Friday, June 03, 2005

Preferences and prejudices

We all have our preferences. We all have genres of music that we prefer to others. Some of our choices are sound, some are dubious. But we've all made them. Sometimes, the choices are nearly unanimous -- no one we know listens to barbershop for anything other than ironic purposes, and only a handful of people stowed away in tenured positions and tiny offices would argue for 12-tone "classical" music.

Sometimes, though, you have to look beyond your preferences and recognize that occasional songs and musicians are all that.

Case in point: I read a couple of reviews of last night's summer reality filler, Hit Me Baby One More Time.

The show was disappointing in so many respects. Any time someone asks, "What was the inspiration for Working for the Weekend?" you know you're not watching great television. And as I feared, they assumed no one had been watching VH1's Bands Reunited and therefore wouldn't notice that the other three members of A Flock of Seagulls weren't the other three members of A Flock of Seagulls. ("Will they have their distinctive hairdos?" "NO! Because they aren't the same guys! Except for the lead singer, whose hairstyle now consists of covering up whatever isn't covered by hair.")

The problem I have with the reviews, especially on the "Foxes on Idol" site, is that people aren't looking past their preferred genres.

I'm no fan of hip-hop, and I'm generally suspicious of manufactured corporate pop. But there are a few things that simply can't be denied:

- Arrested Development's Tennessee is one of those songs, like Eminem's Stan, that transcends the "hip-hop" tag. Maybe that's because it's not quite hip-hop, maybe it's because it has a melody, or maybe it's because it has something to say. Maybe all three.

- Kelly Clarkson can sing, and Breakaway is a half-decent pop song. Being meaningful to 13-year-olds isn't necessarily a bad thing. I'll have a 13-year-old in 11 years and change, and I could actually deal with hearing stuff like this.

- Tiffany, to my surprise, sang Breakaway pretty well. Not as well as Clarkson, but not bad at all.

None of this is all that important -- I don't really care who wins this show, and I'm not going to run out and get Tiffany's version of Breakaway. (Yes, "run out and get" is an outdated phrase, but it sounds better than "flip on the laptop and download.")

But keeping an open mind on music can pay off. Back in the Lilith Fair days, I hung around at my friendly neighborhood festival amphitheater to see Emmylou Harris out of curiosity while a friend of mine sniffed that she didn't like country and wandered off. Her loss. Emmylou, who was then in her Daniel Lanois-influenced atmospheric phase, was one of the highlights. That led me to get her Wrecking Ball, a beautiful fusion of introspective country and laid-back spiritual rock, and Red Dirt Girl, which was a little more traditional but sometimes interesting.

Sometimes, you have to listen to the music. Reading the label isn't enough.

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