The Music That Makes Us

Artwork by Liz Benjamin

Artwork by Liz Benjamin

by Nada Alturki

If you were to ask me what my music preference is, I would not know how to answer.  This has become a commonality amongst younger generations, largely due to the growing accessibility of music through cheaper streaming and easy downloads.  It seems to be a popular opinion that our music taste is predominantly influenced by our parents, and this is the case for most people. I agree they play a role in introducing us to our initial taste of music, but it is more like a parenting requirement, isn’t it? Just like they do their best to prepare us for the harshness and brutality of a world that we have yet to enter, they gave us the best of their most comforting music. I still listen to “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” by B.J. Thomas on those sad days when the world can’t seem to shine, and I recall my mother adding her whole music library on my electric blue iPod Nano when I was 10, along with ABBA’s Greatest Hits and Gloria Gaynor’s anthem “I Will Survive.” Fleetwood Mac has made its way into my heart because my father played “Go Your Own Way” over and over on our road trips across Canada. But as I shuffle through my Apple Music library, I am faced with disparate results:

It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)— The 1975

Old Friend— Mitski

Ruthless— The Marias

On the Sunshine— Spiritualized

How did I get from the nostalgic disco sound of “Dancing Queen” to listening to the grunge Nirvana? Well, here is my attempt at analyzing my music taste and its journey through an expanse of varying genres until I settled on all of them.

Like any other 11-year-old girl, I had idolized teen pop sensations like Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus, filling up all my free time with Wizards of Waverly Place and Hannah Montana reruns. I would memorize every lyric to Selena Gomez and The Scene’s albums, and hold up a hairbrush to my face as I sang to my bedroom about how much “nerve” I had. The pop music at the time had encompassed my pre-teen music taste and had consisted of not much else. I wouldn’t say pop music is something I find tasteful now, but I do enjoy hitting the shuffle on the Top 40s every once in a while: it reminds me of a simpler time when we had no real expectations or standards for anything. Not even music. Even now, whenever “Party in the USA” comes on at any occasion, it never fails to get the whole room to sing along.

According to an article by The New York Times, the peak age for music taste influence is 13 for women and age 14 for men, meaning this is when our current (and continuous) taste for music slowly begins to formulate itself. As I started curating my own playlists and leaving my mother’s behind, it was more of a starting-over point for me. This is where I began identifying what type of music makes up what genre and experimenting with my preferences in music instrumentation and compilation. At 13, I found that there was an art to writing lyrics, and Taylor Swift’s ”Enchanted” was my idea of lyrical genius. Middle school was lonely and Taylor told me all about her heartbreaks and made mine a little more tolerable. Now still, she becomes a friend again on days when the tears won’t stop.

High School, for me, was not much different. I had started at a new High School program, and my iPhone 5 had become my lunch buddy. I remember the moment I listened to The 1975 for the first time, eating lunch in one of the classrooms alone; I play the 9th song on their self-titled, hear the bass guitar, and fall in love with the sound of Matthew Healy screaming at me to “settle down.” Their sound had opened my eyes to a vein of music that I did not know could exist. I heard in them my father’s favorite 80s tunes, recreated to sound like Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen had a love child. They remain my favorite artist to this day because they remind me of the first time I felt a song move me to tears. Not because it was sad or the lyrics were well-crafted, but because you could hear the passion through every crack of Healy’s voice and every strum Adam Hann makes. It was love for the power of music at its purest form. That later introduced me to the world of alternative music: all throughout high school I took refuge behind The Killer’s “Mr. Brightside” and took comfort in The Stroke’s despaired “Is This It.” My library had consisted of Catfish and the Bottlemen, The xx, and Lana Del Rey: the true indie rock started kit. As many of you may relate, this is every indie kid’s beginning.

It was only when I got to college, and everyone seemed to be entranced by “The Chain,” that I really began to return to my “oldie” roots. I listened to Fleetwood Mac again, embracing the sweet sounds of Frank Sinatra, introduced to me by my grandfather, and pretending I was the “Brown Eyed Girl” Van Morrison was talking about. I also found, like many others, that college is where my music taste had started to broaden its horizons. I met people who grew up with French music, R&B, reggaeton, and hip-hop; that was all they knew. These relationships had been concrete, and so was their influence on how I viewed and interpreted different genres and styles of music. I was never a fan of rap, but Biggie Smalls’ music is now a reason to smile because I remember my friends butchering “Everyday Struggle” at my first karaoke. When a boy I was fascinated with decided I wasn’t worth his time, I turned to  Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou”. The band Spiritualized is a symbol for my lively summer and all the poetry that came of it.

I find that is why my music taste is label-less. It is anything and everything. I appreciate every genre for all that it is, and all that’s done for me. I never grew up on Biggie or Nirvana, but they slowly made their way into my life, one person, one memory, at a time. We use various genres to lift us up when we’re down, or speak to us when we’re lonely, or resonate with us when we feel lost. Music is a time machine and a portable source of comfort; it had been with us through so much, and still takes us back to those key moments that made us who we are today.  

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