Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a phenomenon where a hostage develops positive, empathetic feelings towards their captor. I propose to you, the notion of musical Stockholm syndrome; where your taste in music has been held hostage by the bands of your glory days and you truly believe that they made good music and are still relevant. Imagine sitting in your favorite pub on a Wednesday night, Rape Me starts playing and you get that inevitable feeling of excitement from hearing it. You love Nirvana after all, right? Consider this: maybe you don’t love Nirvana. Maybe you’ve been held captive all these years by the nostalgia of the ’90s. The pale, heroin-chic look of the plaid shirt under your overalls covering your very thin torso, your hair spiked with frosted tips, and you could smoke anywhere you wanted to. Those were the days. If those actually were the days for you, my sympathies.
I’m not trying to discredit all music from the 90’s here. Was Nirvana influential? Absolutely. They were a solid representation of the feelings of a nation in a time of economic and political distress. Were they good? I won’t answer that. I’ll just leave you with a friendly reminder that they straight-up made the same song twice. Let’s go back to the pub scenario for a minute. Rape Me comes on the stereo… or is it Smells Like Teen Spirit? Whether or not you think that’s good music is up to you. This could also be a case where the music was once relevant but isn’t anymore. We don’t necessarily feel the same way we did when it first came out. The state of the world has changed greatly since 1991, but we try to hold onto the feelings we had or resurrect them in some way.
Maybe I need to use a more obvious example: The Backstreet Boys. Boy, do I want it that way! Wait, no I don’t. That song is terrible. It doesn’t make any sense and it appears to be about a breakup. Yet every time I hear it in a hipster bar with bad 90’s music, or at a karaoke night, I find myself singing along at the top of my lungs. I have somehow convinced myself that the musical sins of my youth are still worth listening to. I can be sure that their music is awful based on their newer work. Even I can’t get behind PDA, and I consider myself a die-hard fan.
I often find myself associating certain albums with specific points in my life or events that I’ve gone through. That doesn’t make the music good. I’ve tied the songs to the memories and that is what keeps me going back to them, the nostalgia of it all. Sometimes I wonder how dumb I must be for holding onto some of these memories. Many of them are shitty and yet I’ll keep putting on that same My Chemical Romance album and feel stronger for having survived my late teen years. Remind me why being an awkward, chubby, greasy know-it-all was so great? The fact is that my late teenage years weren’t ideal, but I’ve created a positive tie to an album that reflected my over-emotional state.
How can we tell if a song was actually good, or if we just want to remember it that way? Only time will tell. Let’s look at the Killers. Their debut album was released in 2004 and ten years later, I still get a rise out of “Mr Brightside”. I can’t help but wonder if this will still happen in another ten years, or if I will be singing along because I feel like I have to. Will it be in the same way that we will be singing “and I was like baby, baby, baby OOOOH!”? Unlikely. There’s always the chance that I’ll sit there fondly remembering the first time I heard “Somebody Told Me” in one of my university labs. The time in my life when I still thought I had a chance as a scientist or a rock star and life was about being as cool as I could be. But maybe they will fall in with the crowd that stands the test of time: The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson etc. Maybe I do have good taste in music after all! Well, maybe not. We’ve already established that I still listen to the Backstreet Boys as an adult.
What I have learned through thinking about this topic is that I don’t listen to music in the same way that I did when I was younger. Just because something is popular, does not make it good. Liking something now does not mean I must love it forever. If you’re able to appreciate a song for the music, and not for how it reminds you of your youth, congratulations, you found a genuinely great piece of art. Here’s to our ever-evolving tastes and letting go of the past.