Who and what decides that some music is innately better than others?
Indie-rock artist Beabadoobee recently caused a stir after posting a series of Instagram stories telling her fans to buy her album instead of The Vamps’ album, which was set to be released on the same day, in order to “show they have taste”. She went on to complain that she would be “pissed” if they let The Vamps’ “11-year-old fans do [her] dirty”, describing said fans as a “lost cause liking music like that”. After the harsh, negative spotlight was pointed in her direction on Twitter, Beabadoobee claimed it was just a joke, but the incident does raise the question: what and who decides that some music is innately “better”? What gives some musicians, and their listeners, the right to look down on those who perform other genres? And what does the profile of their fans have to do with whether or not the artists deserve success?
Firstly, I personally don’t understand the thought process that these artists shouldn’t be successful. Surely if Beabadoobee, real name Beatrice Laus, is making the connection that her fans are unlikely to be the same people who listen to The Vamps (who she decides are solely 11-year-olds) then her success, and that of The Vamps, can easily coexist. Why does it enrage Beabadoobee to think people have a different music taste to her? Why is her music taste the one which is “correct” and to which everyone should conform?
The fact that Beabadoobee brought up the age of The Vamps’ fans in tearing them down is unsurprising. She stopped short of explicitly using the “teen girls have no music taste” trope, but it’s clear that this comes into play in her argument-slash-joke. Think of all the bands and musicians recently who have become “guilty pleasures”, or who being a fan of is somehow less valid than say, liking shoegaze. Some that come to mind are Little Mix, One Direction, Jonas Brothers, Justin Bieber, and 5 Seconds of Summer. Their main demographic links them; it’s true that going to any of these artists’ stadium tours means you’ll probably be surrounded by screaming teenage girls who love their music. The point is though, they are selling out stadiums. These artists are wildly successful, whether their music is to your taste or not.
I remember what it was like to be a 16-year-old girl in the Glasgow indie music scene (via my then-boyfriend and his band) and consciously avoiding disclosing my love for everything Taylor Swift has ever written. I remember feeling the pressure to like the music that my boyfriend and his friends liked, for fear of fitting a stereotype; a young girl with no music taste. Now, I ramble about Taylor Swift’s influence to anyone willing to listen, but back then I didn’t want people to know I liked music which lots of other teenage girls liked.
What does this say about how we view young women in our society? How much do we disregard their opinion if we put it at the bottom of the food chain, even when it comes to music taste? If we view the music young women listen to as silly, unimportant, and lacking in a message, does that reflect how we view what they say and do in other aspects of life? Even as a teenage girl myself, I didn’t want to be associated with the typical interests of the group I was a part of. This misogyny is deep-rooted, and it inherently affects how young women view themselves and their own interests. It makes young women feel as though liking One Direction, or revealing that fact, will mean they are taken less seriously in all aspects of their life; as though it is perfectly acceptable to treat things linked to the young and to the female, as decidedly lesser.
Let’s not forget the Beatlemania of the 1960s, where teenage girls’ reactions to the band further propelled their fame. I’m sure at the time, The Beatles had those who looked down upon them and their largely young, female audience, yet as time has passed you will be hard-pressed to find someone who won’t at least sing along to Let It Be or Hey Jude or deny the genius behind the band. To look down upon The Vamps, who are also four young men, playing songs they’ve written together to large crowds, doesn’t seem fair if you hold bands from previous generations in high regard who found a similar path to the limelight. I’m not saying I personally enjoy The Vamps’ discography to the same extent I do with The Beatles, but I would not say it is less valid or that they are not worthy of the success which their young audience has helped them achieve. What is deemed cool is always changing, and the idea of guilty pleasures, in general, seems redundant. Just enjoy the music you enjoy and let other people do the same. What’s more, we must be conscious of this link between the feminine and the ridiculed and check ourselves when we base our assumptions of music (or other subjects) on the fact it has a young female audience, rather than appreciating that, even if it is not to our taste, it has an immense value which helped it gain this following in the first place.