How I Learned to Stop Worrying (and Love the Pop)

I didn’t mean to become a hipster [I know, I know, that’s just what a hipster would say]. But it’s true. It happened so gradually, I hardly noticed. Part of it is being a Nashville Native. When every third friend of yours is in a Band You’ve Probably Never Heard of, but Omigod, They’re Seriously Amazing, then that’s the kind of music you listen to most. When you don’t have cable because it’s too expensive, you don’t watch cable. When your friends work at the local radio station, you listen to the locals. Never mind the fact that there really are scarves made to be worn when it’s not cold out, and that skinny jeans actually flatter your [chicken-y] legs. It’s too late: your friends already think you smoke locally grown tobacco out of a corn cob pipe and drink only from Mason Jars.


Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind being seen as out-of-touch-in-the-cool-and-mysterious-way most of the time, but there was one time that being hip was a big mistake.

Several years ago, Justin Timberlake, the Dapper Dan of Pop, came to our fair city to promote his astronomically popular Futuresex/Lovesound album [Sorry, Mom. That’s just what it’s called. I can’t help that]. And I didn’t go. Not because I was busy. Not because I didn’t love the album [I both owned it and knew all the words to the Three-Six Mafia guest track]. I didn’t go because I decided JT was pop. And since I listened to NPR, ate granola, owned a record player, and shopped at thrift stores, pop wasn’t my thing.

Though I felt a pang of guilt every time I listened to “Sexyback” after that, it has taken me years to realize why: not going to a pop concert didn’t mean I was cool. It meant I was insecure. It meant I was a stick in the mud. It meant I didn’t get to see Justin Timberlake [worst part. I mean, hello?!]. And it meant I was being a giant doofus.


This? I could have seen this? Yeah. I’m an idiot.

This year, Justin has released two albums with the help of his band, The Tennessee Kids. They are ubiquitous, unapologetic, dance-y, pop masterpieces. They have each been in my CD player since I bought them, and I all but sing into a hairbrush in front of a mirror when they play.

So, when Mr. T [can I call him that?] announced his triumphant return to the Music City, I was among the elated throng who immediately bought a ticket. Yes, it cost about as much as my whole life, but it will be oh-so worth it.

It’ll be worth it because it will be more fun than I or anyone else can shake a stick at, because I know JT will be happy to see me [obviously], and because I like the music. I listen to a lot of music that makes me feel and think. But sometimes, you just need to dance now, think later.

I’ve realized that for me, pop music is dessert. It’s candy. It’s a day off. Too much dessert without anything substantial does tend to make one a little woozy. But sometimes, at the end of a long, terrible week, you inhale a chocolate bar thinking it will make things better. And in some small way, it does.

I still buy organic sugar for my locally roasted coffee, and I’m still planning my Halloween costume around my favorite Wes Anderson movie. I’m just happier now. ย I’m not worried if some American-Spirit-smoker at the 5 Spot will think I’m cool anymore. I’m only hip when I want to be, and that’s the way I like it.


42 thoughts on “How I Learned to Stop Worrying (and Love the Pop)

  1. I was not to hip to see him a few years back, but I am too poor this year. Womp womp! Tell him hi for me! It’s a crazy good show! I was in the nosebleeds and he still melted my face off


  2. I was never a hipster….but I think you could say I was a hippie. That might indicate how old I am….and look at me now. If Led Zeppelin came to town and were to sing “Stairway to Heaven” I might be tempted to go.


  3. Pingback: How I learned to Stop Worrying :P | nehrukandasamy

  4. Or…we could all just listen to what makes us happy and not give a flying squirrel what other people are doing. Or saying about it. Or labeling it.

    Yesterday, I was recalling a moment in history when I failed miserably at all three. It was during a camp out at the base of a mountain in Colorado with a friend who was going to climb it with me in the morning. We settled around the campfire and took turns singing our favorite stuff. I wasn’t two lines into a song I resonated with when he spoke up: “You can always tell a Disney song. So lame.” I felt like I had just gotten shot in the chest. I was about to trust my life with this guy at 14000′ above sea level in eight hours or so and all he could focus on was dissing my emotional music library. Simmering in silence, I watched him pull out a specialized Spanish guitar and start tuning it. I knew damned well what kind of music he favored. I lowered my voice to an evil growl and said, “Anything but flamenco. I loathe the sound of flamenco.”

    So, yeah, the playing field was leveled, we both got our shots in, and neither one dominated. But I felt like garbage. And it might not have been coincidence that he woke up the next morning with a raging flu that sent us straight back home instead of up a beautiful mountain in the summertime. There were a zillion other factors, of course, but the salient point is that it was the moment when he shat on my joy that turned the experience into a downhill run. And it was me who kept it rolling downhill. Since then, I’ve made the choice 99% of the time to keep my big yap shut, even if the other one is being a little cockroach about it. After all, who’s the bigger fool–the fool or the fool arguing with him?

