I spent the majority of my time from middle school through college feeling embarrassed about my music taste. I actively avoided playing music around most people, and I refused to let anyone look at my Spotify playlists. It wasn’t until recently that I let go of this fear. Guilty pleasures shouldn’t be a big deal — they should be celebrated, and I’m finally embracing mine.
Growing up, I was aware of scene culture before I even knew how to multiply equations. My mother worked in a tattoo shop, so colored hair, studded belts and Hello Kitty accessories were all commonplace for me at the ripe young age of seven. For a while, I was determined to be the complete opposite of that. My first CD was Taylor Swift’s Fearless, and I was determined to play the flute, be a cheerleader and never get tattoos or piercings.
Back then, scene was in full swing thanks to its popularity on the now (mostly) dead social media site MySpace. Scene was a style of both fashion and music. The fashion was candy-colored skinny jeans, band tees, Converse, big hair and bracelets all the way up to the elbow. The music was a mix of electronic party music and heavy, metal-inspired songs, combining screams and guitar breakdowns with synthesizers. Scene culture disappeared around the mid-2010s, but it has always held a special place in my heart.
I’ve long felt like an outsider, as cliché as that is to say. I’ve been shy my entire life, and I’ve struggled with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder since late elementary school, so I had trouble connecting with others and being my true self. My initial rejection of scene culture was a desperate attempt to fit in, yet I still never felt completely comfortable with myself.
I distinctly remember the moment when that changed. On a winter evening in 2010, I went to YouTube on my iPod Touch and came across a band called Care Bears On Fire. I was hooked. From there I started to get suggestions on YouTube for songs by Fall Out Boy and Panic! At the Disco, and when the music video for Pierce The Veil’s “Caraphernelia” was suggested to me, I discovered a new kind of cool: the scene subculture.
My closet filled with band tees from Hot Topic, colorful and galaxy-patterned extra-skinny jeans and seatbelt belts. I secretly used my mom’s hair straightener, despite having naturally stick-straight hair. I was never bold enough to take the scene style to the extreme, but I dreamed of an arm stacked with colored rubber bracelets, thick eyeliner and long, choppy bangs.
When I joined the social media website Tumblr halfway through middle school, I finally found what I’d been searching for: a community. I made internet friends that were as much into Bring Me the Horizon, 3OH!3 and Breathe Carolina as I was. It wasn’t just about the music, though. I had an invisible network of other people who experienced the same struggles I did. We sought to boost each other’s self-esteem through complimenting each other’s Kandi (colorful beaded bracelets) and talking about our worries, and it brought me out of my shell.
Halfway through eighth grade, I transferred to a school across the country that was more than triple the size of my old school, and I was terrified. Armed with a slight self-esteem increase (and most likely hyped up by “If You Can’t Hang”), I decided to do something very much out of my comfort zone — I started talking about music in real life. I quickly found a group of friends who sang The Devil Wears Prada songs with me in between classes and watched early Panic! At the Disco music videos at lunch. Finally, I started to blossom into an outgoing, happy kid.
Unfortunately, being open about my music taste was short-lived. A year and a half later, I moved back to my hometown, and people resumed their open distaste of the subculture I was so invested in. Friends I gave rides to frequently asked me to change my music and, depending on who you asked, I was either a weirdo or a fake. A high school boyfriend regularly informed me that the music I liked was “stupid” and was determined to introduce me to music he deemed “not stupid.”
When I started college, it was painfully clear to me that if I wanted to be cool, I should avoid discussing music at all costs. For a long time, I let it get to me. If the music I enjoyed was universally hated, there must be something wrong with me, right?
Over the last year I’ve slowly come to a realization — why should I be embarrassed about enjoying something? The fact that I still have the lyrics to I Set My Friends On Fire’s “Ravenous, Ravenous Rhinos” memorized isn’t hurting anyone.
Musical elitism is entirely subjective, and bullying someone for their interests and self-expression is pointless. This negativity only causes people to isolate themselves or force themselves to be someone they’re not. The concept of a guilty pleasure does nothing but break down the self-esteem of others.
Sure, aspects of scene culture are outwardly cringe-worthy, but I can partially thank scene music for so many wonderful things — my first boyfriend, some of my longest-lasting friendships and countless bonds forged over Monster energy drinks and mosh pits. Some of my happiest memories started with a music suggestion, a road trip to a concert or a Falling in Reverse music video broadcasted onto the living room television.
It’s been nearly 10 years since I began spending my nights on YouTube watching “best screamo” compilations, and I’m done being ashamed of my love for scene music. I’m grateful for the experiences I had at the height of my scene phase, and scene music still brings me joy. It’s silly, gaudy and sometimes nonsensical, but it has helped me become the person I am today. I’ll never feel guilty about it again.
Daily Arts Writer Harper Klotz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.