I normally pride myself on having a musical sensibility that is…well, not exactly impeccable, but definitely a good one. I know that “shoegaze” is not something that awkward teenagers do at junior high dances, and that Belle and Sebastian are not merely animated princesses and crabs. My favorite Rolling Stones track was never released as a single, and I think Jean Grae continues to be criminally ignored.
I’m not saying I’m all set to go write for Pitchfork, but I do know a thing or two about music, certainly more than just a casual listener, you know?
This is why my running playlist mortifies me. Sure, I’ve got my share of hipster-approved tracks by Public Enemy and Peaches and Marnie Stern on that list, but I’ve got to be honest – what sounds great in the car late at night doesn’t quite cut it when pumped through earbuds while cranking out mile after mile. Sorry, Spoon, this means you, and you too, Songs: Ohia.
I’ve been able to discern three distinct genres of embarrassing music that I can count on to make me run as fast as a jackrabbit on speed. For your reading pleasure, I share them with you.
1. Mainstream pop music
Whenever you are around a certified Music Snob, they often go out of their way to establish their musical superiority by turning their noses up and sniffing at anything on the radio while extolling the supremacy of whoever they like. “Oh, Lady Gaga is so derivative. Robyn is so much more innovative and interesting. You should really listen to her instead.” Or maybe they talk about how music used to be so much better back in the 60s, back when talent and songwriting actually counted, and usually there is a mention of “Pet Sounds” somewhere in there.
I know this routine well because I actually have a Music Snob in my head, and I consistently have to fight her on things like this. It took nearly a month of heated back-and-forth before my inner Steve Albini acquiesced and allowed me to download Katy Perry’s “Firework” on my iPod.
There is no logical reason why I should be ashamed. I mean, I know all the reasons why this kind of music is considered problematic in the universe of indie and DIY – it’s corporate, it’s formulaic, it has more in common with Cool Ranch Doritos than art. But, just as some days all I want to do is strap a bag of Doritos to my face like a feedbag, sometimes all I want is hear an Autotuned voice singing over some bouncy pop beats when I run.
2. Hip-hop with offensive lyrics
Have you ever been listening to a song and singing along with the lyrics, and you find yourself saying something like, “Til the sweat rolls down my balls, til all these bitches crawl” or maybe something that has the n-word, which I can’t bring myself to say even if it’s part of a lyric, and so you end up going “mmm-mmm” during that part of the song? This happens to me all the time. ALL THE TIME.
But rather than pulling my earbuds out in feminist disgust and flinging them down the road, the overt machismo of the music makes me feel like swaggering around and pumping my fists in the air like Rocky, except without sweat pants. (Come to think of it, Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” which is one of my go-to tracks, is like the “Rocky” theme for white boys who daydream about winning freestyle battles.)
As with mainstream pop music, I know all of the arguments against this kind of hip-hop – how it objectifies women and speaks of them in degrading terms, how it is also a product manufactured to sell some glamorized “thug life” vision to suburban kids, how racist people like to point at it as evidence that all young black men are out to steal your car and your white women – but I’ll be damned if this music doesn’t make me want to shake my ass down to the ground, and that’s the best kind of running music there is.
In the world of electronic music, people tend to gravitate to specific styles of music. You’ve got the drums ‘n’ bassheads and the junglists, who tend to be super hardcore (which you have to be, to listen to irregular rhythms and syncopated beats drilling into your skull for hours on end). You’ve got house and break beats and experimental ambient noise and about seventeen hundred subgenres, most of which are indistinguishable to the average person. In fact, I imagine that many people are like Brian, who hears techno come on the stereo when we drive and asks if my iPod is skipping.
But there is a hierarchy that exists among those who do know the difference, and fans of trance are so low on that hierarchy that they are actually the ground upon which the hierarchy rests. You know who likes trance? Guys who drink Red Bull and vodka. The kind of bro for whom regular drunkenness isn’t sufficient, who takes ecstasy and ‘shrooms to get fuuuuuuuucked up, dude. Those kind of guys. Blech.
Yet the very qualities that make trance so appealing to entry-level raver-wannabes – high-energy beats, repetition, energizing vocals – make it perfect for distance running. You can zone out and focus on matching your cadence to the beat and not have to think about much at all. After all, people can dance to trance for six or seven hours at one go. Most people can run a marathon in less time than that.
And hey, Deena Kastor likes to run to trance, so obviously it can’t suck that hard, can it?
Okay, now your turn – what’s the most embarrassing music you listen to when working out?
A Necessary Spectacle