Blue Robot

Now That’s (Not) What I Call Music: Not Being “Black” Enough & How Guns N’ Roses Changed My Life

Posted by Shamir Lee on 06/13 at 10:04 AM

When I was in the 7th grade, I was at one of those birthday sleepovers that girls have. Everyone was talking about their favorite singers and bands, which consisted of what was popular during 2004. I didn’t really know that much modern music back then. I had Alicia Keys, Beyonce and Destiny’s Child, even Christina Aguilera albums, but I barley knew what was on the Hot 100. But like most pre-teens, I wanted to fit in with my friends at school and know what was popular. My only way of hearing what my friends were listening to was when I went over their houses, or if the radio was playing in stores or at school. I hadn’t discovered the beauty of the internet yet.

At this specific sleepover, everyone was listening to the new “Now That’s What I Call Music!” album. I think it was Volume 14 or 15. All the pop songs were at the beginning. It was literally the first time I’d heard “Toxic” by Britney Spears - that’s how behind on music I was. Some of the more R&B/rap songs came on, (although looking back they were still basically pop) and automatically I liked those songs, even though I barely knew them. About two-thirds of the way through, “rock” (what I like to call pop-rock) started to play.

“Omg, I love this song!” I remember everyone saying that, maybe without the “omg” part, and I expected it from them because it was the kind of music they were “supposed to listen to.” But I felt like I had to stick to my beliefs and declare them to everyone.

“I hate rock music.” ...No one said anything, and eventually we moved on to a different topic.

Just to clarify, if it would’ve been country, I would’ve said the same thing. It wasn’t the fact that it was rock music, it was that it was music that black people “shouldn’t” like. I didn’t learn this from my parents. My mom is one of the most open-minded black people I know. She used to like Billy Idol when she was younger, so that attitude definitely wasn’t from her. It was something I picked up from black movies and entertainment, and unfortunately, from people I went to school with. In middle school, some people said I “acted white” because I talked differently than them. After that, I thought I had to adopt a “blacker” way of living. This consisted of watching more “black” movies and listening to more “black” music, even if I didn’t like them, and rejecting things that weren’t “black” enough, even if I did like them.

So I tried to listen to more rap and R&B, and I tried talk more like a black person, whatever that means. I made sure to immediately turn off any country music and not sing along to the rock music with my friends. I made myself like every black song that came out and learn the dances that accompanied them. I watched BET’s 106th and Park almost every day after school and tried to dress the part of a “black girl.” Eventually, I had fooled myself into thinking I actually liked the trash that was being produced. Okay, not all of it was trash, but most of the mainstream stuff was. When I would like a song that wasn’t in the “black” category, I felt confused. Either that, or I would secretly listen to it at home but not tell anyone else (this was the case with my Madonna obsession).

Then, I heard Guns N’ Roses. I was working at an outdoor recreation center the summer after my 9th grade year, and one of the supervisors listened to Appetite for Destruction almost every day. I couldn’t believe how good it was! It sounded different from modern rock at the time, which I didn’t like whether it was “black enough” or not. They became my first favorite band. Then, I heard Nirvana. Then, Avenged Sevenfold. Soon, I was listening to Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Metallica, X Japan, Led Zeppelin, BUCK-TICK, Japanese music, Middle Eastern music, and all this other stuff that I didn’t know existed! How did I not know about this music before? Because I was busy trying to conform, THAT’S why!

This doesn’t only happen with music, and it definitely doesn’t only happen with race. We’re always trying to live up to expectations. We fall for the labels. We don’t figure out and explore what truly excites us. We accept what our parents tell us or we conform to what our friends think is cool. We don’t want to be different for fear of being called a “hipster,” and sometimes, for people who enjoy things that are less well-known, we fear being called mainstream. We shouldn’t have to conform to a certain category and like certain things because of our skin color, background, gender, or any other classification. Open your minds! You’re missing out on what’s interesting, fun, and inspiring just so you can fit into a boring box! Get out of the box and see the world for yourself, with all it’s color, shapes, creatures, and sounds! Don’t spend your whole life doing what you’re “supposed” to do!

Now, I barely listen to R&B and rap. Not because I think it’s bad. I can’t deny I like music from the New Jack Swing era, Aaliyah, TLC, and anything from the 60s to the 80s. But I don’t feel like I have to listen to those genres in order to prove I’m “black” enough. My favorite musicians are mainly classified as metal. I like classical music and musicians from the romantic era, as well as house and trance. I listen to a lot of film and video game soundtracks. Sometimes, I hear a country song on the radio, and I like it. A lot. And sometimes, I have a Britney Spears-fest, and I listen to all of her older songs on repeat for a few hours. I don’t feel bad about that, either. My point is, don’t feel bad about what you listen to and don’t restrict yourself to a certain type or genre of music. Honestly, listening to a variety of sounds and genres changed my life. It might be a dramatic statement, but it’s true. I’m learning more every day about who I am and what I truly enjoy partly because of the music I listen to, and I have to say Guns N’ Roses is (at least a little bit) the cause of that.

{name} Author: Shamir Lee
Bio: Shamir Lee is a senior majoring in Advertising. She’s a writer for Penn State’s CRITIQUE, a student-run business magazine. Additionally, she has created ads and flyers for One Heart, an organization fighting against child sexual abuse. She’s interested in looking at cats, doing ballet, exercising, and ending animal cruelty. In her free time, she enjoys watching horror movies, some of her favorites being Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue and the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ("sorry, I just really like the cinematography"). Music is a big part of her life, as she plays piano, a little bit of guitar, and used to play saxophone. Some of her favorite musicians are Jason Becker, BUCK-TICK, Megadeth, Aivi Tran, Missing Persons, Nina Hagen, Prince, and Koji Kondo.

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