Cover Art: Sophie Cheng
Making music is not always about making “good” music. That sounds self-defeating, but sometimes, music is created to be more provocative rather than good. Good, in the sense it is being used here, means standard, the common music of the day that is generally liked. Think Taylor Swift and the Beatles. If a song like any of theirs were released today by another artist, it would probably be widely accepted and appreciated. Contrast this with “provocative” music, which is used here to refer to music that challenges societal norms in whatever way. Provocative music exists to make the listener expand their palate and explore their taste in music. The reason for its creation is not to recreate traditional standards.
It is mandatory to speak in the abstract here because the line between “good” and “provocative” varies between all people. In fact, once a person has become assimilated to provocative music, it is no longer provocative for them. The rock music that one person would say is provocative is commonplace comfort music for another. To me, at least, examples of provocative artists include Louisa Melcher and 100 Gecs. Although I consider these artists to be traditionally good for me, I know that they are not completely socially typical. To simplify, good music is music that is liked through a culture as a whole; provocative music is favored by smaller groups.
It needs to be clarified that I am not calling provocative music bad, even though it is being placed as opposed to good music. It should be reiterated that by good, I mean what is already accepted as good. Provocative means new, exploratory, and unique, but not bad.
When it comes to choosing what to listen to, people approach the choice with different mindsets depending on their mood, their reason for listening, and their general preference, among other factors. For example, people in a bad mood would choose to listen to a song that they are familiar with instead of putting on a new song, and people who are studying listen to music that will help them focus. Moreover, when choosing a song to listen to, people can choose songs that they like, or they can listen to songs that they have never heard before. If the songs they have never heard before are different from what they have listened to, the songs are provocative.
Some people prefer to listen to good songs because they know they like them, and others prefer to listen to the provocative. Both of these are valid opinions. Music is a personal connection that is determined by your needs and desires. There is nothing wrong with cycling through new music, and there is nothing wrong with sticking with what you know you like. As previously said, provocative music becomes standard music after enough time.
It is ironic that the Beatles are being considered standard music here since they are actually groundbreakers in their historical context. The U.S. Labor Department even attempted to ban the group from performing in America. Clearly, the band has gone a long way-- at least, the way people perceive them has. This can be described as the transformation from provocative to standard.
Both good music and provocative music have their place in every listener’s playlists. No one--or very, very few people-- listens to the same artist or genre on repeat constantly. Too much of anything gets boring, so provocative songs are the spice of music. In the same way, most people have listened to music on repeat on occasion. Music can be a shelter for comfort.
In the end, all music is provocative. This is why the most popular songs of the past are not still the most popular songs of today. Every song that can be called traditionally good was once groundbreaking and unheard of.