QUIT: Feeling Embarrassed By My “Guilty” Pleasures

[Part of my mission to “live deliberately” involves ruthlessly cutting out anything that saps my time, energy or money to no good end.  I’m calling these things my “Quits,” and this is one of the many items that have found themselves on my Quits List.]

I think it’s time I finally admit to something: I like to listen to pop music.

Love it, actually.  In fact, I’ve become a closet pop music junkie.  And it’s time to finally come out of the closet.

This might not sound like much of a confession, but it will once you realize how pretentious I used to be about the music I listen to.


Too Cool for Top 20

Ever since I got my first new car and was no longer forced to listen to either my hooptie’s radio or a really shoddy Discman-through-the-cigarette-lighter rig, I’ve taken a fair amount of pride in the fact that that I haven’t listened to current music in over 7 years.

I knew nothing about any artist that didn’t appear on my meticulously crafted Modest Mouse or New Pornographers Pandora stations.  While I’m a considerable pop culture nerd when it comes to TV and movies, I always skipped the music section in Entertainment Weekly because I didn’t recognize any of the artists or songs, and I didn’t really care to.  I was able to recognize two of Lady Gaga’s songs, but that was only because she was the musical guest on an episode of SNL I happened to be watching.

I think the biggest “hit” songs I actually knew over the past 7 years weren’t even real songs, but rather internet sensation “Chocolate Rain” and the “Pants on the Ground” jingle from American Idol.  (I only watch the auditions, btw, not the show itself—another bit of pop culture snobbery.)

For someone who is unabashedly open about her love for bad reality TV, this discrimination seems a little hypocritical, but that’s how things were.

Until the day my iPod died.


How I Got Over Myself

Sometime in mid-fall, the charger I use to connect my iPod to my car stereo fritzed out.  I was at a loss.  Sure, I could bring some CDs into the car, but they were all put away in a binder on a top closet shelf, and I’d gotten so used to being able to choose any song at whim that listening to a whole CD all the way through sounded boring.  (Hashtag: “FirstWorldProblems.”)

So, until the new cable I’d ordered came in, I thought I’d give the ol’ radio a whirl.  Why not?  I was curious, in a “Don’t look at the car wreck—but how bad is it really?” kind of way.  It had been almost a decade since I was aware of the music most of the country was listening to, and I kind of wondered what I’d been missing.

The answer was total and unadulterated crap, at least to my ears.  Imagine someone from Mozart’s era sitting down at a concert hall to hear a nice symphony and having Metallica come onstage instead—that was how little I comprehended (or appreciated) the horrible noise I was hearing.

But then, gradually, something strange started to happen.

For the first day or two, I kept the radio on for the same reason I like to watch awful grindhouse movies: because I enjoy shaking my head and laughing at things that are over-the-top ridiculous.  But, like that moment when you’ve been living abroad for a while and suddenly find yourself understanding certain phrases, I started recognizing some of the songs that were in rotation.  And after hearing them a few times, they started to sound kind of catchy.  Cheesy as hell, still (of course), and with lyrics that made the writer snob in me cringe…but suddenly I found my head nodding along a little as I was driving.  I couldn’t help it.  There were a few songs I even started looking forward to hearing.  They were just plain fun to listen to on a drive that would otherwise make me incredibly grumpy.

The day I heard my first “favorite” pop song (Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger”—yes, that’s right) being played in the background of an ESPN show my husband was watching and impulsively shouted “Hey!  I love that song!” I knew I was done for.

I’d been sucked in.  I was no longer tolerating today’s top hits; I was actually, honestly enjoying them.  They (*gasp*!) made me happy.

And I felt vulgar and ashamed for realizing that.

But now, several months later and one brand new iPod cable lying completely disregarded in my car console, there’s no more hiding:  I love me a good, danceable, ridiculous-lyric’d pop hit, and I’m no longer embarrassed to admit it.


If It Makes You Happy…

Two of The Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin’s “Secrets of Adulthood” are “You can choose what you do; you can’t choose what you LIKE to do” and “What’s fun for other people may not be fun for you—and vice versa.”

