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It goes both ways

I was sitting in the drive thru of a Jack in the Box the other day and I got to thinking: man, I really need to get my life together man, black people really do love “True” by Spandau Ballet.

Which is ironic because I don’t know if I know any white people who are into that song. Not that I’ve conducted any surveys or anything, but I remember one time we were having this meeting at the BGM and “True” came over the Muzak. One person was like, Good Lord, not this song. Everyone else just kinda chuckled. My guess is that if I wasn’t the only black person working at the BGM, someone would’ve been like, Damn, that’s my jam!

True story, no pun intended.

Of course “True” was most famously sampled by PM Dawn, who famously got tossed from a stage by KRS-One. But according to one of these essays I was reading from this year’s Pazz and Jop, PM Dawn was every cracka-ass cracka’s favorite group of 1991, not unlike the Clipse 15 years later. Hmm…

But I’m sure white people’s[1] tastes in hip-hop have evolved quite a bit since then, right?

Of course they haven’t, but here’s the thing: It goes both ways. White people tend to fetishize certain aspects of black music that aren’t particularly worth a shit, but white people might actually have better taste in black music than black people do in white music.

Case in point: black people’s fascination with John Mayer.

Black people love John Mayer – so much so, in fact, that it didn’t seem out of the ordinary when they had him perform in a neo-soul showcase alongside the likes of John Legend and Corinne Bailey Ray at this year’s Grammys. He’s basically a black artist at this point.

MTV did a story on this a little over three years ago. I did a story on it then for my own blog, which again highlights how very little I’ve done with my life.

As Jay-Z put it back then:

“[He’s] smooth. You can throw it on in the car, you know, get lost in your thoughts.”

Kanye West:

“His lyrics are really inspirational. He words stuff with a real, I guess it’s witty, intelligent, very human [sensibility]. I would like to grab some of those qualities.”

Pharrell from the Neptunes:

“He’s dope and he’s talented. You get this ’70s pop-rock sensibility with the writing that he does. You know, the dude is a real musician. It’s like anything you ever loved in Joe Jackson or anything you ever loved in any ’70s rock. You’re gonna get it out of this dude. He’s a real student, and it comes through in his music.”

To be sure, John Mayer is pretty well liked among actual white people. You don’t get to take pictures of Jennifer Love Hewitt’s boobs on TV (like caressing the holy grail) unless you’re pretty good at what you do. (He’s also been linked to Jessica Simpson, which I think is a pretty good indicator of what he’s into.) But would he be where is today if black people had better taste in white music?

Here’s the thing: I don’t begrudge anyone the freedom to listen whatever kind of music they like. If you see something in “True” beyond what’s there, i.e. nothing, good for you. At least someone’s enjoying their life.

I think it becomes bothersome when other people’s misguided tastes begin to actually dictate the course of popular music; when Hell Hath No Fury becomes the most critically acclaimed album of the year because white people think the Clipse actually sell crack, or when John Mayer gets one of the R&B spots at the Grammys because he reminds Pharrell Williams of Joe Jackson.

At the same time, it’s important to remember that taste is subjective. It’s easy to mock someone else because their own tastes don’t align with ours, but how many of us can really claim that our own taste is beyond any sort of criticism? I know I can’t, and I can’t say that bothers me.

[1] Note that I like to speak in generalities here. It makes my stories more interesting.

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