There’s No Such Thing as a Musical Guilty Pleasure

This post was originally written as an editorial for Mind Equals Blown. The original can be viewed here.

I will just come out and say it: I love Kelly Clarkson. Yes, the same Kelly Clarkson who was crowned the first winner of American Idol and has churned out radio-ready hits like “Since U Been Gone” and “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger).” Girl’s got an amazing set of pipes and the uncanny ability to write album after album of relatable kiss-offs that are a perfect blend of smug apathy and biting, pointed criticism. In the past, I’d have defended my obsession with Clarkson with an apologetic shrug and the following line: “She’s my guilty pleasure.”

Most of us have artists like those, hidden in the deep, dark recesses of our iPods, just waiting for someone to click through the ranks, settle on that one musician, and then shoot us an incredulous eyebrow raise accompanied with, “You actually like ______?” Then we do the awkward shuffle of trying to defend our choice and brush it off like it’s some forgotten remnant of an ill-advised phase that’s long been over. And all the while, it’s the song or album that we unabashedly jam to during summer drives with the windows down or belt out in the shower.

I know I’m certainly guilty of doing that with Kelly Clarkson. Ditto with ‘80s kings Oingo Boingo, Kelly-understudy Marina & the Diamonds, and even the hilarious and awesome soundtrack to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode “Once More With Feeling.” For a while, I’d considered deadmau5, Pendulum, and The Prodigy as guilty pleasures, only because of the simple fact that they fell under the category of house, electronic and drum and bass music, respectively. I even have a pretty abysmal track entitled “Come Baby Come” by a rapper called K7; it’s from the soundtrack to Stick It (a totally forgettable movie about a rebel, badass gymnast, which should give you an idea of just of just how awful it was), and once in a while, I’ll get the undeniable urge to blast it through my Sennheisers when I need a pick-me-up at work. It’s an instance of “so bad it’s good” being a perfect description.

A friend of mine, who loves The Strokes, Anberlin, Rage Against the Machine, and a whole host of other “respectable” bands, claims that the only way that Taylor Swift’s Speak Now got on his iPod was because his younger sister loaded it on his computer when hers was on the fritz. Admittedly, I shot him that aforementioned look of disbelief when I discovered it. And you’d be hard-pressed to find many people born and bred in the ‘90s who don’t have at least one song by *Nsync, Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls, Barenaked Ladies, or Destiny’s Child on their iPod. True, some people fully own up to still loving those relics, but others make up some embarrassed excuse for hanging on to them.

For some reason, we feel like we’re not “supposed” to like that music because it doesn’t fit in with the rest of our repertoire. For whatever reason, I think that the people who gravitate towards the alternative/hard/prog rock genres are more likely to define certain artists as their guilty pleasures. Maybe it’s the (completely ridiculous) idea that you have to keep up appearances. Whatever the case, I don’t think you’ll find many Carly Rae Jepsen or Justin Bieber fans referring to Mumford & Sons, The Joy Formidable, or Foals as their guilty pleasures.

Here’s the thing, though: when it comes to music, I don’t think that there should be any such thing as a guilty pleasure. It’s like we’re saying that it’s “wrong” to like certain bands, that we should feel bad or embarrassed for loving certain music – just because they don’t fit in with the rest of our musical pantheon. In a similar vein, if we love music that is admittedly pretty spectacularly bad, as is the case with my jam “Come Baby Come,” it’s like we need to affirm that yes, we do know it’s awful, promise! It’s bad, we know it, and we like it, even though we shouldn’t. I think there’s something inherently wrong with having a mentality like that. Nobody should have to apologize or feel guilty for what they like. Unless you’re subjecting someone to a six-hour drive soundtracked by the Billboard Top 40, I don’t think “guilty” should ever describe the way we feel about music.

As for Kelly, Marina, Oingo Boingo, that Buffy soundtrack, and even “Come Baby Come”…I’m done referring to them as my guilty pleasures. They are well and truly parts of my favorite music, simply because I think they’re awesome, and that’s enough for me. I’m taking the word “guilty” completely out of the equation.

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