What do your musical tastes say about you? Nothing in fact | Music
Ddo musical tastes reflect personality? A Cambridge University study involving 350,000 participants, from 50 countries, on six continents, posits that people with similar traits around the world are drawn to similar genres of music. So, “extroverts” love Ed Sheeran, Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake. The thrill “open” to Daft Punk, Radiohead and Jimi Hendrix. The “nice ones” are Marvin Gaye, U2 and Taylor Swift. The “neurotics” appreciate, presumably as much as they can, the work of David Bowie, Nirvana and the Killers. etc
While the study doesn’t claim to be definitive, it’s odd to only be assigned one personality/gender trait each. It sounds like Color Me Beautiful for music. “Which sound best suits my personality?” Did you bring samples? Admittedly, when I was working for the New musical expressjournalists, musicians and readers resisted being crammed into such rigid categories.
Most half-serious music fans would consider their tastes to be eclectic. Which seems more feasible than a distinct personality type exclusively tied to one gender, and that being faithfully replicated across the world. The idea of, say, an Englishman, an Argentinian and a South African, thinking separately: “I feel alienated. I’ll point this out while listening performatively to Nirvana’s Nevermind. Always!” To me, that’s not how people are. That’s not how music works.
Musical taste, like the humans who possess it, seems constructed from a dizzying array of variables. What is your age, gender, background? Growing up, what was the dominant culture and did you subscribe to it? Were/are you rebellious? Politics? Apolitical? Took of? Hedonistic? A solitary ? Do you feel more “yourself” in the real world or online? When you select a song, are you happy, unhappy, in love, heartbroken, angry? Or none of the above – just trying to relax while you cook dinner, thanks. It’s relevant, actually: where you are when you’re listening to music, what you’re doing. Practice. Conduct. Itinerant. Reading. Job. Hobbies. In a pub or in a club. Lying in a dark room, with AirPods in it.
This is a key difficulty with personality typing music: at any time, listening can be affected by a plethora of variants, including location, situation, activity, outside forces, memory, mood, need, whim. While taste can straddle cultural tribalism (the false notion of good/bad taste; the need to belong), it’s mostly a youthful tic and it will pass. What remains is the individual, the ever-changing personality, who can feel many different things in the space of a day. Who is not always attracted by the same style of songs. Who does not always want to be the same person. The chatterbox might want to disappear into the mists with Leonard Cohen. The depressed boogie with Ariana Grande. The headbanging introvert in Megadeth. Music can reflect your nature, but it can also take you out of yourself. It’s a slide, a liberator, as much as a mirror.
Some people don’t even like music. They don’t yearn for a soundtrack for their lives. They just want neutral background noise that used to be called “coffee table music”. For the rest of us, it continues to be an era of cluttered culture and musical abundance.
Over the years, popular music has become akin to a vast menu of junk food: tasty but confusing. What do you want to listen to? Pop. Oscillate. Disco. Hip-hop. Punk. Dirt. Goth. Accommodation. Reggae. Soul. India. Popular. Gospel. Dub. Heavy metal. Psychedelic. Jazz, Prog… The list goes on even before entering into a myriad of genre fusions. With streaming, Spotify, the rise of the superstar DJ, etc., we have completely and irrevocably changed the way we consume and interact with music. Volume. Distribution. Payment (or other). There’s a thought: maybe there should be a global “cheapskate” personality category for those who don’t pay for music?
Even when people pay, there is a sense of cultural gratuity for everyone. Generally, “Young People” approaches the music song by song, anthem by anthem, club banger by club banger. What type of research-based personality (Open? Pleasant?) could be applied to such an elastic approach? Are we just ignoring how, like a generational bushfire, it spread across age, race and class? How, like it or not, are we all random now?
If, like me, you still like to listen to whole albums, digital or vinyl, you may feel more and more like the last dodo, stubbornly playing love dogs throughout, getting closer and closer to easy-listening extinction. Just to rub it, maybe it’s not even “your” musical taste anymore. After a certain age, people’s tastes freeze, take a long break, a form of cultural atrophy sets in. What you think “defines” you may just be your musical taste from five, 10, 20 years ago and, according to the Cambridge findings, you now have an outdated personality to match.
As entertaining as these studies are, there’s no surefire way to characterize music by personality. That jukebox embedded in your skull might end up rusty and ugly, unfit for public consumption, but it will still be unique. Bespoke music only exists in the fevered minds of marketing and advertising executives who want to zone you in, sell you stuff. It’s not too much music, but rather that there’s too much of the human condition: too many people – restless, lively, alive – thinking, feeling and wanting differently from moment to moment.