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Guilty Pleasures

A good friend and fellow music-head once assured me, “Brianna, there’s no such thing as ‘guilty pleasures.’ ” This was after I awkwardly confessed how addicted I was to the new Enrique Iglesias record, “Enrique,” I had picked up at my first record store job during the summer of 1999. Although he was just trying to comfort me, I knew he was wrong. Along with “Bailamos,” there’s a lot of guilt that comes with loving Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” and its gorgeous guitar break in the middle of the song (present in so many of their songs). And I’ve always quietly marveled at Eminem. Singles like “Stan,” “White America” and the hopelessly infectious “Without Me” show off more articulate rants and classic pop music structure than most acts could ever dream of busting out. Also, and this is especially difficult to write, I’ve always loved the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want it That Way”- it’s just so damn catchy and lusciously produced, how can you deny its slick delight?

The pleasure of these indulgences is in deserting journalistic analysis and accepting unapologetic, crowd-pleasing power. These songs make me dance, sing along (to the horror of my friends, especially in the case of Eminem) and ignore the nagging left side of my brain that tells me that this isn’t quality music. And the guilt, of course, is the journalist in me that’s been valuing and saving clippings of reviews in my room since I was 12 years old. These two worlds seldom conflict, but when they do, it can be pretty traumatic.

When I was 10 years old, for example, I used to adore the Time Life collection of 1960’s pop and rock top hits. I would rock out to The Kinks and young Alex Chilton that blared from the tinny speakers of my Dream Machine – the miniature alarm clock/radio/tape player that sat on my nightstand.

The tapes were sent to us chronologically and had snappy names like “1966 – The Beat Goes On.” I got into slightly more obscure songs from the era like “Psychotic Reaction” by The Count Five. I fell in love with “Gloria” by The Shadows of Knight, and, after playing it a couple hundred times, I swore that my child, if I had a girl, would be named Gloria (I still stand by that promise). These songs stood next to Motown gems like “The Happening” by the Supremes and the Temptations’ “I Know I’m Losing You.” There’s no shame in appreciating the pop classics. But years later, I read an article that stated that the bland pop kids of Hanson also grew up on my cherished Time Life cassette tapes. I was devastated.

This meant, to my judgmental teen-age mind, that I could never look back at my nascent music listening experiences the same way again. They were forever tainted, because all of a sudden I saw those tapes as manufactured nostalgia, which condensed the eclectic music of the 1960s into easily digestible fragments of influential albums and larger-than-life musicians. I mean, could anyone with respectable musical tastes actually write a song like “MMMBop,” be ridiculed by millions and still smile like that?

Since then, I’ve had to tussle with much more guilt-laden musical pleasures than the historically praised Temptations. I’ve had to hide from my roommates, playing Snoop Dogg, Jethro Tull, Moody Blues, Kid Rock or Oasis on my headphones in my room. But the hiding makes it all a little more thrilling to listen to anyway. I’ve also discovered, mostly from college, quite a few decent people who will happily admit that they like AC/DC for their lyrical merit just as much as I do. After all, they know, just like I do, how gratifying it can be to stand on your bed while playing air guitar with Tom Scholz instead of Jimi Hendrix.

Brianna Riplinger welcomes comments at [email protected]
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