Celebrating our relationship with popular music
If you had a good rummage around the nether regions of your wardrobe, would you emerge with a Panic! At The Disco hoodie and a collection of unfathomably tight skinny jeans? Does the haunting, solitary piano opening of ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’ urge something deep inside you to demand silence in the room and perform a heartfelt rendition of the entire song? Perhaps you were a die-hard Belieber, or even a One Direction devotee? The condescending music snobs of the world have schooled us to feel shame if we fit into any of these categories; we should be embarrassed when we remember every lyric to the anthems of our past idols and un-tag ourselves from those fiendish Facebook photos exposing our overzealous eyeliner stage.
Rather than shun whatever phases we went through in our youth however, instead we should consider what they reveal about how our interactions with popular music have changed and developed as we’ve grown older. What was it that made the music of our teenage years so intrinsically a part of us, and what happens to that connection as we grow older?
For my part, I was one little bobbing mess of backcombed hair in the sea of side fringes flooding the entrance to Glasgow Central Station every Saturday afternoon. My blue clip-on hair extension was quite noticeably fraying and I couldn’t apply eye liner to save myself, but that didn’t matter – I was part of a community, amongst the skinny jean soldiers who cared nothing for the pettiness of high school politics. But it was more than the elation of outsiders banding together which influenced my adoration of Fall Out Boy and Funeral for a Friend, whether I was aware of it or not. The emocore music genre (shortened to emo) is, as the name suggests, rapt in emotion – everything from misery to heartbreak, shame or anger. Scientists have discovered that when we listen to sad music, our brains release the chemical Prolactin which is essential to our capacity to deal with grief. Rather than exacerbating feelings of isolation or angst (a fear common amongst concerned parents and peers) it has been argued that listening to emo music is in this regard a form of therapy for teenagers – a safe way of attempting to come to terms with the hormonal pandemonium of puberty.
Daniel Levitin, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Laboratory for Music Perception at McGill University in Montreal, spoke of the relationship between young teenagers and popular music in an interview for the New York Times in 2014:
“Fourteen is a sort of magic age for the development of musical tastes. Pubertal growth hormones make everything we’re experiencing including music, seem very important. We’re just reaching a point in our cognitive development when we’re developing our own tastes. And musical tastes become a badge of identity.”
The bands we worshiped at this stage in our development dictated how we dressed, the people we wanted to hang out with and the places we wanted to be. Their lyrics spoke to us, the singers became our heroes. The music, as Levetin argues, became integral to our identity. This goes not only for young emocore enthusiasts, but for any and all music fandoms (or ‘bandoms’) amongst adolescents. As we grow older, and our personalities and musical tastes settle more concretely, the suggestion is that we no longer need this connection and listen instead for enjoyment. We can appreciate the musical quality of the albums which meant the world to us, and the creative output of new artists we discover, without getting completely wrapped up in their emotional significance.
However, possibly due to the fact that I study music and the strong affinity I feel with the music I listen to heavily influenced my decision on this account, I don’t believe this emotional connection is totally lost as we mature. A factor I think is being overlooked is quite simple – time. At 14/15, though we had exams and plenty of homework, for the majority of us no part time jobs, money worries or shrivelling self-doubts about the future occupied our free time. Music fans relished in devoting weekends to attending gigs, listening to every album of our favourite artists on repeat and collecting myriad memorabilia.
At 16, my bedroom was a shrine to the Fab Four; I had posters, keyrings, t-shirts, sheet music and anthologies of the CD, book and DVD format. I had facts about John Lennon sprouting out my ears and could have sailed through a Mastermind style interrogation on the life of George Harrison. What I couldn’t do was keep up this level of devotion as the pressures of life started to mount. This summer I decided that I owed my 16 year old self a long overdue pilgrimage – with time on my hands, I travelled with a friend to Liverpool and behaved like a shameless tourist and ecstatic fangirl in the home of the Beatles. In the crowd for a tribute act in the Cavern Club I felt genuinely emotional, a mix of nostalgia pickled with an overwhelming sense of belonging. The love I had for this band never completely left me – it had been subdued, but never silenced.
From Escape the Fate to Gareth Gates, young persons’ fixations on particular branches of popular music are always going to exist – and that’s a good thing. I’m not saying get out the ‘I heart Charlie’ teddy and start sharing YouTube links to obscure Busted songs every day, but nevertheless believe we should absolutely be proud of the phases which helped shape our responses to music up until, and beyond, this very day.
[Laura O’Donnell – @lozzodozz]