I like music but don’t like talking about it. It seems to be another way of talking about yourself, a prospect which makes me uncomfortable.

Music is the most emotive of art forms, the one most defined by the listener’s reaction to it. Musical tastes can get pretty weird: they’re like Bonsai trees, folded and wracked into confusing arabesques as the person they’re inside changes. A silent catalog of pasts and pressures. A person is a bottle. Their interests are a tree.

I’m more comfortable with books, which have an objective weight, and exist (to a greater extent) outside the reader’s mind. You can argue about what a book means, but you can’t change what it is: words, written in a certain order, circumscribed into language with a set meaning. Enjoying a book means accepting the iron tyranny of language: you can’t read an English book unless you understand English. You can easily enjoy music without understanding its “language”. It’s sensory experience, rolling over you like an ocean. A language-based encounter with music (“at t=3 there is leading tone X which moves into first inversion Y and…”) offers no pleasure at all.

A sentence’s meaning is confined by words. The bones of nouns and ligaments of verbs impose a skeletal structure of meaning—with limbs that can touch and be touched—and although their shapes can flex a little in the reader’s mind, they can’t do so infinitely. Most sentences (even tricky ones like “James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher”) only have a couple of valid readings. It would be hard to read 1984 and conclude that George Orwell was writing pro-totalitarian propaganda. But countless people play “Born in the USA” and think a pro-American anthem is ringing in their ears. Music, far more than any other art form, is a mirror that shows the listener their face.

And mine is ugly. I am judgmental and narrowminded. I will hate a song for unfair reasons: because I was pissed off the day I heard first it, or because it reminds me of someone unpleasant. That’s my problem, not the song’s. Whatever. I can’t change who I am, and don’t want to. If personal preferences were mutable and could be changed on a whim, they would signify absolutely nothing.

A huge predictor of me disliking an artist is “they have annoying fans”. Taylor Swift mostly exists in my head as “that person with a billion-strong street team who try to bully you into liking her.”


This piece is written in an aggressive, almost confrontational tone, trying to batter some imagined Taylor Swift naysayer into submission with her sales and awards figures. Like “50 million Elvis fans can’t be wrong!”, it seeks to cloak a subjective preference in a mantle of objective truth. Liking Taylor Swift is not an opinion! It is objectively correct!

Last year, Swift was the world’s most-streamed artist on Spotify, and five of the top 10 albums in the U.S. (including two rerecordings of old albums) were hers. This Sunday, Swift swallowed the Grammys, becoming the first artist to win Album of the Year four times and announcing her next album, The Tortured Poets Department—available April 19, preorder now—during her acceptance speech for Best Pop Vocal Album (just as she announced Midnights during her acceptance speech for Video of the Year at the 2022 VMAs). Next Sunday, her boyfriend will be in the Super Bowl, with Swift presumably looking on—which, in a sign of her status, is seen as a windfall for the NFL. In between, she’ll play four shows at the Tokyo Dome on the Eras Tour, which has broken revenue records both live and in theaters (and threatened to topple the ticketing cartel).

This writer is not a fan who loves a musician. He is a soldier in an army. He wants to win, and for his enemies (boomers, rockists, enemies of Taylor Swift in particular and millennial Girl Power in general) to lose. I find this sort of fandom incomprehensible and even a little scary. The pointless jabs at “right-winger” trolls and shoring up of any possible line of attack against Swift (“a cameo in Cats doesn’t disqualify her; that debacle clearly wasn’t Taylor’s fault”) make sense only through this lens: he’s a marine on the front lines of a culture war, and Queen Tay<3<3 must win at any cost. Just relax. You’re allowed to like Taylor Swift. You don’t have to dump her sales figures on me like a cop flashing his badge on a TV show. It’s cool.

If my dislikes are arbitrary, my likes are even more so. Often, I feel like I’m confabulating a logical reason for liking a thing, after I’ve already decided to enjoy it. In general.

One of my favorite styles could be described as “it lasts for 10 minutes and the ending is sad because you want it to keep going.” Tangerine Dream’s “Stratosfear”, Bowie’s “Station to Station”, Metallica’s “Orion”, The Temptations’ “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone”, Neu!’s “Hallogallo”, and DragonForce’s “Soldiers of the Wasteland” all scratch this itch for me.

But I also appreciate brevity, and doing more with less. It’s easy to create a sense of depth by padding songs out with section after section. But it’s fake depth. Phony depth.

