“It’s Not a Phase, Mom” How the Music We Listened to Shaped Our Current Taste

Have you ever had a music ‘phase’? Have you ever enjoyed certain music that your parents were convinced was a ‘phase’? (I’m looking at you MCR fans, no worries though I also had a goth rock ‘phase’). So why is it that so many of us had an emo, intense phase in middle or high school. How come so many young people are now listening to Kpop, which ranges from intense to mellow? Maybe you’ve always held on to Taylor Swift through your developmental and adulthood years. 

No one person is going to have the same music journey. In fact, your taste in music will probably change to meet social and psychological needs. This explains why some of us were raging and others were content with singer songwriter tunes in the early days. Music is an extension of how we view ourselves and the world. It helps us process and cope and gives us a way to reflect. In this scientific study researchers found that, “while our engagement with it (music) may decline — music stays important to us as we get older, but the music we like adapts to the particular ‘life challenges’ we face at different stages of our lives”. This explains why adults typically enjoy more mellow, contemporary tunes, and teenagers enjoy more intense bass-boosted energy. 

Your parents and childhood, like everything else life-related, also play a role. Dr. Hauke Egermann from the Department of Music at the University of York stated that “children have an ‘openness’ to new music, and this means parents have an important role to play in developing the music tastes of their kids. By playing children a variety of genres before this critical period, research suggests they will enjoy lots of different types of music as adults”. Thank you mom and dad for being consistently inconsistent with your music, now I listen to experimental music from all genres. However, it wasn’t all them. Music is an extension of self, it’s how we form and understand our identity. Someone’s favorite music can tell you a lot about their personality. 

Our cultural identity is ever-present in our music taste. It’s the same reason why many Americans enjoy Bruce Springsteen and classic rock musicians. It’s why Buena Vista Social Club feels so comforting to me and my relatives. Not only is music a time capsule to our childhood, but it also connects us to our culture. I was (and still am) obsessed with Michael Jackson, and I’m sure many other American kids had the same experience. I vividly remember crying with my dad when he died, and I was 6 at the time. The same goes for Selena’s death, she represented so much more than just Tejano music, she was an idol for many Mexican-American kids. Having visible representation in music is irreplaceable and can forever impact the generations who watch their stardom. It’s so exciting to see BTS and other Asian acts shine because of how many generations of performers will be impacted by them. 

So, why am I focusing so much on teenage/developmental years for music taste? To be honest, It’s probably because I’m still a teenager and I’m still developing into an adult. However, it’s also because some research has shown that, “the songs we listen to during our teen years set our musical taste as adults”. 

This doesn’t mean that our musical tastes are static after the age of 19, but it does mean that these developmental years, for the most part, determine how we perceive music. Much like our childhood years, repetition and familiarity play a role. If you’re very familiar with a song and associate it with good memories you’re likely to be drawn to it. 

In short, the timeline of music is parallel to the timeline of our lives. We go through stages of life in the same way that we go through phases of music. It is worth mentioning that these phases don’t disappear, they just become less relevant in our lives as we start to prioritize other things. As Nolan Gasser, a musicologist, explained, “the music people listened to at an early age becomes their native home comfort music. When they grow up, that music will be part of who they are, tied in with memories and growing up. All of these powers are why music is so important to us”. 





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