You Don’t Listen to ‘Pretty Much Everything’

“I listen to pretty much everything except country and rap”: A small string of words that bear such a heavy burden.

Certainly we’ve all come across someone who shares this sentiment. These words ring loudly from every college orientation or office bonding session and that one person who is uncomfortably early to the party because they showed up at exactly the specified time. I am deeply bothered by these words. No, you don’t listen to everything except country and rap! I don’t believe you! Surely underground low-fi ectofolk doesn’t qualify as country or rap, but I don’t think you listen to it! I doubt you’re on the edge of your seat waiting for the new Pjusk single to drop. So what do you actually listen to?

It’s likely I’m just grumpy and pretentious. And truthfully, I have sympathy for these people. The question, “What kind of music do you listen to?” is not asked by your close friends, but by people who don’t know you, and maybe don’t even want to know you, but are driven by social obligation. The point of orientations, company retreats, and the like is to try and convey who you are to the people around you. You—the complex, wildly contradictory, emotional human being that you are—have to explain to strangers everything that it means to be you through ice breakers and small talk.

It’s understandable, then, that a question as seemingly simple as “What kind of music do you like?” could cause some ire. I remember a time, back around eighth grade, I went to a restaurant with my Dad, and—in a classic case of father-son bonding—he asked me what my favorite band was. I stopped and stuttered and struggled until I meekly gave out the answer, “Modest Mouse.”

I know two Modest Mouse songs. But apparently, it’s my favorite band.

I assume my dad thought I was embarrassed or struggling to find some acceptable lie that would hide my real interests, but the truth is I just had never thought about what my favorite band was. And if he had asked me what music I listened to, I probably would have said something like “pretty much everything.”

Back then, I just listened to what I liked. I would hear songs on the radio, or on Guitar Hero, or in a commercial, and buy them. There were no genres or artists that I would seek out or sink my teeth into—I just passively accepted whatever fell into my lap.

And I think that’s a terrible way to experience music, or any art form for that matter. The point of art is to move people. If you find a song you like, you should be EXCITED about it. When you find that one song that touches you, the one that’s heard by your ears but felt by everything in you, it should send you into a passionate spiral down a rabbit hole of Wikipedia pages and fan forums. What’s the genre called? Who else makes music like this? Where did this style come from? To not ask these questions is to not care about what you’re listening to. And if you don’t care, why are you listening?

I guess I hate the “pretty much everything” answer because it’s lazy. It’s indicative of the fact that the listener isn’t really listening. To me, it’s indicative of someone who doesn’t seem to really know themselves.

Again, maybe I am just grumpy and pretentious. Maybe I’m taking it too seriously, and it’s better to give a polite small talk answer. Maybe most people just aren’t passionate about music in this way, and it’s OK that they just don’t care that much.

But in that case, I’d say they don’t really like anything, as opposed to “pretty much everything.”

I struggle to answer what my favorite movie is. I don’t watch a lot of movies, I’m not particularly well versed in the history of cinema, and I couldn’t name very many actors. I certainly have movies that I like—love, even—but to call any movie my favorite would be to hint at a deeper emotional connection than I have. I’m not super into movies, so I would never say “I like pretty much everything” in terms of film.

In general, I think passion is good and something to strive for, but if someone does not have a favorite genre or band, that is not necessarily a bad thing. What bothers me is taking the easy way out—ignoring the fact that you aren’t particularly moved by any artist and hiding behind the façade that you like everything. Liking “pretty much everything” exemplifies an unthoughtful attitude toward one’s self.

If the point of an icebreaker is to allow other people to get to know you, you should probably know yourself first. The unexamined life is not worth living.

Featured Graphic by Anna Tierney / Graphics Editor