Thursday, December 20, 2018

Thursday Thoughts from a Spotify Rock Binge

Everyone listens to different genres and styles of music and we all have our reasons for liking the music we do. We also understand that each style of music has a certain stereotype associated with it: good ol' boys growing up on farms love country music; urban, hip enthusiasts love hip-hop and rap; pretentious preppy music snobs prefer top 40s pop and Broadway, and drug addicted, grungy, emo kids swear by their hard rock. I'm not saying that we all fit the stereotype associated with our favorite music; of course we don't. But those stereotypes do exist. However, even while you know that these stereotypes exist and you consciously know that not every fan falls into the stereotype of their preferred genre, your automatic response in learning of someone's music preferences is to lump them into their "stereotype."  

We've all jumped to these baseless conclusions just because someone likes a different music style than we do. And at times we judge how "different" someone is from ourselves based on how their musical tastes differ from our own. For example: out of all music genres to clash, wouldn't you think that pairing a metalhead with a classical fan could only end in disaster? Doesn't that sound like a pairing of polar opposites who could never, ever find common ground? 

Guess what: you're wrong.  

Hard rock fans are stereotyped to be violent, suicidal, and even Satanic. Hard rock music is often isolated and shunned from mainstream music culture; not just because it is so different from most music styles but because its fans are assumed to be dangerous, violent individuals. With so many songs focused on dark material like death, drugs, loss, and hopelessness, hard rock has earned its reputation of being rebellious and aggressive. But with that its fans have inadvertently earned reputations of being depressed, suicidal individuals who are a danger to both themselves and society. 

But did you know...

Most hard rockers are actually very peaceful, content individuals who have a delicate nature. In fact, Adrian North, a professor at Heriot-Watt University who studies genre listeners, says that this peaceful, delicate nature is almost identical to fans of a different music genre: classical music. North's study nailed down a combination of traits that are identical between the two listener types: both metalheads and classical fans are introverted, at ease with themselves, and above all creative. He even goes to say that "aside from their age, they're basically identical."  

North says that the gentle and creative persona shared by hard rock and classical fans allows them to freely encounter nontraditional occurrences (i.e. non-mainstream music) with more open minds than their peers. Which means when these more open-minded individuals are introduced to these styles of non-mainstream music, they are more likely to become fans of their preferred music style (whether hard rock or classical) and start limiting their listening of mainstream music because mainstream music isn't nearly as creative or diverse as hard rock or classical. 

Viren Swami, a psychologist at the University of Westminster, studied this open-mindedness and found that hard rock fans are overall more open to experience, which is fueled by a higher drive towards uniqueness. This drive to be unique helps us understand why both classical and hard rock fans verge on obsession about their music and how each genre is increasing divided into smaller sub-groups. Classical music sub-groups tend to focus on the eras of specific composers like Mozart and Beethoven while hard rock sub-groups tend to focus on a combination of lyrical message and instrumental volume, power, and speed, thus giving us groups like death metal, Christian rock, and punk rock.  

Both hard rock and classical music incorporate elaborate theatrics into their performances. Orchestras can easily pack 70 musicians on a stage, all with an intimidating presence dressed in formal wear with perfectly in-sync movements. Rock concerts host some of the loudest bands to ever grace a stage, and heavily emphasize their uniqueness and nonconformity through their use of costumes and stage theatrics (like setting the stage on fire). These theatrics also help draw in certain kinds of listeners, and if a person is immediately a fan of the theatrics and aura of a certain style of music, they will likely remain loyal fans to the entire genre (or at the very least, their particular sub-group).  

In conclusion, we need to stop assuming that every metalhead is a junkie with a violent streak and a death wish just because they prefer to listen to hard rock. Not every country fan has a thick southern accent and drives a pickup truck, nor is every top 40s fan a materialistic blonde taking their parents' credit card on a shopping spree. Hard rockers don't need to be into drugs or sport "goth" or "punk" looks with many tattoos, whilst classical fans aren't limited to being in the elderly community or only lead extremely sheltered lives.

Let's kill the stereotype: not just for hard rock, but for all genres. We like our music. It doesn't mean that we ARE our music.