I have a confession to make: I am a hater. Or at least I was, and I am trying my best to not be one now. Of all things, I have an infectiously catchy song by Pitbull and Ke$ha to thank for this new approach to analyzing popular music.
A little over a week ago, I was taking a break from the veritable mountain of reading and graduate school applications I had stacking up, and kicked back for a few precious minutes with two friends, Gary and Carol, whose names I have changed to protect everyone involved. Gary and I were discussing the merits of the latest drunken weekend anthem, “Timber.” We quickly agreed upon two things: one, that Pitbull’s lyrical ability essentially amounted to shouting a handful of random city names, some mumbled words in Spanish, and proclaiming his title as “Mister Worldwide” whenever he got the chance. We also concurred that Ke$ha’s hook was one of the most effective earworms we had heard since “Wrecking Ball” became inescapable back in August of 2013. In short, we would be whole-heartedly singing along with the tune come Saturday night.
It was then that Carol proclaimed “Timber” to be her favorite song of all time. Instinctively, I contorted my face into a disgusted expression. A generic, albeit catchy pop song about blacked out hookups, her desert island, all time favorite song? Right at that moment, it was shocking that the person who I had had extensive, intelligent conversations about music with could achieve emotional fulfillment out of the work of an artist interchangeable with fellow musical criminals Flo-Rida and Taio Cruz. My skepticism must have been immediately apparent, since Carol defiantly insisted that yes, indeed, her favorite song was performed by Mr. Worldwide himself, and claimed that I was just “being a hater.”
In hindsight, she had some valid points and was most likely trying to get a rise out of Gary and I, the unappreciated scholars of pop culture that we deludedly perceive ourselves to be. Or maybe she was being completely serious. We haven’t discussed the merits and detractions of the Billboard-topping hit since that evening, so I am not aware of her favorite song while writing this.
Another thought that struck me after the conversation was this: was it really such a crime that she loved “Timber?” My indignation terminated any chance of an actual discussion on Pitbull’s place in the pantheon of popular music, but it did get me over-thinking about the use of the word “hater” and I came to the conclusion that we as an audience that enjoys music, whether casually or obsessively, are overusing the phrase. This issue stems from and is being fed by those who actually earn the title, those who can only articulate their disdain as “it’s too popular” or “he/she doesn’t deserve success.”
“Hating” has been a symptom in pop culture for generations but has truly exploded in recent years. When you only have 140 characters to get your point across, it can be tempting to simply label someone as a hater, and gratifying as well. The satisfaction of calling out someone with an opposing take on an artist or song is hard to resist. What am I referring to when I write hater? Most interpret the term as referring to a person who cannot be happy for someone else’s success, and so the former constantly point out the latter’s flaws. In this sense, I was being a hater towards Pitbull (to an extent, as I will go into later) and I am not alone in being deserving of that label.
While “hater” gets tossed around too liberally, there are certainly those who meet the requirements. If your justification for disliking a song or artist amounts to a teenager who has just heard Led Zeppelin and goes on Justin Bieber’s Youtube channel to post “Music today is TERRIBLE you guyz, the 70s was waaaaaaaay better,” I am happy to inform you that yes, you are being a hater. Everyone is welcome to an opinion, but failing to articulate why you have that opinion does nothing to grow our understanding of music. Blindly voicing your displeasure at an artist’s success is a surefire way to not convince anyone that you have a well-developed take on their work. An informed opinion would involve comparing the vocal qualities, lyrical content or even why certain individuals or groups connect with the songs of Zeppelin and Bieber. Those types of discussions, of listening to what one listener has to share and reciprocating with respect should be what appreciators of music everywhere should regularly practice.
Herein lies my issue with so lightly calling someone a hater. Personally, I find Justin Bieber’s lyrics bland, and while puberty has helped his overall vocals tremendously, he has lost a large portion of distinctiveness in his music. The first time I heard “Beauty And A Beat,” I would not have known it was him singing unless I had used Shazam. However, I will concede that Bieber has some catchy hooks. As far as if he really deserves the success, I really couldn’t care less. Yet voicing these opinions would make the Bieliebers grab their metaphorical pitchforks and torches and march onto campus to proclaim me a hater. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many concerts Bieber sells out, because ultimately each of us can choose what we want to listen to, and I have made the decision to not listen to his music.
Calling someone a hater for being able to succinctly present why they enjoy or do not enjoy music is just as immature and unproductive as hating on someone purely because of their success. Just as alienating, as I found with “Timber,” is that hating someone for what they enjoy listening to is just as negative, if not more so, since it can quickly become much more personal. In my disagreement with Carol, I was hating on her and Pitbull: angry that she picked a work by an undeserving artist (in my opinion at the time) as her all-time favorite was borderline disturbing to me then. I admit that I am guilty of this on more than one occassion. Most, if not all people who have even a cursory knowledge of music, are guilty of this. Disagreeing with someone does not make either person a hater: it is how we react to differences that turns us into the lowest form of music appreciators. The hater label and hating falsely delegitimizes perceptions and unnecessarily divides us as listeners.
We, the audience, the hardcore fans who memorize every note and word, the casual listeners who shuffle their iTunes library while doing homework, have more outlets for listening to and debating music than any generation in history, and we owe it to ourselves to use those resources to be more positive about the artists we love . Nearly every song ever written is a Google-search away, and fans can be more connected to one another than ever before. If you do not like a song or artist, it is easier than ever to find ones you can enjoy and others to share in the passion. We should be proud to share why songs resonate in our ears and hearts. It might be the intricacies and layers of the instruments on Vampire Weekend’s most recent album, the nostalgia of hearing Lil’ Jon and the East Side Boys on a Friday night, and yes, even the hook off “Timber” that you’re humming on the way to class because it’s just so damn catchy. At the same time, we have to recognize the reasons why we might not become attached to other songs, be it for asinine lyrics, sloppy production or whatever makes the tune sound like nails on a chalkboard. The key is to embrace those differences. It does not matter what you are listening or not listening to, so long as you can articulate why. We as listeners can only benefit from accepting that not everyone will share their opinion, and spending hours debating the merits and detractions with good friends, preferably while listening to a good record.
Rob Fleming, the antihero of Nick Hornby’s bible on music and relationships, “High Fidelity,” builds a mixtape for his girlfriend, full of music that she loves, not what he wants her to love. I think I am starting to understand what that is like.
Except for Limp Bizkit fans. I’ll never understand the appeal of Fred Durst. I guess I still have a ways to go.