The Origins of “Like”

Originally published in Music In Action Magazine.

I didn’t grow up in a musical household. There was a radio in our house — a sound system actually — but using it involved configuring several components, so it was rarely on. Generally, if we were home from Sunday School early enough to catch The Royal Canadian Air Farce, dad would set it up. If I remember correctly, he was the only one who knew how.

The extent of my exposure to music was made up of whatever was playing on the car radio when my parents drove around town (which was generally drowned out by my mother’s attempts to control my incessant bickering with my brother), and my dad’s Morning Show as broadcast through the bathroom door. In theory, the songs he was singing were legitimate. I remember hearing ‘Black Betty’ by Ram Jam for the first time at some point in my early teens and marvelling that my dad had in fact been reciting legitimate lyrics all those years, and not just succumbing to the early stages of senility. I then had to re-evaluate the merits of his melodic Ode to Carrots and a country-esque ditty that compared my mother to an over-aged horse.

I also had some access blocked. MuchMusic became off limits when I flicked to it during a commercial break just in time to see the back of a naked girl perching herself merrily atop Marky Mark. Apparently my mom thought I was “too young for that sort of thing”, so from then on I had to be sneaky. I never was particularly good at being sneaky, so the effort was soon abandoned.

Since I’d never really been exposed much to music, I never felt as though I was missing anything until someone pointed out that there was something there to miss. This didn’t happen until just before my fourteenth birthday, when one of the boys in my class asked me to settle an argument by giving my opinion of The Spice Girls. I’d never heard of them, but I agreed with him anyway because I didn’t want him to think I was stupid (or, more importantly at the time, ‘uncool’).

Since the boys in my class didn’t seem overly fond of pop music, I, being the tremendous spazz I have always been, opted to despise it. All of it. Every polished boy band, manicured pop tart, and falling eighties star fell victim to my increasingly witty (or so I thought, anyway) invective. This continued in high school, where I managed to befriend a group of music-minded kids who inadvertently served to intensify my belief that not only was music the way to ‘cool’, it had a specific route that had to be followed: ‘pop’ was just a decoy; ‘indie’, ‘rock’, and ‘alternative’ lined the true path. I clung to Alanis Morrissette as gospel, memorized every Bush lyric I could discern, and worshipped Our Lady Peace as a beacon of hope across an increasingly bleak musical horizon (plus I had a wicked she-bone for Raine Maida that may or may not have intensified my fandom).

I mastered DoubleThink. Not only did I convince myself that I liked these styles and despised all others, I also managed to forget that this outlook was crafted and self-imposed. To this day I still don’t know what my opinion of pop would have been if I hadn’t trained myself so perfectly to look upon it with only the highest quality elitist disdain.

Now, years later, I’m still primarily a rock girl. I stand by many of my adolescent opinions of boy bands and pop tarts, but am now more willing to admit that scattered singles may have had musical merit. And I still hold up Clumsy as a spectacular album, though I’ve long since shaken off the hormone-driven assertion that Raine Maida “like, totally knew me” (of course, it helps my waning interest that he’s also become a dirty hippy, but that’s largely beside the point).

So what is the point? Only this: there should be no such thing as a guilty pleasure. If you enjoy it, don’t hang your head in shame because of someone else’s idea of what is or isn’t appropriate to listen to. Sometimes fluff is okay. And besides, the artists you now disdain may go on to have respectable careers, leaving you, ten years later, muddling through an explanation of why you’ve changed your mind about Justin Timberlake, and adamantly denying that it has anything to do with the lickability of his abs.

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