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Music in the Top 40 should not be discounted: In defense of popular music

Popularity of a song should not dictate the value of its content, meaning or capacity to be enjoyed.

By Melanie Sharif. Originally published on April 22nd, 2016.

If you’ve spent time around someone with “specialized” music tastes, odds are, you’ve heard someone bash Top 40 music and/or be judged for liking Top 40 music.

Reasons for Top 40-bashing range from ad hominem fallacies like, “Jason Derulo is garbage, you shouldn’t listen to that,” to arguments that try harder, like, “your interest in corporate fodder reflects your true unoriginality.”

Regardless of the logic behind believing Top 40 music is fundamentally subpar, the glue that holds this alternative point of view together is a belief that “popular” music is beneath us.

Now, of course, I can understand why some hold onto this notion, immediately dismissing anyone who dares play the Billboard Hot 100 in their private moments. There are days when tuning into pop music on the radio makes me cringe, or on special days makes me angry enough to tell a recording of Ariana Grande to shut up. There are days when I leave the radio on, only because I am too numb to react to something as ostentatiously idiotic as “Shower” by Becky G. There have been moments during which I’ve felt uncontrollable and visceral disgust for people who say that their favorite band is Imagine Dragons, even though I totally love Imagine Dragons.

Pop music can be incredibly annoying, pop is made-to-order, it can be devoid of any artistic integrity: these things are all true. However, the noteworthy problem here doesn’t lie with the content, but rather the form. Obviously, it bothers me that middle-aged men and women alike make careers out of predicting what kind of lyrics will resonate most with my emotionally fickle demographic. It hurts to be manipulated, even if it’s done by someone that I don’t know. Clearly, I can recognize the relative emptiness of many of the songs that end up being played by the billions, which are often just overbearing synth beats sandwiched by a key phrase that doesn’t mean anything. But these are form problems, not content problems. Although the music industry seems to accept “souls” as viable currency, some artists manage to keep theirs intact and get radio play.

I shamelessly enjoy my fair share of Top 40, because some of it is good. Some of it is unbearable, but I consider that to be the bad music of “bad” music. What is music taste if not another way to joyfully tout our innate individualism? When you listen to a song, you are undergoing an exciting individual process — you’re engaging with art. Music is a special art form where both the creator and the spectator are a part of the artistic process. Although it’s just noise, music means something to all of us, which isn’t a very common thing; it just seems to “mean the most” when it reflects genuine emotion or invokes special meaning in you, for whatever reason.

Considering an affinity for Top 40 to be an automatic reason to discount someone’s taste in music is akin to discounting someone’s sense of smell because they like the smell of roses and you don’t. Music snobbery is irksome because it’s as intellectually flaccid as any other snobbery; it’s not distinguished because it’s about art.

You shouldn’t feel the slightest guilt about enjoying a Top 40 song, sober or not. Although I don’t have a great cry to One Direction, pop music is fun to dance and sing to and it can convey meaning just as much as a very indie band you have never heard of. It’s up to you how much you’d like to celebrate the conveyance of that meaning, even if it’s by dancing your heavy, self-hating little heart out.

Originally published in print and online in Pipe Dream Newspaper displayed here. Article is displayed on current domain with express written permission.

Melanie Sharif