Why do we love the songs that we love?February 9, 2010
I love the movie Zero Effect. I’d recommend it to you, but I’m not sure you’d like it. It’s not the best movie out there, but something about it just speaks to me. It’s my favourite example of how my regard for something has both a component that is a recognition of technical proficiency (how good something is—in the case of Zero Effect, Jake Kasdan‘s debut feature film, decent but not amazing) and a component that’s just, well, how much I like it.
I thought of this film recently as I got sucked into the exercise of creating a list of my hypothetical personal top 20 songs (I say ‘hypothetical’ because I don’t know how many will end up in the list. I’m not a listmaker by nature; I’m always impressed by the singlemindedness of someone like John Peel, who can say “This is my favourite song ever.“) Collating the songs I loved turned out to be an interesting exercise because of, not to be overly solipsistic, what it says about myself. I’m incredibly lyrics-focused (if you’re reading this, that presumably comes as no surprise) but I was also struck by how all of the songs engendered such a strong emotional response from me.
With an essentially infinite number of songs out there, what distinguishes the ones we love from those that we merely like? I suspect that, for most of us, it’s not going to be the technical proficiency. It’s going to be the songs that just speak to us, that resonate with us emotionally. Since we all have different personalities and experiences, we’re necessarily going to have highly idiosyncratic and individualized response to music.
If emotional resonance is a significant factor in how we feel about a given piece of music, then how we get exposed to new music is likely to affect how much we like it. Think about the music in these situations:
- something you hear on the PA in a store
- a new song that comes up on your Pandora station
- an artist you check out based on a positive review
- an album recommended by a trusted friend
- a mix CD made for you by a new lover
It’s pretty easy to surmise that the latter few situations will give the music in question a big boost on the emotional resonance front.
What do you think? Why are your favourite songs your favourite songs?