Music Snobbery

Eric Foote

Have we met before? Chances are pretty good we have, at some point. You might not have met me personally, but on an abstract level, you probably know me pretty well. I’m that guy. The guy who hates all the music that you like, without even listening to it. The guy who knew about a particular band way before they were popular, and frankly thinks they were way better before people like you started listening to them. And, most importantly, the guy who will only admit to liking a band if you’ve never heard of them.

I’m the lovable, or maybe not so lovable, neighborhood music snob. And from your perspective, whatever I say about music is bound to be elitist and unreasonable. Of course, from my point of view, I have exactly the right attitude, and the guys who are even worse about music than I am are the ones that are unnecessarily elitist jerks. The existence of multiple levels of snobbery probably doesn’t make much of a difference to you, since we all seem to rip on you more or less equally; you’re probably more interested in knowing why we just can’t seem to shut up, why we snobs insist on being snobs in that particularly snobbish sort of way.

Well, one of the perks of being a proud and unapologetic snob is the comfortable position it puts me in musically. If I don’t like your music, it’s because your music is terrible. One the other hand, if you don’t like my music, it’s because you just don’t get it. After all, my music is true art of the highest form; a shallow simpleton such as yourself could never be expected to comprehend its complexity.

But why does there have to be such a thing as “my” music or “your” music? Doesn’t it all come down to a matter of personal preference? People can just listen to whatever they want; nobody “owns” the music that they listen to, right? Wrong! And this is just one of many instances in which any attempt at reasonable understanding between the snob and the casual listener invariably stalemates with both sides slamming their faces against an ideological brick wall (If that sounds painful, it’s because it usually is).

There’s a reason why certain people tend to be unreasonably judgmental about music, and believe it or not this trait rarely, if ever, stems from personality. Your typical music snob can be a perfectly likable, agreeable person whom you get along with great… until you say something about liking Nickelback or 3 Doors Down. It’s nothing personal; it’s just that the snob tends to think of music in terms of absolutes. Sure, we allow for the possibility of individual tastes playing somewhat of a role, but from the snob’s perspective there are such things as objectively “good” music and objectively “bad” music. And guess which side you’re on.

You see this sort of “I’m right and anyone who disagrees with me is wrong” type of mentality all the time in politics, on both sides. Chances are, whether conservative or liberal, if you feel strongly enough about your position, it’s because the side you identify yourself with is, on some level, an integral part of your identity. At that point, it’s no longer just a matter of opinion, it’s who you are as a person, and suddenly it’s a lot harder to reconcile that with any opposing views. This may seem to be completely beside the point, but there’s a similar phenomenon going on in the mind of the music snob. “My” music doesn’t just represent whatever I happen to enjoy listening to; it’s a vital part of what makes me who I am. My distaste for “your” music isn’t necessarily an attack. It comes primarily from the fact that it doesn’t sound like “my” music, and I happen to be so passionate about “my” music that it’s difficult for me to comprehend the idea that a rational human being wouldn’t feel the same way.

Ultimately, the attitude of the music snob doesn’t stem from negative feelings like hatred or disgust (no matter how much it may appear otherwise)—it’s actually just the opposite. A snob such as myself simply loves their favorite songs/bands so much that they start to act a little irrationally. A statement such as “band X that you like sucks” then carries with it a hidden subtext. What the snob is really saying is “how could you possibly like band X when band Y is clearly so much better?” This is why the sworn enemy of the snob is the casual listener—the one who can enjoy a song with nothing but a beat they can dance to and a hook they can sing along with. To the snob, music is supposed to be art. It’s about finding meaning and depth, not about fun, and as a result we usually find it bewildering to witness such a seeming lack of passion for the medium that we obsess over.

Of course, this obsession wouldn’t be complete if we weren’t constantly trying to broaden our own horizons. That’s why good snobs are always on the lookout for things that are bigger and better than whatever they listen to now, probing the depths of the unknown and underground in an attempt to find something that gives them even more satisfaction than they’re currently getting. From the outsider’s perspective, this makes it seem as if the snob only insists on liking bands that you’ve never heard of, but in reality this is an unintended side effect—we’re simply trying to maximize the extent of our musical horizons, and since we already consider ourselves familiar with the known, we have to turn to the unknown in order to explore music further.

In the end, when I tell you “your favorite band sucks,” I’m not actually trying to make you feel bad. I’m trying to get you to abandon “your” music in favor of something else, like, say, “my” music. Admittedly, this is probably the exact wrong approach to take, because now if you ever do sample “my” music you’ll be more inclined to hate it, simply because you’ll associate it with the guy who mercilessly insulted “your” music. Unfortunately, being this passionate about anything will invariably lead to irrational behavior, which is why I kept insisting earlier that it’s nothing personal. So while it may be tempting to disregard any of the niche bands that a snob is touting while simultaneously giving your favorite bands a verbal lashing, realize that it’s just our bizarre way of attempting to say something more reasonable, like “hey, check out this band. I think you’ll really like them.” Who knows? Maybe if you do, you will!