Musical criticism and commentary

It’s Ok to Like Bad Music

Hear No evil, see no evil, speak no evil - and bad music might be the worst kind of evil.

Bad music can change your mood, but not in the ways you might expect. I was having a pretty crappy day. Honestly – I’ve had a lot of crappy days recently. The last year has probably been the worst year of my life…but I digress. I got out of the house and to one of my favorite coffee shops to maybe get a little work done. When I walked into said coffee shop, I heard a song that’s always comforted me. That song – Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway.” As the tears dripped from my eyes, I felt a huge burden lift from my shoulders.

Those of you who know me might feel shocked at my reaction to “Breakaway.” By writing this – I kind of out myself as a Kelly Clarkson fan. I know her songs aren’t that great, and honestly the critic in me says her songs are mindless pop drivel – but I still love them. Again, they comfort me. They also bring out penned emotions. Kelly Clarkson songs just make me feel, ahem, stronger.

Why divulge this information? Maybe it’s just because a writer holds no secrets. We try to – but in the end we realize our secrets make great stories! Or maybe I just want to give you permission to like bad music.

After all – bad music serves as a source of comfort!

For the third time, I proclaim this: “Breakaway” gives me a sense of comfort. I feel like a child, listening to something simple, yet full of emotion. Every time I find myself in “Little Aaron’s” mind, I get a sense of comfort. With the song “Breakaway,” the storytelling nature of the lyrics engineers this feeling. We have, in “Breakaway,” a person who as a child, wanted to get away from her small town. We don’t know why – but neither does the little girl. Just as we don’t quite always know what’s wrong with our own hearts. We just need to breakaway. The little girl in the song does breakaway, and she chases her dreams and succeeds in her ambitions. To see this – a little girl’s dreams come true – and to put ourselves in her shoes….how comforting is that?

And what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!

Bad music often times features overproduction, a wall of instrumentation, strong, fast beats, and cheerful lyrics. There’s a reason for this – these qualities pump you up. No matter how bad the song, a strong beat will energize the listener. Add a memorable, catchy, chorus, and you’ve got a song to hype up anyone receptive to hype. This happens with the song “Stronger (What doesn’t kill you).” This also happens with Olivia Newton John’s “Physical.” Yes -ONJ’s Physical might make me roll my eyes – so shallow – but there’s a reason ever early 80s workout routine used this song. People responded positively – it told them they could do this workout thing! “Physical” told them they could get in shape and maybe even have fun in the process.

The nostalgia factor.

My formative years are littered with bad music, mostly from top 40 radio. Sure, I listened to a lot of U2, but I also listened to cringe worthy songs such as “C’mon and Get my Love” by Cathy Dennis and D Mob. Recently I said Paula Abdul’s “Strait up” was kind of my jam. Of course, there were more than a few times that I blasted the song ‘We Built this City” by (ugg) Starship (so not Jefferson Airplane!). You know what? I still enjoy all of those songs, as well as several other musical atrocities from that era. These songs connect me to my past. These might be bad songs, but the nostalgia factor makes up for the fact that these songs should not have been written. Ever. By listening now to the bad songs I loved when I was a Junior High kid, I feel the same things I felt back then – but through a 42 year old lens. I no longer worry about questions like,”does that girl like me?” I don’t worry about being a dorky, awkward (pre) teen. Instead, I just feel the warmth and happiness I took for granted in the late 80s.

Bad Music gets us off our high horses!

A few years ago, I talked about snobbery. Life is too short to turn your nose up at things that are meant purely for “entertainment value.” True – I much prefer that which stimulates my intellect, but sometimes we just need to cut loose and disengage our brains. This stands especially true with music.

Take for instance, dance music. Sure – we have extremely talented electronica arts such as Erasure and Ladytron. We also have what I would call “Cut and paste tripe” we get from artists like Girl Talk. A few years ago, as part of the now defunct Musicfest NW, Girl Talk played at Pioneer Courthouse Square. I happened to walk by during Girl Talk’s set, and was fully appalled  by the utter shit music. It was literally a couple bad pop songs sampled, with a few cliché ridden beats. I snubbed my nose at the “noise” and went on my way. Still, an entire city block full of people danced and enjoyed themselves. Even those that knew the “music” was tripe, didn’t seem to care! So – who was the bigger fool? The people enjoying themselves, or the middle aged snob refusing to have a good time?

Goin past dance music, bad music, even really bad music, can be fun. Take for instance Vanilla Ice’s “Ninja Rap II.” This is a rewrite of the song “Ninja Rap” which was written to promote one of the 90s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies. However, Ninja Rap II scraps the TMNT theme and instead makes it a song about how Vanilla Ice is too underground and revolutionary for MTV. This sounds like a horrid song, right? It is! Ninja Rap II is not only bad music, but probably one of the wort songs ever written! And I listen to this song about once a month. It’s a good way to disengage my brain and freaking have fun. Granted, even admittance of this song’s existence should ban me for life from any and all future music blogging. Sometimes though – you just have to have fun.

Bad Music is a subjective term anyways.

I’m sure a lot of you – especially those who listen to pop music – just leaped in joy after reading this heading. You probably wanted to yell “that’s just your opinion!” from the first paragraph, right? It’s true – “bad music” really is subjective. Not everyone will like what you like, and certainly not everyone will like what I like. That’s ok! That’s how we get the diverse genres of music we all love!

I have a theory for song rating. Take a three dimensional cube, with an axis for lyrics, complexity, and performance. A song with shallow lyrics and simple composition and sung by Yoko Ono will have a -10, -10, -10. A song with incredibly deep and profound lyrics, an incredibly complex composition, and performed perfectly will rate as a 10,10,10. But I digress. The point being, there are several factors in rating a song – and if the song is bad or good.

To Everything, there is a Season.

We need balance sometimes. Yes – it’s ok to listen to a -10,-10, -10 song – but if that’s all you’re listening to, that’s kind of a bad thing. Still, refusing to listen to anything but 10,10,10 songs makes us snobby and ultimately robs us of a million miles of fun, it Steals our Sunshine!

The Byrds, quoting King David of Israel, put it best, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” We need to know the time for bad music, and the time for good music. We need to know the time to hate bad music, and the time to hate snobbery. The key here: find the balance. Let me know if you find said balance – I desperately need some! I’m still listening to Kelly Clarkson belt out “Since you’ve been gone.”