Age 14-18: In high school I claimed to hate Top 40. This was back when I was desperately trying to seem smart or interesting or whatever the fuck would make someone like me. My understanding of myself was mostly based on the impression I believed I left on others, so articulating a flimsy moral opposition to Top 40 was an easy self-esteem-boosting shtick.
When “I Kissed a Girl” came on, I might’ve babbled about how the song makes light of the LGBTQ community’s struggle for equality. If anyone expressed any interest, I might’ve continued on to vacuously theorize the negative implications that Katy Perry had on cultural beauty standards.
I could ramble on and on about the materialism and misogyny of popular hip-hop, referencing radio mainstays like “Whatever You Like” by T.I. and “Smack That” by Akon. I’d say things like, “All that ego! Such narcissism! Seriously, Lil Wayne’s head is so big he can only fit it into buildings with no ceilings!” Then I’d think things like, “She totally picked up on my wordplay. She’s totally laughing at it. I am clever! Maybe she’ll let me feel her boobs. God, I wonder what her boobs feel like.”
Age 19-21: In college my hatred of Top 40 was mostly internal. This was back when I was taking everything too seriously and desperately trying to convince myself that life had any meaning. If there was no divine or inherent significance of existence, then surely I could find some substance to fill the void in art. But Top 40 wasn’t art. Top 40 didn’t have any meaning. It became a recycled, auto-tuned reminder of my complete and utter futility.
I remember being at a house party that had hired a DJ and cleared the living room to make a dance floor. When a Black Eyed Peas song came on, everyone started singing along. But I just stood against the wall, bitter. I fantasized about unplugging the speakers and screaming at everyone, “How can you get joy out of something so petty and insignificant! How can this make you feel anything but despair!” Instead I just felt sorry for myself and drank until I puked in the front yard.
Age 22: I don’t hate Top 40 anymore. I’ve recently started to feel a healthy sense of detachment that’s allowed me to sit back and observe the absurd hilarity of it all. When I learned that “Raise Your Glass” by Pink was the #1 song in America, I laughed out loud because that’s completely fucking insane! I don’t mean insane in a condescending way, like the song is immoral or pointless and people are dumb for liking it. I mean insane like, “It’s insane that all the continents were once connected.”
Sometimes I’ll pluck lyrics from a song, disregard the context, and reinterpret. Take for example these lines from the bridge of a Ke$ha song I heard the other day: “I wanna stay up all night / I wanna just screw around / I don’t wanna think about / What’s gonna be after this.” The context of the song implies that Ke$ha wants to ‘live in the moment’ by going to a dance club, getting wasted, and then getting laid. But since I could only relate to getting wasted, I reinterpreted. I thought of a time when I came home from work at 3 a.m. to find that my drunk friends had stolen a tent. On a childish whim we set up the tent in our living room, filled it with blankets and pillows, hung up a Debbie Harry poster, and gave our new fort a silly name. We ended up playing dominoes in the tent until the sun came up. I didn’t even hear the rest of the song because I was focusing on a time when I stayed up all night, screwed around like a little kid, and didn’t once think about the dark, eternal abyss that awaits me “after this.”
–Carter Haaland clearly doesn’t know anything about music.