There is some music that you’re just not supposed to like if you want to be considered hip and cool. Justin Bieber. Nickelback. Limp Bizkit. You get the idea. Radio consultant Sean Ross takes a look at the idea of disliking music as a matter of course.
I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to like “You Light Up My Life.”
When I first encountered Debby Boone’s soon-to-be hit in the late summer of 1977, it was just sort of moody and interesting. It was of a piece with the similarly earnest “Just Remember I Love You” by Firefall or “Sometimes When We Touch” by Dan Hill, and any of the other unavoidable MOR/pop of that era. There was also some excitement in seeing it break quickly — No. 1 in Houston in about three weeks’ time, then exploding everywhere else. Also, “You Light Up My Life,” the movie that accompanied it, was a nice little sleeper with some moments of genuine insight into the advertising business.
I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to like Barry Manilow. “Mandy” was also just another pop ballad, and one of the jocks in my seventh-grade class was very excited to buy the promo copy that I’d somehow come across (for his girlfriend, Mandy). Then he followed it with tempo, “It’s a Miracle.” Only “I Write the Songs” was a harbinger of the upcoming wall of ballads, and even that was punctuated with quirky oddities: “Trying to Get the Feeling Again,” “This One’s for You.”
I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to like New Kids on the Block. They were just one of a handful of New Edition-inspired groups in the mid-‘80s. Their first singles came through R&B radio, including the first release of “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind),” which got extra points for being such a great song choice. When they did become phenomenal, they made Top 40 a more exciting place, for a while.
I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to like Celine Dion. I had heard about her from Canadian friends, who knew her as a preternatural young talent. When I first met her at a Canadian music industry convention, she was already poised and charming, and I was ready to root for her. “Where Did My Heart Beat Now” didn’t do much for me, but neither did a lot of the other ballads of that era. And there was still “Misled” and “Unison,” which got extra A&R points for being a remake of an obscure Junior song.
And I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to like Nickelback. As “How You Remind Me” was breaking, a colleague interviewed Chad Kroeger and found him thoughtful and interesting, as well as a student of pop music, who pored over hit singles like “I Ran (So Far Away)” to dissect their structure. Nickelback was quickly accused of ripping off Pearl Jam or Creed, but neither of those were sacrosanct to me. And I thought “Photograph” was well-written — brutally honest if it was in any way autobiographical and really good storytelling if it wasn’t.
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