In other words, you may feel like you should read that mammoth critically acclaimed book because you’re an avid reader and it’s supposed to be worth the effort—but maybe you just can’t get into it for the life of you.  That’s o.k.  It doesn’t make you happy.

You may feel like you shouldn’t like cheesy shoot-’em-up action flicks because you’re smarter than that, more sophisticated than that…insert-other-presumptuous-reason here…but maybe you just plain love watching cars flip over and large building explode.  So be it.  It makes you happy.

It seems wrong to call these things “guilty pleasures,” because there’s really nothing to feel guilty about.  If it makes you happy, it makes you happy—screw whatever anyone else (or your own self-pretentions) might think about that.

Because you know what?

When I’m on my way in to another soul-sapping day of work—or driving home from a frazzled, exhausting one—car-dancing like a moron to LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” or Drizzy’s “Headlines” totally fucking cheers me up.  I don’t want to listen to my Bright Eyes playlist; I want to listen to something catchy, upbeat, energetic, and/or silly.  I want something with a beat I can dance too.

I’m earnest and serious enough as it is.  Sometimes I just want to revel in fluff, or pretend I’m a gangsta and release some frustration by rapping along as if I, too, know what it’s like when it’s “just me, myself, and all my millions.”

So, I will dance if I want to.  And if I pull up next to a super-hip-looking knit-capped young man in a bumper stickered Volvo, I will not roll up my window or turn down LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem.”  Because there is nothing more indie than liking whatever the hell it is that makes you happy, whether it’s “cool” or “lame” or “cheesy” or whatever other judgmental word you’re worried might apply to it.


What Makes YOU Happy (Dammit!)?

Anyone else care to jump on the “I love this and too bad!” bus?  ‘Fess up Proclaim your love below!

Here—I’ll even give you a good beat for motivation.  🙂

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  • LOL. My “I love this and too bad” list includes Twilight and Justin Bieber. And yes, I’m in my 20’s. Also, Hannah Montanna. 

  • I used to feel the same way, feeling that the rock and roll of my mom’s generation and before possessed the artistry, poetry, and soulful lyrics that are woefully lacking in today’s music, which is all really slick marketing, not art. Well, marketing gurus are good at what they do, and the crap they shill is very appealing.

    For me, I listen to music to get my work done (and ignore a very chatty co-worker), but you know what? The vapid, catchy crap keeps me in a better mood. And when you’re in the busy season, you keep coming in early, barely eating lunch to keep up, you haven’t seen your actual desk in weeks because it’s covered in papers, that catchy music just might keep you from wanting to go AWOL. That suits me just fine 😛

    • Exactly!  If vapid catchy crap helps you get through your day, then three cheers for it!

      There’s nothing wrong with a little fluff.  Not everything has to be a momentous artistic achievement–sometimes you just need something to lift your spirits.

      Fluff song lovers, unite!  🙂

  • Karen J

    Good call, to skip the ‘judgey’ words ~
    I ‘ve never owned a music-storage and playback device ~ my car radio thinking is “Seek is my friend!” 
    I’ve got programmed stations on the radio, true, but even when I’m out of range or bored, I generally welcome the randomness of a DJ’s picks, especially in genres I’m not familiar with.

    • I have a firm belief in the significance of “random” occurrences, and I used to LOVE when you’re driving around and suddenly that one song comes on that *perfectly* captures your mood, even though you didn’t know it would.  Or when you’re feeling blue and suddenly your favorite song ever comes on, like the universe is trying to cheer you up.  That’s one thing I was missing with my play-on-demand iPod setup…excellent reminder!

  • Agnese

    I like watching animals, even in public places. Cute dogs going for walks, birds checking out what could be food… For a few minutes. Not obsessive, but more time than most. It’s my version of smelling the roses!

    • I see nothing wrong with that whatsoever.  Sounds lovely!

  • Brittany Hassell

    Oh, god, “Moves Like Jagger” and “Sexy And I Know It” are both songs I looove car-dancing to! My song that I don’t know HOW I just found and I keep playing it over and over (when the boyfriend isn’t home because he HATES it) is Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA.” SO CATCHY AND GOOD!!!!

