There is a part of me (my inner 16-year-old) who should be deeply ashamed of my sudden bad taste in music, but I’m not. There was a time when music was really important—a time when I wore black velvet chokers, vamp nail polish and did my hair in two teeny buns on the top of my head so that they looked like cat ears. The girl I was back then would have been horrified to find out that in 20-some years she’d turn into a mom carting her kid around to swim lessons blasting the Top 40 station with reckless abandon.
I used to know every lyric to every song by The Smiths. I even quoted them on my Trapper Keeper, but now I belt out Rihanna and Maroon 5 without a hint of shame or irony. Morrissey would disown me if he found out I’d betrayed him like this.
Music once defined me. In high school, we carefully chose our lunch table based on which bands we liked. I wouldn’t dare sit at the Metallica table, the Debbie Gibson table or (god forbid) the country music table. No way. I was cool and hip, so I was at the Jane’s Addiction table where we sneered with disdain over cans of Slice about the lowbrow tastes of the kids who actually liked Paula Abdul and Bobby Brown. What was wrong with them? How did they not see how much more amazing and more authentic a human being Robert Smith was in comparison?
In my 20s, I was just as bad. I wouldn’t date a guy if he had bad taste in music. Hootie and the Blowfish is a total deal breaker for me. Like come on, dude, how can you be bopping around to Jon Secada and want me to take you seriously as a potential life partner? What is this? Night at the Roxbury? My future husband would like the Beastie Boys, but “Paul’s Boutique” Beastie Boys, not “Fight For Your Right to Party.” There’s an important distinction there.
I can’t even believe these things once mattered to me as much as they did. I didn’t even know what the Top 40 stations on the radio were because I listened to college radio—the stations at the bottom of the dial that are this close to being on the AM dial. They were obscure. Now, it’s the reverse. My car radio is firmly set on the Top 40 pop station of my teenage nightmares, and I have no clue if we even have a college station or an alternative station anymore. Do those even exist or was that a ’90s thing? Wait, does anyone still listen to the radio at all?
I’m so out of touch that 25 years after the fact, I just started liking Nirvana. Back when Kurt was still alive, I couldn’t stand the band because they were too popular. I was a Sonic Youth kind of girl.
Music finally stopped defining me. For a while I tried to stay relevant. I didn’t want to disappoint my former self. I believed that I could be the hipster mom, but who was I fooling? I was already wearing capri pants and Keds. The next logical step was confessing my love for Shakira. Okay and J. Lo too. Yet still, sometimes I yearn. I tried to watch this year’s Coachella festival on television, but I’d never heard of any of the artists and then my 4-year-old demanded Disney Junior so I caved. The last cool album I bought was Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs a few years back, and I can’t remember when I last listened to it. The Decemberists are likewise languishing somewhere in my iTunes playlists.
I think this is a rite of passage into middle-age momdom. Moms have notoriously bad taste in music. I still remember my own mother rocking it out to Basia on her treadmill while I rolled my eyes and made gagging noises at her. I didn’t get how she could hate the Violent Femmes so much, but now everything has come full circle and it’s my turn to be the lame one now.
The thing is, my coolness, or lack thereof, doesn’t matter to me at 41 like it did at 21, and I love my newfound musical freedom. Age has made me secure in who I am. I don’t need a specific kind of playlist to be the soundtrack to my life anymore. Music used to be the shorthand I used to classify myself and others, but I learned that what artists or songs someone likes really says very little about who they actually are. I don’t have time for music snobs, because, thank heavens, I’m busy with more important things. I can appreciate all kinds of music now. Shoot, I’ve even found a few country songs that I honestly enjoy. Take that, tenth-grade self.
Now excuse me while I get back to my girl Taylor. After that, I may even chill out with some classic ’70s yacht rock. Christopher Cross, here I come.