As I was running the other day, I found my mind wandering. I found myself thinking about two of my favorite things in life: music and beer. I consider myself a connoisseur of sorts of them both, and tend to prefer the same characteristics in both. In beers, I tend to go for darker, more complex brews, like porters and stouts, and disdain the mass-produced, simpler beers that are so popular in America. At times, however, a dark beer just is not appropriate; for example, on a hot summer day. In those scenarios, I will opt for a lighter, more refreshing beer, but still will eschew the typical light beers in favor of a micro brew with a heartier taste.
Similarly, my passion when it comes to music is metal, a dark and complex genre that is not known for its accessibility. I prefer music that can reveal new nuances even after dozens of listens. Also, I like music that is unexpected. On the first listen, a song that takes an unexpected turn, breaks into a surprising melody, is refreshing and exciting. But again, there are some times that I want something simpler, and in those scenarios, I typically listen to acoustic, folksy, Americana bands like Old Crow Medicine Show or Punch Brothers. While not as intense or complicated as most metal, they nonetheless offer a depth that I find most popular music lacking.
However, I had an epiphany while I was running. I am fully aware that metal is not a well-liked genre. And I also realize that strong, dark beers are not for everyone. Tastes and likes are purely subjective, and while I think that Opeth is one of the greatest bands of all time, most people would not be an enamored with them. So what I consider “good” and “bad” are purely subjective labels, and I know for a fact that I am in the minority.
It was this thought that made me realize that while I do not like Coors Light or Justin Beiber, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are bad. They just cater to a different market. Some people don’t want to be challenged when they listen to music; they want something catchy that they can sing and dance along to. Same with beer; a lot of complex beers are not very drinkable and are more savory than thirst-quenching. They simply serve a different purpose.
One perfect example of how pop music works in the venue for which it was meant is during weddings. I normally get bored by songs with a simple 4/4 beat, but at a wedding, I am in the mood to just dance around and act like a bloody fool. Songs by Pitbull or the like are perfect for that. And in that venue, I thoroughly enjoy that music. I am not listening to hear a beautiful layered melody or some crazy polyrhythms. In that moment, I am enjoying music like most people do.
It was for this reason that while I do not typically enjoy music by Nickelback or Nicki Minaj, I cannot in good conscience call it “bad music.” It’s just music that is serving a different purpose. The songs in the top 40 list are very, very good at what they are trying to do; namely, be catchy and infectious. Likewise, the popular beers that I shun are meant to be simple, drinkable, and cheap. They execute that very well too. Just because they cater to a different market does not make them any better or worse than anything else. In fact, many people would claim that technical death metal and coffee stouts are “bad.” It just goes to show you that beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder.