What Is Music Really?

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I used to think “good” music meant a catchy beat or an emotional melody but after spending the last few weeks analyzing popular artists and their fandom, I’ve realized we like the music that gives us what we need at the moment. 

Just lost someone? Maybe a soft piano track will soothe you. 

Started something new? Maybe a powerful, anthem-like song will motivate you. 

Have to sit through a long drive? Maybe a fun, “popcorn” song will entertain you. 

Trying to exercise? Maybe a high BPM bop will push you. 

Want to sleep? Maybe a gentle lullaby will caress you. 

Is one of these “better” than the others? Or is it our need that determines what we get out of the song?

It’s tempting to jump on the bandwagon and diss popular music for its cheesy lyrics and feel superior for liking challenging songs, but not every song is created with the same purpose or audience.

Some songs are meant to make you feel heard with deep, relatable lyrics while others have an enjoyable beat to make you dance. Is one more “real” music than the other?

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What determines “real” music? Good lyrics? Enjoyable beat? Soothing melody? Pleasant singing voice? Lots of instruments? 

Is a song with meaningful lyrics but no rhythm better than one with terrible lyrics but a pleasant melody? 

Is a song with deep lyrics and an enjoyable beat but poor singing classified as good or bad? 

What about soothing singing but boring lyrics and melody? 

Which element has to be there and which can you do without for something to be called “good”?

If you ask this question to a bunch of random people from different backgrounds, you’ll get vastly different preferences. And perhaps that’s the answer — preferences. 

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What we like depends on what we’re looking for. Let’s take BTS, for example. They’re some of the most well-known artists generating strong positive and negative reactions among people all over the world. 

Many listeners (both Korean and Western) enjoy their stuff casually because it seems fun while others dive deep into every song with detailed translations analyzing the social message, symbolism, and running storylines within their discography. 

Is one form of consumption better than the other?

BigHit Entertainment/HYBE

Many people turn to music for escapsim. They want something chill to unwind after a hard day. They don’t want to come home exhausted and sit down with a notebook to tear every line apart. They just want something that’s easy on the ears. 

Maybe they’re not even paying attention. They just want something going on in the background as they go about their day. 

Are they not using music “properly”?

How many people really know what “Despacito” really means? The people who don’t bother translating and understanding it, are they not enjoying it enough?

Are you not a “real” fan if you play the songs without understanding them? Are you shallow for enjoying a song without caring about the context?

Then there are others who make a living out of analyzing music. For pay or passion, they break down every line and explore possible meanings so others too can engage with the songs more deeply. 

Are they “bigger” fans because they spend more time and headspace on the songs? Are some people “superior” because they “get” it?

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Actually, many people oscillate between the two extremes. Some days a song hits you right, you learn more about it, and the lyrics deepen your experience. On others, you just nod your head and tap your feet to a fun rhythm without taking out the philosophy books. 

Are you “less” of a fan on those days? 

Some people tattoo their favorite lyrics on their bodies while others don’t even have a favorite song. 

Is there a “right” way to consume music? How do you have to engage with music to be called a fan?

Is there a universally understood “right” way? Is there a “right” type of music?

How do you discover that without feeling ridiculed for exploring popular artists? People decide you lack taste if you listen to mainstream stuff. Then, are obscure songs the “right” music?

What does music even mean anyway?

Music means to you what you want it to mean. 

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For some, it’s what brought them off the ledge. For some, it gave them a goal. 

For some, it’s a way to be a part of a community. For some, it’s a way to express the things they can’t say. 

For some, it’s a way to put food on the table. For some, it’s a distraction to unwind.

For some, it’s a way to pass the time. For some, it’s the only meaningful thing in life.

Then the real question is, what does music mean to you?

6 responses to “What Is Music Really?”

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