Your bad music taste matters


Death Grips – The Money Store – courtesy

When I was in high school, I fell in love with a little band called Death Grips. Death Grips makes a fusion of industrial rock and hip-hop that scares the daylights out of suburban moms and causes teenage drivers to speed even more than they already do.

Death Grips revolted against their major record label and dropped surprise records before it was cool. They continue to drop excellent records that not only defy the apparent limitations of hip-hop, but also refuse to copy the sound of their past releases. To this day, few bands are as thrilling to follow as Death Grips.

Very little of this mattered to my mom when, in eleventh grade, she found my copy of Death Grips’ “The Money Store” in my dresser. Its sexually disturbing cover only hints at the intense topics that drive its lyrics.

Before opening track “Get Got” even ends, vocalist MC Ride has yelled about driving drunk, burning bibles, and self-harm, from the adrenaline-charged perspective of a man on some hellish psychological bender. It’s not that Ride’s lyrics don’t capture the horrifying reality of those losing their mental grip – it’s that he makes it all sound very, very fun.

When my mom asked me why I was listening to Death Grips, I had no difficulty explaining. I asserted that the band is musically innovative, and their lyrics delve into dark issues in inventive ways. I rehashed the dozens of positive reviews I’d read of “The Money Store.” I talked about how pop music usually delved into the same dark territory as Death Grips while presenting it as sexy and enjoyable. My mom wasn’t convinced. Looking back, neither am I.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I listened to Death Grips with a critical perspective — getting a small rush from the juxtaposition of the delightful beats and the lyrical darkness that accompanied them. The vast majority of my brain, however, simply loved Death Grips for the rush I felt listening to it. I still get that feeling when I blast their records in my car. It feels pretty similar to committing some thrilling act of digital violence in “Grand Theft Auto” or “Fortnite. “

Here’s the issue: the more we listen to music, the more we normalize its content. Lyrics get embedded in our heads. Songs start attaching themselves to memories. Eventually, the songs we listen to the most become “our” songs, and we start associating them with ourselves.

No matter how much you compartmentalize your enjoyment of a song with its troubling content, the two blend together the more familiar a song becomes. Eventually, you consume it without thinking at all.

Herein lies the problem with what can be identified as “bad music.” Entertainment is great when it forces the consumer to reckon with its content or is pushing messages that are generally constructive and harmless.

Entertainment is dangerous when it causes its audience to mindlessly consume and repeat negative messages without thinking about them. I don’t believe that any one song, movie, or videogame is going to drive sane people toward crime sprees. I do think that if you find lyrics that glorify sexual assault, self-harm, and drug use cropping up in your head, you should understand that what you might dismiss as a mere club anthem; pop track; or dark, artsy song, has become a part of you.