Like the droves of fans that flock to Coachella, Firefly, or Governor’s Ball, this spring I’m going on a trip to a music festival. If you email my work address between May 15th and 19th, you will get a standard “out-of-office” auto-reply because I will be in Tulsa, Oklahoma at Hanson Day.
Yup, that Hanson. “MMMBop” Hanson. Yes, they grew up – they’re all married with kids. Yes, they’re still making music and have put out six studio albums in total, four of which they released on their own independent record label (they brew beer now, too, but I haven’t tried it yet).
Yes, I will be thirty next year, and I still listen to Hanson. Throughout my adult life, I have divulged this information reluctantly to a very select few, the way other New Yorkers my age might admit to thumb-sucking or voting Republican. It’s not because I’m ashamed of the band or their music. I believe in and will fervently support the legitimacy of Hanson’s talent as songwriters, performers and musicians. The only band that takes up more space on my hard drive is The Beatles.
But on more than one occasion, I’ve asked myself “how many dates before I can mention Hanson to a guy I’m seeing and not be written off?” or “if someone important at work sees me retweet Hanson, will they question my maturity level?” That I second-guess myself this way makes me sad – and a little angry. Fans of Death Cab or Daft Punk or Jay-Z don’t have to worry about this crap.
We live in a society that encourages a certain degree of snobbery when it comes to music – as well as literature, cinema, television, and most other forms of culture. At one end of the spectrum there’s the New Yorker, art museums and TED talks. Then at the other end there’s Twilight, American Idol and Buzzfeed. To varying degrees, we applaud each other (and ourselves) for partaking in the highbrow menu items, and disdain the rest as empty calories. Too much junk food makes you fat, and too much cultural fluff makes you shallow. But there are no cultural nutrition labels, so who decides what’s fluff and what’s not? And what’s wrong with reading, watching or listening to something simply because it makes you feel good?
The New York Times Magazine published an essay a few months ago about the concept of the guilty pleasure – and how it’s time we all abandoned it. Not that we should give up books, movies and music that don’t rank high on the scale of cultural sophistication – just the opposite. We should stop classifying them as “guilty pleasures” and embrace them as simply “pleasures.” If something makes you happy, don’t apologize for it. Celebrate it, and grant the people around you the open-mindedness to do the same without fear of judgment. After all, “art” is subjective and life is short. Why waste time and energy feeling bad – or making somebody else feel bad – about the things that bring us joy?
When people scoff or snicker at my penchant for Hanson, I am often tempted to defend the band (and my credibility) fiercely, ticking off accomplishments like their Grammy nominations, critically acclaimed documentary film and sold-out performances at legendary venues like Carnegie Hall. Sometimes I play them tracks from recent albums or show them this video of the band covering the blues classic “Ain’t No Sunshine.” What I’m really saying is, “stop making me feel bad for loving this band. I don’t deserve it and neither do they.” But the point isn’t that Hanson shouldn’t be a guilty pleasure – it’s that there shouldn’t be any such thing (except maybe on a dessert menu).
Love the things you love, and don’t apologize for it. And if Hanson is one of them, I’ll see you in Tulsa.