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The Problem With Music Elitism

Music, for all its ability to unite audiences, has the equally compelling power to inspire competition and hatred among a select few people. Certain listeners, or music elitists, feel as though it is their duty to create guidelines surrounding music listenership. Specifically, these people attempt to dictate which types of music are somehow inferior because they don’t align with their own personal preferences.

Here, I’ll define music elitism as “one’s felt sense of superiority over others based on their music taste.” It is an act of gatekeeping, subliminally implemented to keep certain bands only within the reaches of an “ideal” fanbase constructed by the elitists themselves. Music is meant to be inclusive and accessible to all. The second you determine that a genre, artist, or even a song is “off limits” to an audience, you turn music listenership into a quasi-classist affair.

To clarify, music elitism is not simply having a personal dislike of a genre or band. Music is entirely subjective; music elitism is putting down an artist and their fanbase because of the artist’s perceived lack of depth or “mainstream” appearance. It is fine to agree to disagree. It is not okay to adopt a holier-than-thou attitude and belittle people for their personal preferences. This erodes the sense of community and togetherness that music is supposed to inspire.

One common complaint of music elitists who shun a band’s discography is that it isn’t “deep enough.” What this assumes, of course, is that all songwriters aim to create a piece layered with meaning, with cleverly-veiled hints at hidden messages within the lyrics. However, much of modern music is created expressly to be easy on the ears. It is intended to sound good and make people feel good, rather than to spark conversations or debate. This is okay. We need to dismantle the idea that all music exists to be dissected and analyzed within an inch of its life. While some writers find great fulfillment in waxing poetic about romance, the nature of life, or their personal struggles, not all feel this way. Songs can exist simply to be admired and should not be criticized for what they are not.

Yes, one of the most profound joys of listening to music can be the process of deriving meaning from a song. If you’re able to connect with a piece of art and find yourself in it, true self-discovery and emotional resonance can occur. But instead of hating music for what it isn’t, music elitists should embrace it for what it is. For example, a pop song isn’t supposed to have the same hard-hitting, soul-searching lyrics as an indie song. It’s made for mass consumption, and its value is measured more on its ability to be listenable. Its aesthetic is everything. Just because a song isn’t “deep” doesn’t mean that it isn’t good or one worthy of being listened to.

Music elitists also insist that “mainstream” music is inferior music, simply because more people are listening to it. The idea that being played on Top 40 radio or rising to the top of the charts could suddenly make a good band a bad one is absurd. By practicing this behavior, you’re not really a music fan. You’re a fan of trends. You’re a fan of maintaining a certain appearance, the illusion of being superior to the average, casual listener. This behavior goes way beyond the music itself and dives into the stereotypes associated with liking certain genres of music or artists.

My favorite band is one that regularly fills arenas that seat upwards of 10,000 people. Does that make me any less of a “real” music fan? Absolutely not. Artists have no say in how much their music will resonate with the rest of the world. In a world where Spotify and other streaming services exist, music is afforded an unprecedented level of exposure to the general public. Finding a hidden gem or “diamond in the rough” artist is near impossible these days. Instead of trying to outrun the rest of the world, and finding a unique music interest to set yourself apart, give in to the chase. Realize that music listenership was never meant to be a statement of status, or a competition; it is meant to be a harmonious, communal experience, rather than one built on establishing ownership, or putting up barriers around art.

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