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POP MUSIC and IDOLS: WHAT THEY TELL US

ABOUT OURSELVES
By Alan L. Chrisman
Ive always been fascinated why people liked certain kinds of
music and artists and if that said anything about them and us.
I began to believe they could tell us something about
ourselves. I also observed how our preference for certain
musicians and pop artists and their creations often
reflected our own views and how we saw ourselves.
Humans are very social animals and we evolved to mainly be
accepted by others-like us. In fact, the growth and our current
constant access to media, has only accelerated this and the
obsession with pop celebrities and celebrity culture. There has
always been celebrity worship, but we now live in an essentially
secular culture, which has basically preplaced many of our
traditional institutions like religion and the nuclear family. We

now find our communities and friends through often less


personal connections.
I have some practical everyday knowledge in this area because I
ran record stores for several years. One of the things I would do
when people came into my store for the first time, was ask them
what kind of music they liked. Many would say, Oh, I like
everything. Then I would say, Well then, whos your favorite
artist? Again, they would often, at first, say, I dont have any.
Now I knew that wasnt probably true, having as I said, run stores
for a long time, and it didnt help me direct them towards the
section they were most likely to purchase from.
So I knew Id have to probe further if I was to help guide them to
the right area. Then Id say, Do you like rap (or disco or
country). I had learned a lot of people didnt, especially, like
those genres. And they would often say, No, I dont like them.
But it was really to get them to open up a little more. And often,
after a couple minutes of thinking about it, they might say, Well,
I kind of like the blues and the 60s, for example. At least now I
had a starting point. Then they might say, Actually, I like Eric
Clapton. I could then direct them to that section. But if they
liked Eric Clapton, they often already had most things by him, so I
might suggest something similar-guitar-driven, blues-based,
maybe not so well-known, but somewhat alike, because I was
always trying to expose people to new music. Fortunately, my
stores were second hand and I could play them for them. Some
of these first time visitors would then become regulars and I got
to know what they liked for the future. The other thing is after
doing this for several years, I could often even guess what people
might chose, just based on my own experience, how they were
dressed, etc., so that it almost became instinctive, without even
thinking about it. In fact, Id often play a little game with myself
to see if I could guess what theyd like. Some probably (maybe
80-90%), I could figure out this way. But there was the small

minority which I didnt guess right. These were the ones I most
enjoyed because they intrigued me.
It wasnt exactly a scientific study, but over the many of years of
doing it, I must have seen perhaps hundreds of people anyway,
maybe thousands. What this showed me, is that first of all, people
like to think of themselves as open to everything, but actually
most of us have certain tastes and preferences, whether we
consciously realized it or not. And a lot more than most people
liked to admit, we could be fit somewhat into types.
Interestingly, we now live in a social media and internet age,
where our interactions are determined by our likes and the
similar communities and groups we join and mainly follow. If,
anything, our interactions have become even more narrow than
ever. These new mediums were supposed to open us up to a
wider variety and world. But have they really? None of us like to
be reduced down to a stereotype, but we live in a society now
where that is precisely what has happened. Our likes and
preferences are being collected, along with the sites we visit, by
search engines to create a profile on us to later sell to commercial
companies (and governments too) to reach our particular
interests and demographic to market and sell us products.
Then I began to wonder if there were certain personalities
who were attracted to certain kinds of pop music and
culture and musical idols?
Again, I learned that a lot of this was probably mainly subconscious. For many people just knew they liked something,
without perhaps examining why. And besides these likes and
dislikes were probably mainly emotional rather than intellectual,
since music and movies are largely emotional, aural and visual
experiences.
My store specialized in vinyl and especially The Beatles, as it was
named after them, although I carried a variety of styles and

