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Do You Need to Actually Shut Up and Dance?

Do You Need to Actually Shut Up and Dance?

Laurie Ulster

I used to be a music snob.

I wasn’t even the good kind, who used my snobbery to seek out undiscovered or uncelebrated musicians nobody else gave their eartime to; I was just stubbornly unable to appreciate the merits of a good (and not even just-good-for-its time) pop song.

I should’ve noted the source when I jotted down this quote a few weeks ago: “Snobbery is a sign of immaturity.” (Did I hear it on a podcast?) Because I think that’s exactly what it was.

To be fair, I was in high school in the 80s when music got synth-y and machine-made and music videos meant that hair was a big factor in terms of what was a hit and what wasn’t. I truly didn’t like most of that music, and I still don’t (with some notable exceptions). But even as I got older, even as I worked at MTV and VH1 and MTV2, I was still weirdly snobby, and as a result, I missed out on really enjoying myself.

Take Madonna, for example. The first time my father heard her, he told me she’d be an important part of music for decades to come. I thought he was nuts. Cyndi Lauper was the one I loved (and still love, especially some of her post-80s phenom work), and Madonna just didn’t do it for me. I watched the world go Madonna-crazy and didn’t understand any of it.

What was wrong with me?

I finally gave her another chance recently, when I realized that anytime one of her bigger songs comes on the radio while we’re all in the car (which means I’m not playing my own music), I start dancing around in my seat. Then I had to cross that big boundary from “This isn’t so bad after all” to “This is truly a great song.” I slowly sprinkled her into my 500+ song playlist, starting with “Cherish” and “Like a Prayer.” Then I sent an apology email to my father and sister for my lack of appreciation for someone they loved and got suggestions for more songs. Boom! I’m listening to Madonna. Unironically.

So why was I such a snob about it? I was never one to like something just because other people did, so maybe that explains the resistance. But it’s more than just not wanting to be a follower; there’s always been a lot of hugely popular music out there that I just hated. When my friends in high school were thrilling to the sounds of Duran Duran and Toto, I was rolling my eyes, and frankly, I still do. That music never caught on with me. I tried pretending I liked it for a while, then finally gave up and resigned myself to being a weirdo who listened to Paul Simon, the Beatles, Motown, and Ella Fitzgerald instead of 80s music.

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You know what finally clicked, in the past few months? The Fugees. Why on earth haven’t I been listening to The Fugees? And Lauryn Hill’s solo album? And why did I always associate Elton John & Kiki Dee’s “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart” with that cheesy but hilarious video and not realize what a f-ing great song it is and how perfectly they deliver it?

See, it’s not just the ‘80s. I went back into the ‘70s (hooray for streaming music services, with the musical world at your fingertips) and found “September,” by Earth, Wind, and Fire. Then I leapt into the ‘90s and admitted that No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak” was a massive hit for a reason: It kicks ass. And then I took a cue from my daughter and added “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon because whenever it comes on in the car, all four of us dance to it.  

And that’s where the truth lies. Something must have happened when I was a kid to make me feel stupid about dancing in public, because I stopped doing it at a certain age, and never did it again. I thought I was protecting myself back then, but what was really happening was that I was missing out. I let self-consciousness (and no doubt some now-forgotten mockery) stop me from expressing the joy that comes so naturally when good music is playing. All those years I could have been dancing but didn’t fill me with sadness. And I don’t want my kids to be the same way. All you get with music snobbery is a sense of superiority that’s very lonely; when you release it and let a good pop song wash over you, you’re a hell of a lot happier.

Dance on, everyone. Dance on.

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