Music, in all its forms, is embedded into the culture of Kenyon, much like that of any other liberal arts college—or any university, for that matter. People are always listening to music on Middle Path, curating playlists for parties on the weekend or talking about shared tastes with a professor to make a Thursday night seminar more fun. Music bonds people, but there is a particular, almost snobbish attitude towards music on liberal arts campuses, including Kenyon.
I first started thinking about this when reading Tommy Johnson’s ’20 review of Taylor Swift’s new album Lover in the Sept. 5 issue. Lover is one of my favorite albums. I’ve had it playing in my music rotation, some days on repeat since it came out a month ago. I am a fan of Ed Sheeran’s No. 6 Collaborations album that came out in July, and, like most of the population, I know every word to Lizzo’s album Cuz I Love You. I do listen to more “artsy” and obscure music (if you don’t know the Icelandic artist Ásgeir, you definitely need to), but it does not make me appreciate the popular music that I listen to any less, and more often than not I’ll choose to listen to the popular—or what I’ve heard some call “product”—music. I don’t think either of them is more artful than the other.
One of the critiques in the Sept. 5 article about Taylor Swift’s Lover was that the album never feels “daring”—but does music have to be “daring” or have a deep meaning to be good? Taylor Swift is the highest-paid female artist in the world; her music has touched millions of people across various stages of life. Taylor Swift has a unique talent of being able to take the trivial and personal aspects of teenage and twenty-something relationships and make them accessible to a wide audience (i.e., my father took me to see Taylor Swift’s Red concert in 2012 and knew all the words to “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”). In many ways, she legitimizes the experiences of a coming-of-age woman in the 21st century.
Most aspects of everyday life and relationships don’t push the envelope. They aren’t daring and Taylor Swift (along with other popular artists) artfully reflects that. Popular music is popular because singing along to the lyrics that simply describe the average moments of life and turn them into something worth making a song about is sometimes all you want when walking to class or unwinding with friends on a Friday night.
Kenyon is a special place, filled with people who push the status quo: people who are intelligent, artistic and daring. Middle Path is off the beaten path, and it makes sense that the music students listen to would be as well. However, to act as if popular music is not art or to act as if your music taste is superior misses the point of why music exists in the first place: to share experiences and bring people together.