Where are the Tunes?

If I think about it, I have always made some pretty simple assumptions on how musical tastes vary across demographic groups (rather as Lauren Laverne did in the very watchable series Oh You Pretty Things). Recently, though, I have gained the impression that young people’s tastes are not quite how I would logically have imagined them to be.

I have always assumed more-or-less the following:

  • When we are children we can only engage with elementary, simple melodies and rhythms, just as visually we prefer cartoons to more sophisticated material.
  • As we get older, our taste and sophistication gradually develops, enhanced and directed by education and our circumstances.
  • Despite our parents’ dismissal of ‘our’ music as “just noise” much of it is/was nothing of the sort. We all enjoy a good tune and a repetitive rhythm, whether we like to admit it or not (or so I thought). Tracks that meet that description vary greatly. I remain underwhelmed by The Undertones, for example, but they were officially brilliant – John Peel said so. Music that appeals to children and teenagers can still appeal to old age pensioners; The Beatles, obviously.
  • Writing a simple, satisfying tune is more difficult, if anything, than writing ostensibly-sophisticated twiddly music.
  • In our teenage years we may develop a taste for ‘excess’, that is, music that is a sort of parody of itself, be it punk, death metal or rap. Some people never move on from this!
  • For most people their peak of engagement with music occurs somewhere around the age of 20-25, and in many cases never develops from there – the musical taste of most people of my acquaintance (aged around 50) ossified circa 1986.
  • I have never been entirely convinced that some people, including myself, are immune from pretentiousness or cultivating an interest in certain types of music in order to impress other people – which muddies the waters when trying to understand people’s tastes at the more sophisticated end of the spectrum.

Logically, a person who apparently develops a taste for abstract modernist classical or musique concrète etc. should be educated, sopisticated and of a certain age, having become bored over the years with the simplicity and predictability of melody, and is craving stronger flavours. But, how could a 20 year old be in that position? I have always assumed that if such people existed, it was, perhaps, because they were interested in music as an intellectual exercise rather than listening to it in the same way as the rest of us – and that goes for the composers as well as the audience. In other words I decided that these people were outliers that didn’t fit the general ‘theory’.

But in that case, how can I explain this?

…and many others like it. It’s certainly not Love me Do is it?!

Many of today’s young people seem to be sublimating directly from predictable teenage fare and straight into full-fat modernism or musique concrète! There is no excess, no obvious melody, nor even any repetitive rhythm. This does not fit my theories at all. What’s going on?


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