When I was 15 years old, I took it upon myself to completely upheave my music taste. After school, I would sit cross-legged on my bedroom floor, iPod in hand, trying to become the dream 2014 Tumblr girl I so dearly revered. I indulged Joy Division’s most notable album (you know, the one with the cool cover art) and I endured Pink Floyd’s ‘Echoes,’ a 23-minute time vortex that I could’ve used to enjoy a simple sitcom instead.
I ate up definitive best songs of all time lists, written by bearded men with unironic sleeve tattoos. To impressionable, teenage me, this was the height of culture. I took the words of these music gatekeepers as gospel (never mind the lack of women that made these hallowed lists, let alone writing them).
I prided myself on my love of The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys and Radiohead. I loved bands that started with ‘the’ and ended with a banal word (The Killers, The Cars, The Who, The Verve, The Clash, The Police, The Kinks, etc.). The indie pop scene was booming and you could find me at the barricade of any under-18s show I could get to via public transport.
But now, almost a decade on, I’m happily leaving it all behind. Spotify Wrapped has dropped and for the second year in a row, my top artists are dominated by the world’s most popular female pop stars — Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo. What would my teenage self say? I think my tattoo choker-wearing self would question why we threw out years’ worth of formative musical education to listen to whatever sugary sweet the FM radio stations were peddling.
I hate to admit it, younger Maggie, but we’re certified mainstream now. Taylor Swift has well and truly stolen my heart and listening time, and I’m far from alone. I live for the strong emotions and chaos that is part and parcel of being a Taylor Swift fan. Being a pop music lover means embracing the clichés and cheesiness of life and unabashedly sharing it with the world.
Every time I get to belt out a Rodrigo anthem in the car or sob to an Eilish hit in the shower, I am reminded of the tumultuous and unbridled Big Feelings of my teenage years. I dive — head first, fearless — back into the angsty world of technicolour intensity.
In doing so, I get to unpack my own internalised misogyny. With every pop hit, I loosen the grip that the patriarchy has had over my tastes and interests. I remind myself of Harry Styles’ 2017 interview with Rolling Stone. “Who’s to say that young girls who like pop music — short for popular, right? — have worse musical taste than a 30-year-old hipster guy?” he said. “Teenage-girl fans — they don’t lie. If they like you, they’re there. They don’t act ‘too cool.’ They like you, and they tell you.”
I look to The Baby-Sitters Club TV show creator Rachel Shukert who pointed out to Vulture that “female audiences are trained to not take their own stories as seriously”. “Stuff men were obsessed with when they were nine is treated like Hamlet. How many Spider-Man movies are there? How many Star Wars?… But what if someone treated something for girls that seriously?”
I recall playwright Yve Blake’s Ted Talk where she reevaluates our misconceptions of hysteria and craze that come hand in hand with fangirls. “Fangirls know how to love something without apology or fear,” she said. “Why should fangirls tone it down? Because they’re crazy?… What if we decided to rethink the words we use to describe that joy, and what if we didn’t allow ourselves to diminish girls with words that undermine their intelligence, their interests and their capability?”.
To my surprise, I saw that Pedestrian TV’s music editor Courtney Fry’s top genre in her Spotify Wrapped was pop. I prodded her for answers. Do you receive judgement from other music editors? Did you feel embarrassed about your music taste growing up? Have you felt left out of music communities?
Apart from a couple Aqua albums and a Missy Elliott obsession, Fry says she was an emo kid, through and through. And though she’s encountered some industry gatekeeping and “cutthroat and ruthless” fandoms, she’s arrived at a point of acceptance and contentment.
“You get to this point where you just completely let go and don’t care what people think,” she tells Refinery29. “That’s what music is meant to be about, right? It’s just meant to be about what makes you feel good and what you connect with. And at the end of the day, who gives a shit what other people think?”.
Pop music has long been considered saccharine and superficial. Female pop artists, in particular, are smirked at for their sparkly attire and fun bops. People turn their noses up at these tunes that grapple with love, heartbreak and relationships. But what’s more brave and badass than the willingness to wrestle with and share life’s big events with the rest of us?
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