.”

I’m comfortable with liking what I like because I’ve learned that there’s a reason for it. I have all of these contradictory and usually uncool tastes in music because they all express some important parts of how I enjoy life. To paraphrase the jaded wisdom teacher of Ecclesiates (even he would like Jepsen’s new single), for everything there is a genre, and a niche music taste for every matter under heaven. As I learn to accept my weird tastes in music, I get closer to a fuller experience of life.

So what are your uncool musical tastes? What do you like singing to in the shower that most people would look at askance? Maybe they have something to teach you. Listen to them.

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James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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