Ever since I began choosing the music I listened to, and not just listening to whatever was playing on the radio, my dad has criticized my music taste. It’s never anything too harsh; in general, the artists I like are too mellow to provoke serious feelings of resentment. But even still, I’ve heard it all–my music is “obnoxious,” and “it all sounds the same”; the artists are “talentless,” “awful people,” or even just plain “unoriginal.” And despite occasional praise, and the fact that deep down I know my dad doesn’t mean any harm with the comments he makes, it still hurts sometimes. It’s invalidating and discouraging, knowing that something so important to me isn’t taken seriously by other people, particularly adults.
And I know I’m not alone. It feels like everywhere I look, young people are being criticized for all of their choices, and music is by no means an exception. But we “mindless kids” feel like we’ve been unfairly categorized as uneducated sheep, who only listen to the mainstream pop on the radio. In reality, that’s far from the case.
Just because new music sounds different doesn’t mean it’s bad. I encourage adults to think back on their own experience growing up. I’m willing to bet most of their parents said the same things about their favorite bands that they’re saying about ours now. In fact, Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” video confirms this perfectly: as baby MaCaulay Culkin jams to Jackson in his room, his stereotypically cynical father yells at him that he’s wasting his time. The argument has been the same for so long, and instead of remembering the arguments they had with their parents over the same thing years ago, the parents of millennials have turned the argument around on the newer elements of popular music. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there isn’t enough manufactured, artificial pop music out there. There’s a lot, and it’s hard to sift through all of the mediocre songs and artists in order to reach the good stuff. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that there is still plenty of good music out there, and there are just as many people enjoying it.
The usually subtle disregard for young people’s ability to appreciate “real art” is always present, but it seems like every time something major happens in pop culture, the tension increases exponentially. After it was announced that David Bowie had died, it was all anyone talked about. Even now, more than a month later, I still hear him mentioned more than once a day. In real life as well as on the internet, music lovers everywhere took time to reflect on how Bowie had affected them. The death of the Eagles’ Glenn Frey a week later sparked a similar response. The statements I saw on social media were intriguing: older generations, those who grew up when Bowie’s career was still on the rise, were obviously broken up. But so were a huge amount of young people. My friends and peers were all sharing how they had been affected by the news, and their reactions to such a big loss were just as widespread and intense as the generations before them. But the thing that struck me more than that was how, following all these responses, the attitudes of many adults I heard from didn’t change a bit. I heard more people saying “young kids don’t know good music” and “there will never be anyone that legendary again” than ever.
Young musicians–real, genuine, self-made musicians–didn’t pull their sound out of thin air. Someone had to influence them, and most of the time it’s the bands that are older now and don’t fall in the category of current popular music. The musical styles and artists that are prominent now all stem from the past. The 1975 have stated they’ve been influenced by Michael Jackson and Talking Heads; Haim by The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac; Walk the Moon by Bowie and The Police. The same way that early rock‘n’roll evolved from blues, and pop evolved from rock and roll, artists take what they know and they make it their own. If millennials don’t listen to good music, how would they be influenced to create their own?
Young music consumers are also just as affected by old music as they are by music being produced right now. In fact, ask anyone who is passionate about music and it’s likely they’ll tell you that passion was sparked by the music their parents listened to. Personally, I grew up listening to everything from The Eagles to AC/DC to Seal. But even as my music taste evolved into what it is today, I remained affected by the music that I first fell in love with. Music is universal. It’s timeless. Trends come and go, but certain artists and themes stick around, and can be connected to regardless of the age of the listener. People are nostalgic for places they’ve been and feelings they’ve felt, but also for times and experiences they may never have lived through. And that’s something that older people tend to forget.
And then there’s the people who are convinced that there’s nobody out right now who’s as big as Bowie. Well, obviously. Arguing that no one today is as good or as revolutionary as the bands and performers who have been around for decades is absurd, because of course they aren’t. They haven’t had time! The Rolling Stones and the Beatles weren’t instantly iconic. Given the chance to evolve and grow in their art, there’s no doubt there are artists currently on the rise who will be every bit as influential and important as people like Bowie and the Eagles. They just aren’t getting the credit they deserve for what they’re capable of.
Kids love music for what it is, not because it’s trendy. They’re looking for a connection, and an explanation of why they feel the way they do. They’re looking for other artists to inspire them and show them that they can create something amazing, too. Invalidating young people’s passion is seriously debilitating, and it’s an unhelpful habit if we want to have another artist like Bowie or another band like the Eagles anytime soon. So adults, think next time before you start hounding on a young person for the things they like. And young people – remember that it’s up to you to prove to the critics that they’re wrong.