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What's Your Guilty Pleasure?

Musically that is. Abba when alone? Or worse?

By Elaine Corden 16 Aug 2005 |

Elaine Corden writes about pop culture for the Tyee. Her work has appeared on CBC Radio, and in The Georgia Straight, The Vancouver Sun, The Globe and Mail, Vancouver Magazine, Time Out, Victoria Times-Colonist, Monday Magazine, FFWD, The Hour, North Shore News, Shared Vision and some papers in Florida, Texas and Oregon she forgets the names of. Until recently, she authored the music column "Band Geek" for WestEnder, where she also acted as Arts Editor. She maintains the pop-culture obsessed blog Trifective, and is currently working on her first novel.

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Wednesday night is cleaning night at my house. It has to be this way, because otherwise I will live in squalor until the health department comes in. I don't like to clean. And so I dance. With my broom. Like the Swiffer ads, but, I hope, less soccer mum-y. I am not proud. But I am also not knee-deep in my own filth. It's a compromise I've learned to live with.

On a recent Wednesday, the broom and I were performing our usual pas-de-deux when the phone rang. I answered, without turning down the cranked stereo, to find one of my editors on the line. Not just any editor. A rock-snob, controller-of-an-uber-hip-music-rag editor. I turned the stereo off, but it was too late. He had caught me listening to "Emotions". Not even the BeeGees version. The schock-o'-the block Destiny's Child cover. I felt vaguely like a teenage boy caught in the, er, exploratory phase of adolescence. Shut the Door! Shut the Door!!! Turn the stereo down!!!

But it was too late. There I was, caught red-handed with the musical equivalent of the Sears catalogue. My guilty pleasure was exposed.

The guilty pleasure is a singularly decadent weapon in the arsenal of personal musical satisfaction. Its very nature is an indulgence in individual desire, a delight not shared with friends or lovers, but rather furtively enjoyed when we think no one else is listening. Unlike revered legends or critically adored buzz bands, the crap we crank up on the sly is perhaps the truest indicator of who we are, or who we'd like to be, if just for a moment.

I guess what I'm saying, is, somewhere deep down inside my pasty-white, nerdlinger self, I long to be bootylicious.

True confessions

After getting caught with my musical pants down, it seemed like a guilty pleasure survey was in order. The kind of survey that can only be conducted after a few beers have been consumed by the respondent. The results were shocking. There are more closet Steely Dan fans out there than one would ever suspect. Hall and Oates? Huge amongst aging hipsters. And amongst my educated, feminist friends, the dirtiest secrets of all: Kylie. Shakira. Mariah Carey. Lord help us.

Of course, the advent of podcasting, iTunes and general internet free love has meant that our access to our most unspeakable desires is now readier than ever. Pre-Napster (and surely time will one day be marked as such), a trip to the record store to buy Chicago or Lionel Richie would possibly incur the disparaging, judgmental sneers of the cooler-than-thou clerk. Now, we can download "All Night Long" in the privacy of our own home. No muss, no fuss, no brown paper bag. Let the sappy times roll.

Free your mind

But if our crap consumption is on the rise, our shame about it is not. Nick Bragg, manager at Zulu Records in Vancouver (where it should be noted, disparaging sneers are virtually non-existent), reckons there's no such thing as a guilty pleasure. Putting the trend of schlock fetishism of down to widespread post-modernism, Bragg insists that the idea of being ashamed of one's taste is long dead.

"A lot of people will want to hear something because they have a childhood memory of it, or it reminds them of a good time in their life. I don't really think there should be any guilt about that."

So much for the legend of the derisive record store clerk: Bragg, at the helm of Vancouver's nexus of indie-rock, couldn't care less about your fetish for Foreigner.

In fact, most of the self-identified rock snobs I surveyed seemed hesitant to make any musical mea culpas. It almost seems that guilty pleasures are in vogue, with DJ's and elitists scrambling one-up each other on their most cotton-candy indulgences. Think Manilow. Journey. Toto. Starship. Okay, now stop.

Worse and worse

In the UK, BBC DJ Sean Rowley has been hosting Guilty Pleasures club nights for over a year, allowing revelers to dance to everything from Queen to Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes. In the club, faux- priests walk around to absolve dancers of their sins, at the same time taking requests for so-bad-they're good favourites. The nights have spawned two chart-topping compilation discs and legions of imitators, and have undoubtedly exposed hordes of Wham fans for the suckers they are.

Lest all this seem too silly, drop by Rowley's website, which features a report from a Guilty Pleasures night in London just one day after the July 7 bombings. "The atmosphere is always special." writes Rowley. "But this time it was something else."

Maybe that's the ultimate allure of the guilty pleasure, and why so many are coming out of the closet on their forbidden loves. Enjoying songs without any supposition of cool brings us back to why we're music fans in the first place - the power of a good pop song to transcend all tragedy and heartache. Whether it be shower-singing to the Carpenters, air-drumming to Boston or gobbling up some piping hot Bread, there's no reason to keep your love of crap in the closet. There's no reason for shame. There's just tunes that make you happy. Go on and enjoy it. It's your destiny, child.

Elaine Corden is a Vancouver freelance writer and Interim Arts Editor at The WestEnder.

Go ahead. Confess you musical guilty pleasures. Post a comment below.  [Tyee]

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