Many years ago, I was filling out a profile on eharmony, and their questionnaire asked what kind of music I liked.
I chuckled as I read the ridiculously-restrictive options: “Rock,” “R&B,” “Country,” and that was about it. But I laughed hysterically when I read the final option: “I don’t like music.”
It seemed impossible that someone could not like music. Little did I know, I, myself, would come to not like music.
It started at the grocery store. I suddenly realized I had been staring at citrus fruits for a solid two minutes. Why? Because “Hello,” by Adele had been playing.
At the time, there was someone from my past from whom I longed to receive a call like the one described in the song’s lyrics. I wanted to know this woman was thinking about me. I wanted to know she regretted leaving. I wanted her to call a thousand times to tell me she was sorry for everything she had done.
So there in that grocery store, I had daydreamt that Adele’s voice was the voice of my ex. I had felt fine when I had gotten to the grocery store, but by the time I had left, I had wanted to go home, close the shades, get in bed, and cry.
“Fuck,” I muttered to myself. “I just wanted to buy a lemon.”
At some point when I was less vulnerable to the lyrics of “Hello,” I heard it at the grocery store, again. I looked around, and noticed several different people mouthing the lyrics.
I didn’t know how these people felt, but one woman looked particularly catatonic: She was pushing her shopping cart in a zombie-like cadence, eyes floating from one side of the cereal aisle to another as she seemed to lament to someone that it doesn’t tear them apart anymore.
This was when it dawned on me that much of the success of “Hello” was probably due to how its lyrics gave voice to people’s fantasies. Nearly everyone has someone from their past from whom they want receive such a call. Maybe not desperately, as I had; but you have to admit it would be nice—if only to tell that person to fuck off.
“Hello” is of course far from the only song that can turn your emotions on a dime. The popular music canon is full of songs about love and loss, about telling your momma you just killed a man and wish you’d never been born at all, or that command you to clap along if you feel that happiness is the truth.
The problem isn’t that I hate music. The problem is, I love music. It’s for this reason I don’t like music. Maybe not in the eharmony sense of not liking music, but I don’t think we need music in every grocery store, restaurant, cafe, and—God forbid—elevator.
Music changes your thoughts and emotions. It can be used deliberately to do this, and we all have headphones at the ready, and millions of songs at our fingertips. But the only thing worse than having your thoughts and feelings involuntarily changed by music, is hearing it so often you become immune to its effects.