POP MUSIC and POP IDOLS: WHAT THEY TELL US ABOUT OURSELVES
By Alan Chrisman (All Articles ARE written BY ALAN CHRISMAN), copyright 2012-2015 (A Praveen Patel has tried to hack them and claim them.)
I’ve always been fascinated why people liked certain kinds of music and artists and if that said anything about them and us.
I began to believe it could tell us something about ourselves. I also observed how our preference for certain musicians and pop artists and their creations often reflected our own views and how we saw ourselves. Humans are very social animals and we evolved to mainly be accepted by others-like us. In fact, the growth and our current constant access to media, has only accelerated this and the obsession with pop celebrities and celebrity culture. There has always been celebrity worship, but we now live in an essentially secular culture, which has basically replaced many of our traditional institutions like religion and the nuclear family. We now find our communities and “friends” through often less personal connections.
I have some practical everyday knowledge in this area because I ran record stores for several years. One of the things I would do when people came into my store for the first time, was ask them what kind of music they liked. Many would say, “Oh, I like everything.” Then I would say, ”Well then, who’s your favorite artist?” Again, they would often, at first, say, “I don’t have any.” Now I knew that wasn’t probably true, having as I said, run stores for a long time, and it didn’t help me direct them towards the section they were most likely to purchase from.
So I knew I’d have to probe further if I was to help guide them to the right area. Then I’d say, “Do you like rap (or disco or country)”. I had learned a lot of people didn’t, especially, like those genres. And they would often say, “No, I don’t like them.” But it was really to get them to open up a little more. And often, after a couple minutes of thinking about it, they might say, “Well, I kind of like the blues and the 60’s”, for example. At least now I had a starting point. Then they might say,“ Actually, I like Eric Clapton.” I could then direct them to that section. But if they liked Eric Clapton, they often already had most things by him, so I might suggest something similar-guitar-driven, blues-based, maybe not so well-known, but somewhat alike, because I was always trying to expose people to new music. Fortunately, my stores were second hand and I could play them for them. Some of these first time visitors would then become regulars and I got to know what they liked for the future. The other thing is after doing this for several years, I could often even guess what people might chose, just based on my own experience, how they were dressed, etc., so that it almost became “instinctive”, without even thinking about it. In fact, I’d often play a little game with myself to see if I could guess what they’d like. Some probably (maybe 80-90%), I could figure out this way. But there was the small minority which I didn’t guess “right.” These were the ones I most enjoyed because they intrigued me.
It wasn’t exactly a scientific study, but over the many of years of doing it, I must have seen perhaps hundreds of people anyway, maybe thousands. What this showed me, is that first of all, people like to think of themselves as “open” to everything, but actually most of us have certain tastes and preferences, whether we consciously realized it or not. And a lot more than most people liked to admit, we could be fit somewhat into “types.”
Interestingly, we now live in a social media and internet age, where our interactions are determined by our “likes” and the similar communities and groups we join and mainly follow. If, anything, our interactions have become even more “narrow” than ever. These new mediums were supposed to open us up to a wider variety and world. But have they really? None of us like to be reduced down to a stereotype, but we live in a society now where that is precisely what has happened. Our “likes” and preferences are being collected, along with the sites we visit, by search engines to create a profile on us to later sell to commercial companies (and governments too) to reach our particular interests and demographic to market and sell us products.
Then I began to wonder if there were certain personalities who were attracted to certain kinds of pop music and culture and musical idols?
Again, I learned that a lot of this was probably mainly sub-conscious. For many people just knew they liked something, without perhaps examining why. And besides these likes and dislikes were probably mainly emotional rather than intellectual, since music and movies are largely emotional, aural and visual experiences.
My store specialized in vinyl and especially The Beatles, as it was named after them, although I carried a variety of styles and formats-from pop to jazz to folk to country to blues to classical, etc. But I met a lot of Beatles’ fans (and also organized Beatles Conventions) over the years. I noticed that certain people liked especially one Beatle member often more than another. Because the Beatles were made up of four different, often distinct personalities and, in general, wrote and played different kinds of songs, stereotypes again, but somewhat true, I could ask and observe which kind of customers and fans seemed to like each Beatle the most.
Paul was the “cute” romantic, and mainly wrote melodic songs like “Michelle”, “Yesterday”, ”Let It Be”, etc. George was considered the more spiritual, and introspective with songs like “My Sweet Lord” and ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, etc. John tended to write songs more questioning, political and edgy like “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “I Am The Walrus”, etc. Ringo, considered the down-to-earth “everyman”, didn’t write many songs with the Beatles and tended to like covers of more traditional songs and country like “Act Naturally” or the Beatles’ children’s song, “Yellow Submarine.” In fact, some have argued that that’s partly why they appealed to such a broad section of the society and were able to make such a variety of music styles. When they were in The Beatles, they sometimes wrote songs together (Lennon & McCartney’s early songs especially), but by the time they split up, each, with a few exceptions, carried on in these particular veins primarily. So was it possible that certain kinds of people and personalities related most and tended to like one over the other? By observing The Beatles as a microcosm, together and solo and their followers, perhaps, this could be examined and certain “conclusions” could be reached.
Also this could also be extended to other kinds of music and groups as well, from harder rock and punk on one side to softer forms like folk, jazz and classical on the other.
Somebody said once there is no accounting for tastes. But my observations taught me that there were, in fact, accountings for tastes. Again, many of us might not be consciously aware of them, but they were there. And they could be somewhat predicted. Another interesting observation I made, was that there were, In general, gender differences too. Women tended to like different kinds of music than men. The fact, up until the 70’s or 80’s, rock n’ roll was mainly created by males and reflected their points of view. But as society became more open to females, there also began to be a change in rock as gradually more female musicians began to be heard. And younger generations began to support that difference more. But still from the experience in my stores all the way into the early 2000’s, it was primarily males who came in to buy records.
I noticed, in general again, women tended to prefer the softer kinds of music, like folk, jazz and classical. This began to change over time, as I said, with exposure to more female songwriters and performers and with younger generations. Women sometimes sought out female artists whom they felt more spoke for them. But overall, as some writers have maintained*, women still often looked at pop music and pop idols in somewhat different ways. Guys tended to collect records and to try and copy their favorite musicians and learn to play guitar while girls from the Beatles’ female teen-age fans screaming on, seemed to collect pictures to put up on their walls and to worship their pop idols more as “boy” bands (and interestingly still basically saw them that way into their older ages even). Of course, there were exceptions with females, especially those who were musicians, and whom learned instruments too. But as we’ve now know scientifically, despite what was said sometimes in the 70’s, men and women are different and in fact, have different brains and their views on many things and pop culture reflects this (as well as because of the way boys and girls are still primarily raised differently).
These observations and statements of mine about pop culture and pop music, I understand, may not necessarily be shared by some people. They are, as I say, only generalizations, based on my own personal experience and encounters with many music fans and admirers over several years with a fair variety of people. I realize most people probably don’t even think about these things as intellectually as this, but instead just like or not like something and there’s nothing wrong with that. But as one of my favorite pop culture writers, Chuck Klosterman, says,“nothing is ever only “in and of itself.”
By doing so, I hope to at least raise some of these questions as to why we like certain kinds of music and follow certain pop figures. And perhaps, this can help us see the often deep effect they have on us and even what this can tell us about ourselves too.
* Carl Wilson’s, Let’s Talk About Love: Journey to the End Of Taste (2007) & Chuck Klosterman’s 2013 book, I Wear The Black Hat.
Below “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs”, Chuck Klosterman’s classic 2003 examination of pop music and pop culture: