Queen is one of those guilty pleasures: a band whose music is great, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I like.
— Anonymous, during a recent conversation we had about music.
I don’t have any trouble admitting that I like Queen, personally, but I do hesitate sometimes before revealing that enjoy some other musicians and musical groups, like Ace of Base and (gasp!) Yanni. I also like enough of the music from The Backyardigans, a Nick Jr. show that my young apprentice occasionally watches, that I’ve purchased several songs from their repertoire (ostensibly for my son’s enjoyment, though I listen to them when he’s not around).
Some people consider ABBA a guilty pleasure, but so much of my childhood occurred while “Dancing Queen” and “Waterloo” were spinning on my dad’s record player that I can’t feel even the slightest bit of embarrassment about enjoying them. ((In my memory, my father owned exactly three distinct categories of LPs: ABBA, Bill Cosby and Country & Western.))
What makes a guilty pleasure? Why should I (or anyone else, for that matter) feel guilty for enjoying the music of a 70s Scandinavian pop group (or a 90s copycat of a 70s Scandinavian pop group) or a smug, over-coiffed, Greek synthesizer slinger? ((I don’t know that Yanni is actually smug, but he certainly comes across that way. If you’ve ever seen his Live at the Acropolis performance, you may know what I mean.))
Context plays a big part; the music I’ll readily cop to enjoying depends a lot on who I’m talking to and what sort of music we’re discussing. ((Peer pressure: no expiration date.)) Am I likely to mention that I own half a dozen Enya albums when the musical topic is metal groups? Not terribly. ((I may not be likely to mention that I own three Metallica albums, either, as Metallica fans seem to be divided into pre-Load fans and…me.)) That’s not to say I’ll deny owning those Enya albums, mind you—there’s just less of a likelihood they’ll be mentioned in that context than if the genre of the moment is overdubbed, ethereal Irish New Age. ((Which, admittedly, is a fairly specific genre.))
There’s also the context of the artist or group itself. ABBA is a product of the early 1970s, and everything about ABBA—from their glam-pop sound to their stage costumes and album covers—is a testament to the time period. There are aspects of every decade in the past half-century that are mocked, from the exaggerated Nuclear Family of the 1950s to Free Love in the 1960s and Big Hair in the 1980s, ((What are the 1990s mocked for, you ask? Mostly Ace of Base and Yanni, I think.)) but I don’t think any decade is shunned with such socio-fashionistic fervor as the 1970s. ((Is there any musical genre more scorned than disco? I think not. Nonetheless, I do enjoy a Bee Gees tune every now and then.))
Then there are individual songs from artists or groups who might not otherwise be considered guilty pleasures. Neil Diamond’s “America” with its bombastic, unabashed patriotism; the saccharine sweetness of “Lovely, Love My Family” by The Roots (produced for another Nick Jr. show, Yo Gabba Gabba!); the sappy sentimentality of Marc Cohn’s “Silver Thunderbird”—all songs that tug at my emotions to such a degree that I often struggle to keep the tears down when I listen to them. ((Yes, I’m destined to turn into the sort of father who is moved to tears by long-distance telephone service advertisements on television. I’m told it’s hereditary.))
What else about a genre, group, artist or song might make it a guilty pleasure? What are your personal musical guilty pleasures and why are they guilty?