As I was making dinner tonight, my roommate asked me if I’d heard that Taylor Swift’s albums had disappeared from Spotify. I had, but I also had to admit that it didn’t really matter to me. Why? Because I own her last three albums.
Once upon a time, I would have felt bad about this. Back in high school, I mocked Swift’s wide-eyed innocence, her daydreamy songs about True Love(TM) and teenage hearthrobs–all while secretly hoping that someone would play “Love Story” on the bus to the next swim meet. I carried some of that attitude with me into college, even after I’d picked up Speak Now with some Amazon MP3 credit. It popped up on my playlist while I was home for Christmas freshman year.
“Is this Taylor Swift?” asked my sister, her tone a clear indication of her opinion on the matter.
“I had a gift certificate,” I replied defensively.
“To the Taylor Swift store?”
She had me there. No one had forced me to get the album. Maybe I had chosen it because it was the most attractive of the $5.00-and-under options, but that didn’t mean I had to go for it. Certainly I wasn’t required, having downloaded it, to add it to my starred playlist. No, I had wanted it.
So why did I feel bad about it? Let’s be honest: Taylor Swift writes catchy songs. And if I enjoy listening to those songs, who am I hurting? (Other than the people who have to be subjected to my music choices, perhaps.) There are hundreds of things I could feel guilty about on any given day. Singing “Red” while I do the dishes is not one of them.
The very idea of a “guilty pleasure” devalues things that the masses enjoy. It restricts us to the “right” way of being. It says that you can’t like popular music, movies, or books and also be clever and interesting and worthwhile as a human being. It sets up a dichotomy wherein certain things–Katy Perry, Twilight, rom-coms–are mindless distractions for mindless people while substance and meaning are reserved for more “intelligent” pursuits like indie music and thought pieces. Shall we go further and discuss how guilty pleasures always seem to be connected to women, people of color, and/or lower-class groups? Meanwhile, most white male interests–Macklemore, the vast majority of classic literature, tech startups–get the stamp of approval.
If you want to like something that’s popular, you had better do it ironically or, failing that, you ought to feel guilty about it. Heaven forbid that a middle-class young woman with 90 percent of a degree from a respected university in a big city enjoy Taylor Swift.
We are all individuals with unique likes and dislikes, and we contain multitudes. I listen to plenty of delightful hipster music that you probably haven’t heard of. And I listen to Taylor Swift, and Carly Rae Jepsen, and many other musicians who any respectable music fan is supposed to consider “guilty pleasures.” Some people only listen to guilty-pleasure music. That’s okay too. That choice is just as valid as any other.
Here’s what I’ve realized in the last few years: Life is too short to feel bad about your taste in music. As long as what I enjoy isn’t seriously hurting anyone–as long as it’s not racist or sexist or made by Woody Allen–I refuse to feel guilty for liking what I like. Enjoying something does not make me any less of a person. It does not make me less smart, it does not make me less capable, it does not make me less deserving of recognition and love. It makes me me.
And if anyone wants to challenge me on that–well, you know.
Image of Taylor Swift via Billboard