I like old music, that conjures a different world. Like “She Wears Red Feathers”. How weird to think that popular music sounded like this once. Lonnie Donegan’s “My Old Man’s a Dustman” has a moment where he says “flippin'” and a woman in the audience squeals in delighted shock. Times have changed. The 50s weren’t so long ago. I like songs where, if I listen closely, I can hear the sand of an alien beach.

But I don’t enjoy classical music. I like it when it’s repurposed in a modern context (like the Bach references in Yngwie Malmsteen), but actual classical? Not a fan. This also applies to world music. For me, it’s most enjoyable as coloring in Western music.

Music has to walk a lot of lines for me. It can’t sound too sincere. Or too ironic. It has to be accessible. But not so accessible that I feel clearly pandered to. Maybe these are all post-hoc rationalizations, and I like whatever I like. If an artist is “in” with me, I excuse anything. When an artist is “out”, I forgive nothing.

My Favorite Songs

My actual tastes are a bit broad. I imprinted on metal when I was younger. I listened to only David Bowie for a couple of years. Lately I’ve listened to German Krautrock. But it seems strange to stick all these songs stuff in one list.

These are interests that exist inside little silos, unaffected by each other. I like books written by French decadents/surealists, and can rate their works. (A Rebours > Torture Garden > Les Chants de Maldorer). But I also like 90s cyberpunk (Vert > Snow Crash > Burning Chrome). And I can’t compare, say Torture Garden with Vert. It’s the same with music. It’s like picking your favorite sex position. You enjoy a good Reverse Hitler. But after a hard day punching the clock, sometimes what really hits the spot is a nice Pedo-Vore-Necro-Unbirthing session with Jeremy Clarkson Roleplay, done with someone you love. How can you rank them? You can’t.

Heavy/Power Metal

Most of these songs are very old. I went for variety: otherwise the list would be mainly Metallica/Priest/Running Wild songs.

Industrial Metal

Some of this verges on nu metal or kiddie music I liked as a young teenager.

David Bowie

Big artist for me. A lot of his discography is incongruous with any other part, and only works in context. I ended up listing songs in chronological order, otherwise they tended to form accidental and undesirable patterns.

I picked only one song from each of his albums. This meant skipping over obligatory hits like “Changes” and in favor of odder songs that mean more to me. Gotta give it up for a track like “Win” or “Suffragette City”, though.

Miscellaneous Other Things

I think I’m pretty judgmental with music.

Music I Abhor and Abominate

  • JUMPDAFUKKUP nu metal
  • JUMPDAFUKKUP hardcore
  • JUMPDAFUKKUP brutal death metal
  • this cancer
  • djent
  • Panterrible or any band more than faintly inspired by them (I do think Power Metal and Cowboys from Hell are great albums, but overall they were not a good influence. Metal would have gone to hell anyway, but Pantera sent us there in the HOV lane.)
  • Japanese “kawaii” nonce-core for people who belong on a police watchlist
  • “Pitchfork/Coachella metal”, aka a token metal band who Anthony Fantano hipster types gush over (Mastodon/The Sword/Myrkyr/Chat Pile)
  • “Remember the 70s?! Back when music wasn’t afraid to RAWK!” (Wolfmother/Greta Van Fleet/The Darkness)
  • late 90s post-grunge, a’la (the 2nd most boring style of music imaginable. This is so, so, so, goddamn boring).
  • smarmy, smirking shit like Fall Out Boy and Maroon 5 who sound like they hate every second of what they do and would press a button marked “DROP OUR ENTIRE AUDIENCE INTO A VAT OF ACID” if you wrote them a big enough cheque.
  • contemporary Christian music (the #1 most boring style of music imaginable. Some bands like Reliant K and Flyleaf actually combine CCM and post-grunge in one easy-to-hate package)
  • soulless, generic power metal with AI generated thumbnail pictures of dragons on Youtube
  • commercial alt-rock like REM and Foo Fighters

There’s also a lot of lyrical themes that really irk me, even if I do like the music.

  • “ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! ME!” (Alanis Morissette, Marina Diamandis)
  • “my life as a wealthy, beloved musician is SO DIFFICULT, you guys” (Pink Floyd, Eminem, Lady Gaga)
  • “activist” bands whose message is trite shitlib applause-begging of the lowest order (war is bad, pollution is bad, racism is bad, Trump is bad)

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