I used to spend my teenage years looking down on mainstream media, content, and artists. However, when the iconic opening beats of Charli XCX’s Vroom Vroom blasted through a store at the mall, it was mostly for show that I rolled my eyes and grumbled to my friends, “This again?”

Admittedly, I couldn’t deny to myself Charli’s EP was catchy. But whenever I would catch myself mumbling the lyrics to one of her songs, I would switch the music back to something indy and familiar like the Arctic Monkey’s song “R U Mine?” 

“Hey, let’s listen to real music,” I used to say. 

I began to wonder why I resisted mainstream music so much. Was it because every song that played on the radio was so saccharine and bubbly? Was it because most pop songs seemed to be selling one thing: a normative view of femininity, relationships, and sex? Especially binary characteristics of femininity I felt I would never live up to. 

I didn’t have the words to express how I felt about the subject, so I would just groan and badger my family to turn off the radio whenever pop songs would come on. I was convinced I would only enjoy myself when the Script, Coldplay, or any other artist I decided was popular but still not pop came on. In my teenage mind, their music explored more than clichéd romances or affixations on femininity. 

However, deep down, I was training myself not to enjoy Billboard’s Top Hits. I actively tried to brand myself as indie, alternative, and unlike the rest. 



Consequently, this attitude made it harder to engage with the people around me. When they talked about their shared interests like the new season of American Horror Story or played Taylor Swift’s new single, I would quickly shut them down. “Let’s listen to real music,” I would say, not meaning to but still coming off as demeaning. 

Deep down, I was training myself not to enjoy Billboard’s Top Hits.

As a result, I was quickly becoming someone who was difficult to be around. And understandably so as it gets really old to be with someone who doesn’t try to be invested in the interests of those close to them. Once I noticed this about myself, I realized I needed to confront what animosity I really held towards popular music and culture before I became unbearable to be friends with.

So, eventually, I had to ask myself: what was this facade that I was trying to keep up? What about pop music really bothered me so much? 

At the core of it, I found I was terrified of being like “other girls.” Now, the irony in this frame of thinking is so many young girls when I was growing up were trying not to be like the rest. And steering clear of pop culture was my way of going against what it seemed was expected of me as a teenage girl.

More than that, I was afraid that if I bought into pop music, I would lose certain aspects of my personhood that made me special. My self-proclaimed “edge” over everyone else would be no more. So I pretended pop music was all beneath me and even pretended not to like any of it. However, not allowing myself to enjoy things other people enjoyed left me feeling majorly excluded.

Allowing myself to get into popular culture, has broken me out of my shell

To be clear, it’s completely fine not to be interested in popular music, shows, or movies. Just because they are popular and mainstream doesn’t mean they’re relevant nor enjoyable to everyone. Yet, to demean the value of mainstream art just because it’s popularly consumed is wrong. Plus, I knew I secretly enjoyed it all.

Last summer, I burned through the existing seasons of AHS with a couple of friends who had already seen it. They were excited to relive the feeling of being in high school and I was just joining them along for the ride. Though, episode after episode, I couldn’t believe I was denying myself such good storytelling simply to maintain some imagined act of rebellion.

So the next time I went out with my friends, I unabashedly picked a Britney Spears song to sing at Karaoke and hollered her lyrics to the amusement of my roommates. “Toxic” is now infamously known as “Amal’s go-to song” amongst those closest to me. It felt so good to just let loose and enjoy good music without having my guard up. So what if I wanted to enjoy something tens of millions of people enjoy as well? 

Allowing myself to get into popular culture, from pop music to the TV shows that everyone’s buzzing about, has really broken me out of my shell. Now, I feel less alone. The culture I had always thought was excluding me actually made me feel more included than ever. Of course, there are still pop songs that would never make it into my playlist (I won’t be shady and name them). And shows I’ll still pretend I’m watching ironically, like Gossip Girl. But I will never again be a pop culture hater.

Plus, my music taste is still pretty indie, but I am not ashamed to throw some Nicki Minaj into the mix every once in a while.

Through embracing pop music and popular culture in general, I became more in touch with those around me. I found there is actually power in sharing interests with such a global community. And at the end of the day, it’s popular culture for a reason— all of it is just so damn catchy!

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  • Amal Als

    Amal Al Shamsi is a writer with a BA in Literature from New York University Abu Dhabi, interested in the study of marginality in modern and contemporary fiction. She is passionate about integrating other mediums into her writing, such as film, visual art, and music as she engages with the cultural dialogue around the world.

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