Saturday, July 02, 2011

Why nobody can answer the "what kind of music do you like?" question

At a drinks do the other day a woman asked me the question I dread the most.
"What kind of music do you like?"
I know she was only trying to make small talk. I really shouldn't shrivel up the way I do. I wouldn't have a problem if she'd said "read any good books lately?" or "have you been on holiday yet?" because those questions demand direct, specific answers.
Two kinds of people ask me the "what kind of music?" question. There are those who don't know I've got the better part of 20,000 records at home and therefore my relationship with music could be said to be complicated.
Then there are the people who know I've got a lot of records and expect me to be somehow expert in predicting what they might like.
In truth there is nothing you can say in response to the question that doesn't make you sound like either a dunderhead or a raging pseud.
I've heard all these and more. I've probably said some of them.
"Anything with a good tune" is the only honest answer but it's been unusable since 1965.
"You probably wouldn't have heard of them" makes you sound 17-years-old, which is the emotional age of most men when it comes to discussing music.
"Coldplay and Beyonce" makes you sound like a sheep.
"The Arctic Monkeys" makes you sound like Gordon Brown.
"Anything but country and western" marks you out as both snob and moron.
"I don't like music" is just plain rude.
"Oh, bit of trance, bit of rare groove etc" makes you sound like a cloth-eared category shopper.
"Oh, I always think Louis Armstrong had a point when he said there were just two kinds of music: good and bad" makes you sound pompous enough to punch.
To avoid any of these and other catastrophes I tend to look down and mumble "all sorts of things", at which point my interlocutor will invariably say "oh, like me!"
That's the interesting thing about taste. Everyone thinks theirs is broad. Mostly it's not. When you've worked around music and music fiends as long as I have you learn that only a tiny handful of people are familiar with a wide range of music and catholic taste when it comes to appreciating it. And they tend to keep quiet about it because they know how much they don't know.
Anyway, my wife appeared and rescued me mid-mumble with a change of subject. I've thought about it a lot since. I think in future if people ask me what kind of music I like I shall respond brightly with "The Beatles!"
At least it's honest.


  1. I think you'll find it was Ellington, not Armstrong. Punch me now.

  2. From now on I shall answer that question with "Mahavishnu Orchestra!" and see where it gets me.

  3. It's a question that my son tries to avoid too, for much the same reasons. He learned some years ago, if someone mentioned a band he liked, not to ask which was their favourite album. Most people don't listen to whole albums, just the hits, so the question embarrassed both of them.

  4. I say "opera" which has two advantages: 1) it is true (though not exclusively so) and 2) people leave me alone after that.

  5. Opera is a good idea. Something that people know, respect but aren't comfortable talking about.

  6. I hate that question with a passion. For some reason 'pan pipes' come to mind whenever I'm asked it. But it never seems like a complete answer so I don't say it. Plus I never listen to pan pipes.

  7. I usually say "I like everything" but then they mention a band and I have to say "but not them"

  8. At my first school dance, struggling to make conversation with the 13 year old girl I had invited to the floor, I popped the dreaded question.
    She looked at me almost with fear, grimaced and said, "Pop music?"
    Now it sounds as good an answer as any.

  9. Don't really see why you have to give an absolute answer, for all time.
    Just say 'lately I've been listening to a lot of (Bob Marley) or (whoever/whatever) again' or something like that.

    If reggae or reggaeton is your thing, say, steer the conversation on to the relative merits of visiting Jamaica, or Cuba. I've never been to either so if it was me I might learn something.

  10. I usually say I love all *types* of music, but I hate most music.

  11. Or...I like mostly everything but never entirely happy with my own....

  12. I'm afraid I've used a variant on the good/bad music response which, with hindsight does make me sound a touch up my own backside ("there's no good and bad music, only music one likes or does not like").

    My favourite response is to say, "my wife says I have a very catholic taste in music".

  13. I tend to say "well lately/last night/in the car" I was listening to x (or more likely "something really good that my daughter played, can't remember the band/song etc") and that generally gets the conversation going.

    Then if it keeps going a bit longer you can say "well actually there hasn't been any good music since xxxx" and off you go again

  14. Some version of Office Pest's "Lately I've been listening to..." seems like the perfect response to this aggravating question.

    I wish I'd thought of that.

  15. Generally, I say '70s rock. Tends to stop the conversation dead but, hey ho, that was going to happen at some point anyway so why delay the inevitable. And it's honest.

  16. I respond the same way as I have since I was 15, "Hard rock and melodic heavy metal". They look at my clothes, haircut, age and job, and think I'm pulling their leg.
    I'm not.

    However, I also like most things melodious that have been created with attention to production, containing a good hook, riffs, harmonies, a fun chorus and high energy or hypnotic ambiance. So, lots of things from Air and ABBA to ZZ Top and Zebra. Of course, I can't name-check ABBA, because as much as they represent a song-writing and production style I adore, it's totally daggy to admit that in public. I can't name-check The Sweet, although they're a huge part of my musical life, because almost everybody thinks they're a glam pop group, and can't/won't/don't listen if you attempt to illuminate them.

    I like presenting an image of head-banger in a businessman's body. It's kind of true at the very core, and I do enjoy people leaving with the impression that I'm not like them.

  17. Brilliant! I suffer from the same question with EVERY new acquaintance im introduced to. its awful. I usually go with "dont worry about it" or "fuck you" and walk away.

  18. Always late for the bus, I’ve only just spotted this gem.
    Some great answers. Love 'em all.
    "The Beatles" has been my standard response for ever, so "Snap" on that one. Although I sometimes substitute "Anything with a decent guitar solo." This isn't true, because all too often the guitar solo is the only thing about the thing I like.
    One question. Surely there's a book of “suitable” answers waiting to be compiled.
    Or have I Missed that particular bus, too?

  19. If you're feeling brave, you could say "My own, which 'tho' not musical, I craft from Musescore software."
    Sort of an X-Ray of your interloculor's ability to think on their feet, ditto for yourself.

    I remain, etc.

    Hummin Human

  20. There are a lot of Answers here, i guess the title is void now?