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Ending the worst musical generalization

by Nina Corcoran / Music Columnist • December 1, 2011

“What kind of music do you listen to?”

It’s the question we hear all the time in get-to-know-you questionnaires, organization ice-breakers, or awkward conversations searching for possible connections. Naturally, the chances of getting varied answers from this should be pretty high. Yet it feels like every time, we get the exact same frustrating response: “I like everything except country.”

That one line is the most vague, annoying, and ambiguous attempt at a descriptive explanation. It tells very little about the person who just said it. Few people know all the weird genres out there or would place weirdo noisemakers like Sun Ra or AIDS Wolf in their top 10. “Everything” encompasses a lot without sparking a response in the other person, except for a forced smile and a follow-up question prying for more.

Most of us Emerson kids believe ourselves to be well-versed in music. Sure, we all have one style we lean more heavily towards, like rock or folk, but we still expand our scope to include pop or electronic songs. We give the “I like everything except for country” response to show we aren’t stuck in a narrow-minded view.

Which is funny, because it does just the opposite. Picking one genre like country to be the only outlier, the outcast in the huge universe of music, almost paints the speaker as too cold to open their mind for this one specific style. Keep in mind country includes Johnny Cash, Taylor Swift, Neko Case, and Ryan Adams. Disliking these artists is OK — we all have natural prejudices — but phrasing your response like this comes off  as sounding uninformed. It serves as this justifying statement that should make us proud but instead reveals nothing.

If we want to cut to the chase and inform others of our music taste, then we need to be more specific. This doesn’t mean include every tiny genre in a sweeping generalization; Nintendocore, folktronica, acid jazz, and peace punk are a little too specific for a general statement on your music taste.

But it does mean that we should pay attention to how realistic the words you’re saying actually are. How many times do people continue pushing the scan button when they stop on a classical station or jazz slips out of the radio speakers? How many of us laugh when asked if we like metal music? Each time we say we like “everything,” we’re saying words we don’t mean. We’re lying.

So instead of rambling off all the genres we don’t like, let’s just toss out a few we do. A simple “I love classic rock and indie folk stuff like Beirut and Joanna Newsom” will do just fine. It points at direct genres and artists you like while giving the other person substance to respond to. There’s no need for people to start unraveling a musical interest chart during introductory conversations, but there’s nothing boring about stating a few of your actual favorite genres either.

“I like everything except country” — No one likes to hear it, but most of us have honestly said it at some point. Maybe we think of too many music genres to list. Maybe we’re too tired to say them all. Maybe we’re just unaware of what’s out there. No matter what the reason, I’m proposing an end to the one-liner. Yes, it’s that simple. So let’s all stop hitting our heads now and say what we actually like.