The first Ed Sheeran song I ever heard was “Lego House,” way back in 2012 at the peak of the piece’s radio fame. Before high school, I wasn’t really one for music; I listened to the radio, sure, but because I didn’t have an iPod — I didn’t have the easy portability that most kids my age did. In regards to music, I was a late bloomer.
Sheeran’s voice enthralled me. It was smoother than the pop music I was used to hearing on 98.7 (the local hits station) and far easier on the ears than the rap that I absolutely hated. Something about the way he drew out the word “for” right before the chorus ramped up made my heart swell. How would I show off my newfound love? A Facebook like, of course. I clicked the button, excited to show my love to the world.
The next day, one of my friends confronted me.
“Since when do you listen to Ed Sheeran?” she asked, in a somewhat accusatory tone.
“ … Yesterday?” I responded, confused.
“Why did you like him on Facebook? You can’t do that if you’ve only heard two of his songs,” she continued, leaving abruptly once she had said her due.
Since then, I’ve been more and more tentative about who I share my music tastes with and why. It sounds stupid, of course, the age old “you’re not a real fan unless you’ve listened to their entire discography 69 times.” Even then, your fan-ship is only valid if you can stand up to impromptu quizzes from any and all members of the artist’s legion of fellow fanatics. Why can’t music just be music? Why can’t Swifties just listen to good ol’ Taylor in peace? Why can’t I like Ed Sheeran on Facebook after only listening to two of his songs?
Music is never just music. That’s the problem. To have music, you must have musicians, and in this day and age, musicians are celebrities — and celebrities are politicians, entrepreneurs, chefs and models. Telling a musician to “stay in their lane” is futile because musicians rarely only have one lane — not to mention the concept itself is usually a bad humored attempt to shut someone up. In regards to the general scale of fame and social leverage, musicians are among the most powerful sociocultural figures in the modern era. Each band and solo artist influences a tremendous audience of listeners, some of whom are young and especially impressionable. If an artist draws attention to a specific political movement, people are going to take notice. If an artist doesn’t, people will notice that, too.
With social media’s prolific presence, it has become easier than ever for artists to communicate with their fans. Eat something tasty? Tweet about it. Fly out to LA? Instagram it. Not mentioning something as significant as politics has to be an intentional oversight, and even staying silent in such a politically-charged environment is a statement rather than a neutral stance.
To a certain degree, my friend had a point. Making up my mind about an artist after only hearing two of his songs was rather short-sighted. Could I form a conclusive impression of Ed Sheeran only from his voice? Probably not. Maybe the irritating sphere of music snobs has a point. Whether you purchase an artist’s music or you listen to them via a music streaming service, you’re supporting them. As long as we stay aware of what that support entails, there’s no need to be a music snob — love for music isn’t something that can be quantified in minutes.