Reflection: Mainstream and Independent Music

The dilemma of not listening to mainstream music

Happiness is only real when shared. At least, that’s what I know and admittedly believe, no matter how much I do not want to. Is enjoying music similar?

When I first heard Drake and Rihanna’s collaboration “Too Good”, I knew it was going to be my jam. How can it not be with lyrics like “I got high as your expectations”? These words stick and sting to a generation that have been emotional train wrecks.  Every one of my friends who heard it connected – and there is satisfaction in knowing they felt the same.

In the latest Sam Smith concert in Manila, the whole crowd was singing at the top of their lungs, myself included. It felt great being in a community of people who loved music, felt pain and was unapologetic about it.

And as a pastime, I’ve always been fond of doing karaoke with friends. I don’t have the best voice. In fact, lousy is an understatement. I guess all it takes is confidence and a bunch of people who will tolerate you at your worst. And yet there is magic in finally belting out that Bonnie Tyler classic “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and Britney Spears’s “Sometimes”.

Yet, there seems to be a big disconnect between what the majority seem to enjoy and what critics and an influential minority prefer.

I’ve always thought there was something elitist and highbrow about the distinction continually made in reviews and “greatest-tracks-there-ever-were” lists that get published. It must be about not fitting in and standing out in a group that have one view.  Being mainstream and listening to Top 40 music is trashy and uncool. It’s simplistic and there might be a grain of truth in it.

This year I gave it a shot and made an active effort to ignore my basic instinct. I looked at reviews and chose Mitski, Parquet Courts and Chance the Rapper over the new Pitbull offering. I could not help but agree with critics who looked the other way. Not in the sense that most of top 40 music is horrible, but that there are undiscovered gems that deserve attention.

Experiencing a shift in musical preference is not easy. I rarely find someone to talk to about it. I cannot play it in a car and expect everyone to sing along. In a sense, the social experience that made music enjoyable disappears.

And while it is tragic to lose the connection, there is beauty in solitude, and appreciating music independent of what the circle I move in feel about it. The importance of lyrics and melodies magnify. It gives me more time to think of the vocalist’s emotions, and at times, mine too. I got to hear the most unconventional arrangements and stylings that electronic dance music can never come up with. Suddenly, a 9-minute, haunting, unconventional David Bowie track make sense in a playlist shared with Shawn Mendes.

Yes, music is real when shared, and it is as well when it isn’t. I got to discover a lot taking music out of social situations, and I guess the same is true for many things in life as well. So much music in the world and all of them are beautiful.

Playlist inspired by Dancing on My Own:


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