You know it’s coming.
Your heart starts to beat a little faster. Your chest reacts to its change of pace with up-and-down, up-and-down motions. Your eyes widen in anxious anticipation for the four most complicated words in the English language that’ll soon be thrust in your direction:
“What’s your favorite song?”
Every song you’ve ever heard starts to go through your head and you get dizzy and time keeps passing. But you still haven’t said anything. Your heart begins to race even faster than before. All memories of melodies soon vanish, except for the “Friends” theme song because it was the last thing you watched on TV before you went to bed last night. You suddenly want to utter an expletive (or break out into “I’ll be there for youuu”), but you look up at the person who asked the question — that cruel interrogator — and realize that an immediate reply is necessary because you’re dancing on the brink of social ineptitude and a nervous disorder.
So you blurt out your go-to song: some old Beatles tune you heard when you were five or some sappy acoustic number that touched you at one point in your life. The typical answer. But is that really, out of all the brilliant music weaving through the world, the song that powers through for you? What is it that sets a song apart, and how do you know when you’ve truly found the one?
It’s so hard to narrow it down. We’re fortunate enough to have more genres these days than fingers on our hands, but that makes it even harder. You could go the rock route, the EDM route, the nerdcore hip-hop route — all will produce beautiful and valid contenders.
Then there’s the pesky issue of time: can your all-time favorite song only be from the past since it has stood the test of time already, making it automatically great? I often cite one of my favorite tunes as “Heroes” by David Bowie (1977), an incredibly atmospheric, 7-minute plea that’s too hard for me to describe (partly why I love it so much). It’s been kind of immortal, resurrected quite famously in a “Moulin Rouge” medley and, most recently, in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” The first time I heard this song I had chills all over my body.
But the first time I heard “Blood” by The Middle East, I cried, and that song is from 2008. So is it any less worthy of the title of “favorite” because it hasn’t paid its dues yet? I can also muster “Aneurysm” by Nirvana, “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye and Frank Sinatra’s “Summer Wind” when I hear the word “favorite.” But I can’t pick just one from that crazy, aforementioned bunch. That’s five different eras, artists, genres, moods and melodies that are impossible to compare. They radiate on their own. And when I try to pick one, I find I’m blocking the light of another; it’s just not fair.
The four-word tortuous question is also ambiguous. It could be interpreted as “What’s your current favorite song?”and that opens a new dimension of ditties to choose from. I could spit out a couple amazing songs that’ve come out in the past year (Beyoncé’s “Partition,” duh). And I could also expel a few jams I’ve been listening to as of late, which don’t necessarily have to be from the 21st century — Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” and The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Today” presently dominate my Spotify account. We all struggle with this musical grey matter and these contradictions.
I would argue, though, that these are the furthest things from contradictions. Music is art, and art is meant to be enjoyed anywhere, anytime in its various forms and guises. Songs are our cousins, our siblings, our family — it’s too politically incorrect and nearly impossible to pick a “favorite” member. We vibe to what we vibe to, and there’s no sense in trying to add a hierarchy to one of the few spheres of the world where we are free of any kind of order. The beauty lies in the freedom to declare “Anaconda” by Nicki Minaj as good as “Yesterday” by The Beatles, if you want to.
It’s taste, and a lot of music tastes good. So what’s my favorite song? All of them.