    Never apologize for what makes your heart sing. And never defend it, either. Don’t argue with fools.


  5. LMAOOOOOOOOOOO BETH THIS IS AN AWESOME POST! I can totally relate. I think growing up I refused to listen to mainstream music because I thought it was “cooler” to listen to bands that no one in my immediate vicinity knew about. But I swear I wasn’t a hipster. I’m too old for that trend…emo was the thing back then. But now that I am older, and much, much lazier, I have come to find that I don’t really give a shit if music is mainstream or not. I end up liking what I like. I’m glad you have been united with Jay Tee, I also caved into his catchy beats myself.


    • Glad to make you laugh: that was the goal, and kind of the point of the whole exercise and experience: take a deep breath, enjoy something every now and then for the heck of it, and don’t take yourself too seriously, Stop by again, I like the way you think, and that you spell it Jay Tee [way to break from the mainstream. ๐Ÿ™‚ ].


  6. I think most people who are hipsters know it; deep down they know they are projecting an idea without substance behind it. It’s as if anything remotely counter-culture was absorbed by the superficiality of ‘hipster’ – flannels, eyeglasses, leggings, beer choices (!!!), and even political leanings. I read this great article a while ago in Adbusters (oh yeah, that one too…that’ll hipster-ize you…) and it really hits home what I think consumer culture has created:

    It’s style without substance or anything real or true to say.


    • Good insight. I think the key is just liking who we are enough that we don’t feel the need to hide or diminish parts of ourselves. Thanks for the recommendation.


  7. I grew up in the hippie generation. Some people were nice and some were not. Just because you wore love beads did not mean that you would not hurt someone else. But the legend of the hip lives on. What is cool now, well some of it was cool and hip then and some was just silly.


  8. As someone who listens to and loves 300-year old opera, swing, pop, metal, classical, and Journey, I salute you. Music is about enjoyment and the direct stimulation of the brain, not about being seen to like or disdain the right sort of music by the right sort of people.

    Well … sadly, it IS often like that. But most of those people are tone deaf. (And nearly none of them are actual musicians.)

    I remember a conversation I had with one of the most egregious examples of that sort of attitude. Literally — and yes, I’m using that word literally — the first thing he said when we started talking about music was, “You know the sort of people I have no respect for are … ” followed by some bullshit opinion or other. What kind of emotionally shrivelled nitwit opens a conversation about music like that?

    The sort of people I have no respect for are the people who open conversations about music (or anything really) by telling me who the people they have no respect for are.

    When I finally got myself out of that conversation, I made sure to loudly tell the person sitting next to me how much I LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVED Def Leppard, ELO, and Styx just to piss Mr. I-Have-No-Respect off. :-> (And I do. They’re frigging AWESOME bands.)


  9. I believe that your change of mind is completely necessary and justified. It’s a good thing to find who you are and be proud of what you love! Congratulations! ๐Ÿ™‚
    I consider myself to be a bit odd… well maybe completely strange and possibly a bit of a loser, but you know what, that’s who I am! I may seem ‘different’ or ‘unusual’ to other people, but that is their perspective and it has no impact on me. When others make smart comments it can be upsetting and take my already lacking self-esteem down another notch, but other times I get past it and I don’t give a toss about what someone thinks I look like or what I like. I am still finding who I am and right now I am going to try and make sure no one ruins that journey of discovery just like you!


  10. This totally rings true with me too! I listened to all sorts of obscure stuff when I was a teenager in an attempt to carve out some sort of niche or personality for myself, but I grew so tired of how relentlessly depressing it could be (that and the lo-fi hurt my ears). I started embracing more mainstream indie and rock, and even pop a few years ago, and have been a lot happier since! I’ve realised now that a lot of my friends only listen to ‘obscure’ stuff to seem cool, but I think they’re just insecure about how they’re being viewed by the world, and they think that what they listen to will define them. They all listen to the same things as one another. It’s too narrow! It’s the same as with food; you should diversify your palate to stop yourself from getting bored!
    Right, I’m off to listen to The Killers and then maybe some Haim.
    Great post!


