A question of taste

Prince played Vancouver last Friday night. I was chatting about the fey, left-handed musician with a friend of mine recently. Our conversation went something like this:

ME: Yeah, Prince is really not to my taste.

HER: But he’s amazing, what’s not to like?

ME: I acknowledge that he’s a super guitarist, a great songwriter and a fantastic showman. I just don’t care for his music.

HER: Blerg.

I find myself saying a variation of “it’s good, but not to my taste” all the time. And I often find that people seem baffled or disappointed by my response. I guess it’s because they want me to like what they like too.

But–and here’s where I sound like a you-kids-get-off-my-lawn curmudgeon–I feel like there’s been a decline in the idea of taste in our culture. Or maybe it’s a decline in a respect of different tastes.

You would think that, in a increasingly balkanized cultural landscape, people would more readily accept differences like this. But it’s my sense that the opposite is true. What do you think?


  1. It’s true, there are no “unifying” cultural figures that tie whole generations together anymore… the way The Beatles once did, for example… Or even as an idea, as “Rock” music did in the 60’s and 70’s (before the fragmentation represented by disco, punk, etc..).

    There probably still is a hunger for that sense of broad belonging… and certain figures get nominated from time to time for an iconic status that transcends their actual popularity. Whether you like their music or not is almost beside the point, you are compelled to revere them, they are supposed to be above considerations of taste. Johnny Cash comes to mind, and yes there is something of beatification of Prince these days…

    I think that the decline of the notion of “taste” is broader than that, but in my opinion it derives from the same impulse. A deep desire to connect with a wide swath of people through mass art, and music is arguably the most powerful medium to promote that kind of connection.

  2. BTW, if that link of an Alexander Pope quotation to “taste” seems weird, I was remembering just enough from school that taste was an incredibly loaded concept, and had recollections of Pope having a particularly interesting take. That quote doesn’t really capture it though… He also said that a little learning is a dangerous thing.

    This Wikipedia article does a decent job of overviewing what a thicket the notion of taste can be: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taste_(sociology)

  3. Here’s one theory: that cultural “taste” is tribal, a subconscious way of identifying membership in a particular group of people. Tell someone you don’t like something they like, and you’re saying you aren’t like them in some way that transcends musical genres and artists.

    You do like the Flash Gordon soundtrack, right..?

  4. I think u r being kind. I never found Prince’s music to my taste because he is a fruit & nut case with his symbol and do women actually think he is sexy? I pity the ones that do, he is a schmuck. The only song I like of his is When Doves Cry. He is a waste of time.

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