Pop music labeled guilty pleasures

Columnist Kevin Stairiker says so-called ‘guilty pleasures’ are critical to any music collection. This semester I’ll be writing about music of all creeds, and maybe even all of the music of Creed. But here’s a

Columnist Kevin Stairiker says so-called ‘guilty pleasures’ are critical to any music collection.


This semester I’ll be writing about music of all creeds, and maybe even all of the music of Creed. But here’s a question that you should be thinking at this point, as your eyes rush from word to word through hurried text: “Why should I listen to this guy?” Good question.

Thankfully for me, there is no answer. I’m continually confounded at the way music moves people to do things–from leaving their homes to follow a band they love on tour, to working out harder, to writing an erratic column in a college newspaper. I’m going to be writing about music that I love the most, and if that inspires you to Google a band or singer under or above your radar then I’ve done my job. Now let’s talk about Britney Spears.

Without hyperbole or argument, Britney Spears’ “Femme Fatale” was the radio pop album of the summer. From its sometimes perfect singles and album cuts, to its shameless aping of current trends to make sure that it never left your mind for longer than a week at a time, “Femme Fatale” proved that if you pay enough people to do their jobs correctly, you can manufacture an album so heinously good that no other pop album has a chance.

I was discussing the album with a friend of mine who had heard some of the singles on the radio and they described it as such: “‘Hold It Against Me’ and “I Wanna Go” are really, really good, but I would never put them on my iPod or anything…they’re guilty pleasures, for sure.”

To someone that likes things unabashedly, a statement like that is ridiculous, but commonplace. The problem with calling something a ‘guilty pleasure’ is the idea that someone should be made to feel guilty about receiving joy from something that they love.

It’s a phrase that can really only apply to pop culture things like music and movies, because, well, can you imagine how crazy it would be to use it for anything else? “Oh man, this is embarrassing…I don’t usually eat toast, it’s just a guilty pleasure of mine, you know?”

Another problem with a ‘guilty pleasure’ is that it’s entirely up to the individual to decide what a “guilty pleasure” actually is. One person’s could be Prince’s “When Doves Cry” or Kid ‘N Play’s “Face the Nation” album–there’s no defining quality that makes something “so bad it’s good.”

Another fantastic example of the ridiculousness of believing in “guilty pleasures” would be the formerly-ubiquitous YouTube hit “Friday” by cyber-bullying-poster-child Rebecca Black. Before the official video was taken off YouTube, “Friday” had more than 160 million views.  That sure makes the view count of your acoustic cover of that Radiohead song seem pretty limp, doesn’t it?

How many people would be willing to admit that, however poorly written or auto-tuned, the song was actually pretty catchy? A music video, regardless of how funny it may have been, doesn’t get more views than the combined populations of Germany and Egypt purely on the basis of hilarity and internet fame. At that point, it was safe to say it was something an incredibly silent minority liked. A lot.

When I was in sixth grade, I had a friend who was two or three grades above me who I sometimes played video games with. I was just getting into music at the time (read: I was just starting to watch TRL at the time) and tried to talk to him about music. When I asked what he listened to, he replied simply and without fear of perjury: “Yeah…I pretty much just listen to the “Halo” soundtracks and Weird Al Yankovic.”

Now when I was 12, I thought that a statement like that might as well have been a confession of insanity. How could someone get by just listening to those two things? But after all of these years, I respect his willingness to be blunt with his musical preferences, especially in the face of someone who was really, really digging 50 Cent at the time.

He just as easily could’ve tried to squirm his way around the truth, repeating my current favorite music-related lie “Oh, I listen to a little bit of everything.” To most people, those two things are hall of fame ‘guilty pleasures,’ but my, incredibly and painfully nerdy friend didn’t care at all, which almost negated the fact that he exclusively listened to “Halo” soundtracks and Weird Al Yankovic … almost.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this rambling mess, I loved–and still love–“Femme Fatale.” I also get annoyed when people list “Cowboys From Hell” over “Vulgar Display of Power” as their favorite Pantera album, or completely disregard Phife Dawg’s contributions to A Tribe Called Quest.

My point is, even if you like music that is “acceptable” by list makers, buzz blogs or music history, don’t be afraid to proudly proclaim your love for Counting Crows’ “Hanginaround” if you love it as much as your play count suggests you do. And for anyone wondering, the best song on “Femme Fatale” is, of course, “How I Roll.”

Kevin Stairiker can be reached at kevin.stairiker@temple.edu.


  1. Amen. I’m a gen-Xer and I find myself listening to alot of music that I thought I was too cool for back in the day.

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