formats-from pop to jazz to folk to country to blues to classical,


etc. But I met a lot of Beatles fans (and also organized Beatles
Conventions) over the years. I noticed that certain people liked
especially one Beatle member often more than another. Because
the Beatles were made up of four different, often distinct
personalities and, in general, wrote and played different
kinds of songs, stereotypes again, but somewhat true, I
could ask and observe which kind of customers and fans seemed
to like each Beatle the most.
Paul was the cute romantic, and mainly wrote melodic songs
like Michelle, Yesterday, Let It Be, etc. George was
considered the more spiritual, and introspective with songs like
My Sweet Lord and While My Guitar Gently Weeps, etc. John
tended to write songs more questioning, political and edgy like
Strawberry Fields Forever, I Am The Walrus, etc. Ringo,
considered the down-to-earth everyman, didnt write many
songs with the Beatles and tended to like covers of more
traditional songs and country like Act Naturally or the Beatles
childrens song, Yellow Submarine. In fact, some have argued
thats why The Beatles appealed to such a wide cross-section of
society and were able to create a variety of styles. When they
were in The Beatles, they sometimes wrote songs together
(Lennon & McCartneys early songs especially), but by the time
they split up, each, with a few exceptions, carried on in these
particular veins primarily. So was it possible that certain
kinds of people and personalities related most and tended
to like one over the other? By observing The Beatles as a
microcosm, together and solo and their followers,
perhaps, this could be examined and certain conclusions
could be reached.
Also this could also be extended to other kinds of music and
groups as well, from harder rock and punk on one side to softer
forms like folk, jazz and classical on the other.

Somebody said once there is no accounting for tastes. But my


observations taught me that there were, in fact, accountings for
tastes. Again, many of us might not be consciously aware of
them, but they were there. And they could be somewhat
predicted. Another interesting observation I made, was that
there were, In general, gender differences too. Women
tended to like different kinds of music than men. The fact,
up until the 70s or 80s, rock n roll was mainly created by males
and reflected their points of view. But as society became more
open to females, there also began to be a change in rock as
gradually more female musicians began to be heard. And younger
generations began to support that difference more. But still from
the experience in my stores all the way into the early 2000s, it
was primarily males who came in to buy records.
I noticed, in general again, women tended to prefer the softer
kinds of music, like folk, jazz and classical. This began to change
over time, as I said, with exposure to more female songwriters
and performers and with younger generations. Women sometimes
sought out female artists whom they felt more spoke for them.
But overall, as some writers have maintained*, women still often
looked at pop music and pop idols in somewhat different ways.
Guys tended to collect records and to try and copy their favorite
musicians and learn to play guitar while girls from the Beatles
female teen-age fans screaming on, seemed to collect pictures to
put up on their walls and to worship their pop idols more as boy
bands (and interestingly still basically saw them that way into
their older ages even). Of course, there were exceptions with
females, especially those who were musicians, and whom learned
instruments too. But as weve now know scientifically, despite
what was said sometimes in the 70s, men and women are
different and in fact, have different brains and their views on
many things and pop culture reflects this (as well as because of
the way boys and girls are still primarily raised differently).

Below updated book by Carl Wilson with other essayists,


2013, Lets Talk About Love ( & Why Other People Have
Such Bad Taste).:

These observations and statements of mine about pop culture


and pop music, I understand, may not necessarily be shared by
some people. They are, as I say, only generalizations, based on
my own personal experience and encounters with many music
fans and admirers over several years with a fair variety of people.
I realize most people probably dont even think about these things
as intellectually as this, but instead just like or not like something
and theres nothing wrong with that. But as one of my favorite
pop culture writers, Chuck Klosterman, says,nothing is
ever only in and of itself.

Below Chuck Klostermans classic book, Sex, Drugs And


Cocoa Puffs, 2003,examination of pop music and culture:

By doing so, I hope to at least raise some of these questions as to


why we like certain kinds of music and follow certain pop figures.
And perhaps, this can help us see the often deep effect they have
on us and even what this can tell us about ourselves too.
*From Carl Wilsons, Lets Talk About Love: Journey to the
End Of Taste (2007) & Chuck Klostermans 2013 book, I Wear
The Black Hat.