    • Thanks. ๐Ÿ™‚ And you hit the nail on the head: it’s about keeping things interesting. It’s not that I only listen to JT now, or only listened to folksy, random stuff before. I’ve just felt like I had to do something to “reconcile” or “justify” the two. . . when really, I just had to be me, and let the rest take care of myself. Have fun with Brandon Flowers. ๐Ÿ˜‰


  11. I never thought much about JT but a few years ago, my sons and nephews needed a catchy pop hit to perform at a Breast Cancer Walk and we stumbled across JT doing Single Ladies on SNL and I fell hook, line and sinker. I no longer change the station when Sexyback comes on and at 47 I need all the JT vibe I can get. Great post.


  12. I like your attitude here. I like a lot of obscure bands, too, who I think are better than most of what I hear on the radio. Occasionally I fight the resentment that I feel when I hear something generic or repetitive that’s also wildly popular. It just seems unfair that an artist that I love so much isn’t getting as much money and recognition as an artist I don’t like. However, with that said I agree that just because something may not have deep artistic merit doesn’t mean its unworthy of popularity. It also doesn’t mean that the people who DO like that music are also unworthy. So bravo, self-proclaimed hipster, for being totally rational and well-balanced person.


  13. I’m a 47 year old mother of 3 grown children. In high school and college I followed the Grateful Dead and Phish around the country. I had a lot of great experiences and enjoyed the live music but I don’t think I own so much as a single bootleg tape of either band. Mostly I went because my friends went and I wanted to be “cool”. Now I have rather eclectic music tastes that encompass all genres. I don’t know what constitutes “hipster” music (Local punk?) but I’m sure I would enjoy it if it was well done. I have friends that eschew “pop” music because they consider themselves too artsy and sophisticated. Pooh. I have trouble with “pop” stations, but not because they play bad music. It’s because they play the same stuff over and over until it becomes annoying and trite. That said, I LOVE JT and I listen to my local “pop” station all the time in the car these days, just waiting to hear a song of his. I saw him in Philly with JayZ in August and I am going to see him in Boston this November. I might even go back and see him there again in February. Do what you like. Listen to what you love. Music is subjective.


  14. I enjoyed your article, to be honest I am always slightly confused as to the definition of hipster or the purpose of being a hipster. I wonder why we so readily assign ourselves to narrow stereotypes that can never define the whole of who we are at our essence. Looking at me people define me mostly as a rock chick, I am not but I like the style and do enjoy some rock music on the other hand I also enjoy Dolly Parton and Don Williams, I listen to Phantom of the Opera in the Bath and do my housework to the sound of meditation music. My musical preferences don’t and can not possibly define who I am, the same goes for any of my aesthetic preferences from fashion to food, from art to literature. I certainly wouldn’t reject anything that makes me joyful (Mr Timberlake does not however have that effect on me) at the moment my favourite song is Katy Perry’s Roar which I blast unapologetically and sing along even busting the occasional move, much to the amusement and derision of my musically defined friends.
    I suppose what I am trying to say in this mega-ramble is never allow your lifestyle preferences define or diminish your joy, life is fleeting and joy can be evasive, seek it everywhere you find it and give in wholeheartedly to it. Enjoy your meeting with the infamous trousersnake I hope the concert fills you with joy to the point of bursting.


  15. Aahhh! I can’t express how jealous I am that you are going to see JT! I love and admire him SO much. He is probably the most talented man of our times. Acting, dancing, singing, composing.. He is just SO gifted, it’s impossible!


  16. I don’t know what society would call me, so I can’t relate to the hipster-who-likes-JT, and I don’t really listen to JT so I can’t freak out about the concert, but given my lack of personal identity I’m that much more interested in everyone else finding theirs (which is probably why I’m the only person on planet earth who actually enjoys Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but anyway…). The point being, I quite appreciate your post, and also your sarcasm, and I hope you’re that crazy person who scares everyone with her dancing at the concert! (…in a good way, of course…)


  17. I absolutely LOVE this!!! I have twin daughters who have now graduated from college. I am extremely proud of the people they are, in part because they aren’t afraid to “label” their tastes in food, music, fashion, etc. I’d like to think their mom and I had a small part in this, not only because of the structure we provided in the house, but because of our ongoing mantra since they were infants…”You create your own cool.”

    It’s a big world out there, with room for all sorts of people. It is AWESOME to see you being comfortable with your place in it. Keep rocking on…


  18. “Iโ€™ve realized that for me, pop music is dessert. Itโ€™s candy. Itโ€™s a day off. Too much dessert without anything substantial does tend to make one a little woozy. But sometimes, at the end of a long, terrible week, you inhale a chocolate bar thinking it will make things better. And in some small way, it does.” Cheers to that, Beth!


  19. Good for you! The way members of our generation define each other by what music we listen to is cruel and unfair. For awhile this judgment turned me off to music all together and that’s pretty sad. You have a strong voice and are a delight to read.


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