    My favorite music is hip hop, which a lot of my friends don’t know and so I can’t get involved in conversations about any indie music, which is pretty much what all my friends listen to. But turn on some Jay-Z and some Snoop and I’m good…but then turn on “Party in the USA” and I’m still singing that, too? I think my friends are both surprised and embarrassed when they find this out and I love it. :oD

    Also, that “baby, you’re the shit, girl” song I freaking love, because I like to sing it as though the comma isn’t there and singing, “Baby, you’re the Shit Girl” cracks me up like I’m twelve. Because what is a shit girl??? 

    • You are TOO funny!  If you’re ever int the Western NY area, you and I are going car-dancing.  🙂

      I haven’t heard the “baby, you’re the shit, girl,” song yet, but you’d better believe that when I do, I will totally be hearing it with your missing comma.  Fan-freakin-tastic.

  • Embrace the guilty pleasures!

    My favourite songs are still old rock and grunge songs.

    But I’m also a huge fan of truly catchy pop songs. I love Maroon 5, there are plenty of Lady Gaga songs I like, and heck, there’s even one funky Dizzee Rascal one I still can’t get enough of (Dance With Me, I think).

  • AWESOME. I listen to almost anything, and people who are snobby about their taste in music annoy the crap out of me. It’s so much better to be among the uncool!

    • I’ve always been perfectly happy being among the “uncool.”  I think I’m finally returning to my roots.  🙂

  • Michelle in Htown

    I love your post, maybe moreso because I’m reading “The Happiness Project” right now. I’m way older than most of your readers (I can tell by the “that’s my mom’s …” comments), but I love your voice, and I’m energized by your view on things. True confessions from a former symphony orchestra employee and opera-chorus member: Katy Perry, Maroon 5, Taylor Swift, Keith Urban. On my radio. (When it’s not on NPR).

    • “The Happiness Project” was the “book that started it all” for me!  It was the first thing that got me thinking that hey, I could take control of my life and make changes for the better, right in the here and now.

      You’re not old by any means.  There’s actually a wide range of people reading, even though some of us are young’uns.  🙂  I think it’s fantastic how many people are able to relate to my writing.

      And I appreciate the music choice validation from someone with a truly classy background.  Makes me feel even better about embracing my own pop loves.  (Not that I need validation, of course, as that’s the whole point.  But it’s nice.)  😀

  • I too sometimes listen to pop music and dance along in my car. Although Sirius has an 80s station that is pretty much equally good for ridiculous car-dancing. I also sometimes listen to country. But only the upbeat country. I can’t take the whiny stuff.

    Truthfully, I have a blog in the queue about sort-of-this… I love to go contra dancing (oh my god I said it) but last week after I went dancing I went out to a bar and saw a friend, and when she asked what I was doing I lied and said ballroom (because that’s a lot cooler. You know.)  And then I was thinking, “I just had an amazing time. Why am I embarrassed to talk about it?”

    On this note, I don’t like people who make other people feel bad about what they like. Sports teams, books, movies, music…  I’m happy to have an informed conversation with anyone about anything I like and why I like it, but don’t make me feel bad about personal preferences. There are many more important things than my appreciation of Twilight on which to judge me. (Oh, I just admitted that too. Ack!  But seriously… Edward is a controlling jerk, but he makes me weak in the knees. So be it.)

    • You bring up a really good point.  If I’m going to be a proponent of loving whatever you love, regardless of what other people think, I need to also work on being less judgmental of other people’s enjoyments.

      I think Dancing with the Stars is overblown…but you know what?  I’m hooked on reality shows like Tough Love, so I can’t really talk.

      I don’t personally see the value in Twilight…but you know what?  Other people may not see the value in some of the books on MY shelf.

      It’s a two-way street: respect your own choices, and respect other people’s.

      I’m glad you pointed this out!

