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Why do we enjoy music that is “so bad it’s good”?

We music lovers can spend hours discussing our music tastes, the artists we just discovered, the albums we think the world overlooked. Plenty proudly present their delicately hand-crafted Spotify playlists, using them as a metaphor for individual styles and personalities. But beneath that, there are songs we would never admit to enjoying, tracks that lurk deep in private playlists, and hidden CDs under beds that nobody else knows about.

However, the great thing about music is that you can completely ignore the criticism of others, and enjoy a song for what it is

The reason we do this – why we hide from others – is because, in the public sphere, these songs are considered “bad”. Music critics may not see any value or merit in a particular track. However, the great thing about music is that you can completely ignore the criticism of others, and enjoy a song for what it is. And nobody can take that away from you.

To take a classic and perhaps overused example, consider Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’ (2011). It’s “bad”. You can look at any review from the time for a multitude of reasons why. The painful use of auto-tune, the poor lyrics, and the jarring instrumentation make it the best (worst?) possible representation of bubblegum pop. But do I skip it when it comes on in the car? No! I revel in it. I’m not afraid to admit it. For me (and I am inclined to believe for many others also) ‘Friday’ is a song that is “so bad it’s good”. I can’t help but laugh every time it comes on, and it genuinely brings a smile to my face.

Is there truly anything wrong with enjoying it? Surely something that makes you laugh and brings joy is not something that deserves to be ridiculed. As music fans, we universally dislike gatekeepers and those who proclaim that something we listen to is not “real music”. Almost nobody cares about the opinions of such self-proclaimed “purists”. Let us have our bad songs! Do not put up with the tyranny of the cynical!

Letting go of your self-defined standards helps to keep an open mind and turn the musical carnage into something that can be appreciated for what it is – good or bad

It is important to not take yourself seriously when listening to “bad” music. Letting go of your self-defined standards helps to keep an open mind and turn the musical carnage into something that can be appreciated for what it is – good or bad. Sometimes, it’s fascinating to hear the bafflingly awful choices made by artists, and ironically defend them as a joke. Yes, your friends might look at you sideways and mumble under their breaths about it. But who cares what they think? You’re enjoying yourself, that’s what’s important.

One of the bands I used to listen to when younger was Three Days Grace, a Canadian hard-rock quartet best known for the emo anthems ‘I Hate Everything About You’ and ‘Animal I Have Become’ (edgy, I know). I’ve since moved on and I’ll cringe in public when they’re (rarely) played, but secretly, I will mouth the lyrics and hope nobody notices. Those tracks raised the young emo version of myself, even if I think they are awful now. Having grown out of that phase and listened to a far broader range of music than pre-teen I could imagine, going back to bands like them is a journey to the past that leaves me mysteriously uplifted.

Indeed, most “bad” music is the tracks people listened to in their formative years. I guarantee that if you went back to them now after the initial phase of “how did I ever like this”, you will find something of value in them. After all, the artists that made them were genuinely trying to make a good song, for better or worse. Perhaps they will transport you to a particular place in time, a precious memory, a phase in your life. Use them as a comfort, an emotional crutch, whatever you need. When the time comes, you might even admit that they are good.

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