BeReal for music, un-nostalgia, Vilhelm Hammershøi
Authentic musical taste
Decades ago, I used to be the sort of person who wanted to pick out music to play during a party, which never went particularly well for me. Partly this impulse came from being uncomfortable: I wanted to replace an activity I was bad at (conversation) with one I thought I was good at (sorting through cultural goods) and thereby get people to like me without my having to overcome my awkwardness. I had fallen prey to the romanticization of the mixtape, the idea that taste in music was an index of personality, and that songs could speak my truth for me and reveal how articulate and interesting I really was at the level of taste, if not at the level of reciprocal interaction.
But even that dubious strategy was riven by contradiction: I wanted to show how unique and idiosyncratic my tastes were while still being irrefutably “correct” — universal and irresistible. If people actually claimed to like what I chose, it would leave me feeling ambivalent, as if it did as much to discredit my own choices to myself as validate my choices for the party. I would wonder if they were simply being patronizing in telling me I picked something good, and then I would wonder also about whether I should be pre-emptively patronizing, pandering to the unenlightened musical tastes of the people at the party, some of whom would be my friends.
Eventually I stopped doing all of this and tried to systematically lower my sense of the stakes of social listening. It also makes me fairly skeptical of Kiwi, a new BeReal-style app (described here) that at some random time every day asks users to share the last song they listened to so that friends can gain insight into their taste and assess it, swiping right or left to convey their approval or disapproval. Never mind that on many days, the last song I played would be the same as the day before and the day before that: none. But even if I still routinely listened to music, such an app would play into precisely the old fantasy that used to plague me, that such judgments were sufficient in themselves to hold together social bonds, and that I should be picking songs with the intent of impressing people more than enjoying them myself.