  • First, I love that you name-dropped various indie bands you like (though for my money, I preferred Desparecidos to Bright Eyes – Ooo!  I’ve got street cred too!). 🙂

    Second, I’m spending a lot of free time lately studying various opinions about high art versus low art.  One book that I’m reading is “What Good Are the Arts,” and the definition that the author eventually comes to is that if any one person thinks or has thought that something is art, then that object is art (if only for that one person).  While I’m a little troubled by the sheer relativism this definition implies (shouldn’t the arts connect people? doesn’t this definition isolate?), if it is to be accepted, then there’s no reason at all to feel guilty about liking something you classify as art (or, even, something you don’t classify as art).

    Third, nevertheless, I find myself in the same boat as you regarding guilty pleasures.  I have a BA in music and an MA in drama, so I FEEL like I should always listen to Brahms and watch or read Euripedes, but I find myself listening to Ke$ha and watching/analyzing 2 Broke Girls.  I’m doing my best to get past this.

    One day at a time…tick tock…

    • And I love that you both got and appreciated the name-dropping.  Street cred you definitely do have, sir.  🙂

      I also feel a little put off by so narrow a definition of art.  While I can agree that someone might find beauty in an object no one else does, I don’t think the fact that one person sees beauty in it necessarily makes it “art.”  I don’t know that art necessarily has to connect people on a broad scale, but I feel like it *should* at least elicit a strong response in a group of people, even if only a small niche group, in order to get the “art” designation.  (Awesome topic to introduce, btw!)

      All that being said, I think it’s perfectly fine to find pleasure in things that *aren’t* art.  I don’t think LMFAO’s music is “art” by any means, but I can tell you that I get much more enjoyment out of listening to it than I do by listening to a classical concerto.  There’s a place in our lives for appreciating true art and also appreciating things that just plain make us happy.  No harm in a little fluff.  Even the most discerning of people needs to just be silly and fun once in a while.

  • Okay, then: I love Meatloaf.  LOVE HIM! (I think I just dated myself).

    • Rock on!  You’re not dating yourself at all.  Proclaim your love, sister!

  • Husband ‘O Cordelia

    I never admit it, but I really enjoy Vanessa Carlton and Katy Perry

  • Sarah

    Ha! I am a closeted hard core rap geek, and I’m the whitest white girl this side of Whitegirl Town. It’s just so satisfying to listen to, and if you’re one to nerd out over rhyme and syllable patterns, FYI, there is some amazing stuff out there. I finally admitted to my husband recently that I can’t help myself to some Bone Thugs and AZ. He made the obligatory funs of me for  a while, but it no longer phases him. Actually, now he’s impressed with all the lyrics/raps I know. Hehehe. I commend you on embracing your inner pop junkie. Doesn’t it feel so good? 

    •  I can totally respect your fandom, sister.  I hold a soft spot in my heart for old skool hip hop like Biz Markie and The Fresh Prince.  If you’re a poetry/lyrical geek, it absolutely does make you go “ahhh.”

      Good for you for finally “coming out” to your husband!  I feels good indeed.  Revel in your loves!

      p.s.  “The Whitest White Girl This Side of Whitegirl Town” would be an awesome novel title/album name.  😛

  • I love pop too! And for the past couple years I’ve been really into Korean Pop. All that boyband and girl band stuff they are into over there makes me miss 90s music ha. 

    •  Oh crap, now you’ve given me something else to get addicted to.  I love anything reminiscent of the ’90s.

  • I was laughing about “you, yourself and all your millions.”  I love to sing along to the radio, but the lyric on the hip hop station that gets me going is, “I feel like moneyyyyyy is attracted to me.”   It’s not.   I wish it was.  

    My guilty pleasure is romance novels.   They are cleverly couched as “women’s fiction” or “chick lit”, but in reality, if there is a picture of a ripped guy with no shirt on the cover, there is nothing else to call it.    Other than a great read. 

    •  Yeah, I have to admit that I also love singing along to hip hop and pretending I’m a gangsta.  It’s empowering.  Delusional, but empowering.  🙂

      Go you with your “women’s fiction.”  If it makes you happy, then read and enjoy!