What is bad music? It’s a question that I, along with numerous other journalists and bloggers—even college professors—across the U.S. have asked myself on countless occasions. Does bad music even exist if the true purpose of the medium is to entertain? In this case, as long as there is at least one person enjoying what has been created, there is no such thing.
That being said, there are some artists out there who are just objectively bad. Never once have I heard someone hail Tyga as a lyrical genius—a musical prodigy forging new frontiers in the characteristically misogynistic and vapid genre that is rap. Even our very own Old Duke headliner, Lil Jon, is simply just not a good artist; it’s hard to argue when some of his most reputable lyrics are “shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots” and “bend over make ya knees touch ya elbows.”
Why, then, are these artists some of the most successful in the music industry? Is it because of their inherent musical superiority? Because their lyrics offer thought-provoking insights into the perils of modern-day society? Perhaps it’s because the common themes of money, drugs and women in their music relate to the life of the average music listener.
Or maybe it’s because these artists, similar to large companies like McDonald’s or Walmart, have found and exploited their positions in the present-day consumerist society. When Lil Jon incessantly shouts “shots,” he’s not selling alcohol (to an extent), he’s selling the good times, the carefree feeling that shots can bring. It’s not about how good the music is, it’s about how good the feeling the music sells is. Do we actually like the unce-unce of club music or the bass drops characteristic of most of today’s top hits, or do we like the feelings we’ve been conditioned to associate them with? If the answer is yes, it offers an explanation as to why we, the general public, like repetitive music, music that our parents will tell us “all sounds the same.” It especially offers an explanation as to why “Closer” sounds so much better after we’ve heard it at frat parties a couple of times.
This doesn’t mean that music geared to sell stereotypical consumerist ideals is intrinsically worse than music that does not feign to be anything more than it is. The meshing of music and ideas has, arguably, made music production more efficient and effective in achieving its end goal of entertainment. And if the end goal of music is entertainment, there’s nothing bad to be said about the music listener who enjoys a certain type of music because it makes them happy, even if that happiness is more the result of branding than anything else.
While unabashed consumption in almost any other sphere of society has detrimental consequences, such as public health concerns associated with eating too much junk food or environmental degradation associated with over-development, it’s hard to argue that one individual’s consumption of “bad” music has any tangible effect on society as a whole. My unbridled consumption of Lil Uzi Vert’s new single, other than potentially perpetuating a self-indulgent value system, won’t raise your taxes like my unbridled consumption of Big Macs will.
So is bad music actually bad, or is it just yet another advertising success story? It’s an issue that is still up for debate. Regardless, there continues to be an odd sense of superiority associated with the medium, despite the fact that one person’s consumption affects others’ very little. Are the consumers of “bad” music lesser because they have fallen victim to the advertising tactics of the music industry? Or are they the smart ones because they have figured out how to efficiently and effectively be entertained? These are questions that are not only unanswerable, but questions I will not be thinking about as I shamelessly scream “shots” with Lil Jon this Thursday evening.
Georgina Del Vecho is a Trinity sophomore and Playground editor.