“Do you have anything else?”
Marco, my chummy Uber driver, hadn’t meant to embarrass me. When he first handed me the aux cord and told me to blast some “dope tracks,” he thought that he was doing something fun for both of us.
Had any other young adult slid into his Hyundai, he could’ve rocked out to Rihanna or Drake or another current artist. Instead, he had picked me up, so he was forced to sit through Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone.” When he asked if I had anything else — anything at all — the best substitute I could offer up was “Moves Like Jagger.”
When people ask me what sort of music I like, I can give a very specific answer: mid-2000s pop. My Spotify playlist — titled “you already know the words” — has 543 songs all from 2014 or earlier. My favorite artists are Maroon 5, Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Flo Rida and Sam Smith.
When I’m feeling hardcore, I put on some heavy rap beats like “Super Bass,” “Low” or “Timber.” The most recent Rihanna song I have on my playlist is from 2007. The only reason I know all the words to “Gold Digger” is because I really like the “Glee” cover. My most obscure track is “Livin’ La Vida Loca” — from the “Shrek 2” album — which I only added because I once dressed up as a cat and sang it in a talent show (I lost that year.)
Songs like “Hips Don’t Lie” and “SexyBack” are supposed to hit you with a wave of joyous nostalgia; you’re supposed to be surprised you still remember the words because it’s been all this time since you last heard them at prom. I don’t feel that kind of sentimentality, because all this time has only actually been a couple of days.
I see you rolling your eyes at me.
It would be easy for me to just say that we don’t get to choose our own music taste and that I never wanted to like any of this. I could tell you that I’m cursed, that I’m dying to be rescued from this “Teenage Dream” by a “Bad and Boujee” liberator. But then I would be lying, just as you would be when you pretend to scoff at my music. I can see right through you when you tell me that you’re so over Jason Derulo or never sang along to “Somebody That I Used to Know.” I think we all have a soft spot for 2011, whether we can admit it or not.
The difference between you and me is that I never learned how to move on.
I am doing my best to catch up. I listened to “Trap Queen” for the first time last month and just recently Googled who Chance the Rapper was.
Growing up can be difficult for anybody, but I seem to be particularly terrible at it. I’ve barely developed past my middle school years; I’m just as gullible and overconfident as I was when I was 13. I put up a good show at feigning maturity — sometimes I even wear eyeliner or matching socks. But really, in the words of a friend, I’m just “a kid waiting to be led into the back of a van by a guy with a couple of puppies.”
College life — and the music that underscores it — is constantly taking me by surprise; I pretend that I’m in the loop on all of it. My music taste, however, constantly gives away my naiveté. There’s nowhere for me to hide; mid-2000s pop is too blatantly uncool.
Music is a product of its era. We had all thought the world was going to end in 2012 anyway, so the music we made in the mid-2000s was more about harmless fun and mischief than anything else. The popular culture of 2011 was cringe-worthy in its indifference toward originality and in its sanitized undercurrent of rebellion.
Impressionable middle schoolers like me were hit particularly hard by the empty promises of the mid-2000s. Even if none of us had ever been to a real party, we all imagined that we knew exactly what one was like because we had listened to The Black Eyed Peas. To a 13-year-old, Adele’s music was the anthem to a passionate love affair gone awry with an eighth-grade heartthrob. The autotuned voice of Ke$ha was enough to convince us that we were wild and restless.
Most of my middle school classmates, however, figured out what real “edgy” life feels like during high school, and their music taste evolved to account for it. Kendrick Lamar, Ariana Grande and The Weeknd started to make a lot more sense than P!nk or OneRepublic did.
That sort of evolution is exactly what’s supposed to happen when you grow older. You shed the skin of your puberty-plagued self and learn the words to “Broccoli.”
I never made this grand leap into the contemporary musical frontier. My playlist is now so dated that it belongs in a museum, but I refuse to betray myself and update it with the latest hits. I don’t see why I should fix something that isn’t broken. I love 2011 because nothing was ambiguous or complicated. I suppose my guilty pleasure has beaten me.
But in all fairness, once you’ve discovered “Hollaback Girl,” how could the “dope tracks” preferred by chummy Uber drivers possibly satisfy you?
Shannon O’Hara writes the Thursday arts & entertainment column on growing up through entertainment. Contact her at [email protected].