Critical Enjoyment and Other Oxymorons

BANGALORE, India—A certain summer war film raises my hackles. And as the people around me know well, that means constructing a rock-solid argument to present to anyone who asks why I didn’t like it. I must practice constant vigilance. One never knows when a Nolan megafan will emerge from the woodwork.

Whether it’s with music, movies, or books, I’ve always tried to pin down what I feel about the media I consume. When I love things, I love them fiercely, but there’s only so many ways to say that a novel is amazing. It’s far easier to write reviews for books I didn’t like. That can sound vitriolic, but that’s not the intent.

My criticism comes from a place of frustration: I so badly want to be swept away by this year’s summer anthem that it riles me up when I’m not. I want to break it down and spell out the flaws that I perceive in it. But that can be exhausting. So somewhere around my third phone call to my best friend complaining about “Dunkirk,” I wondered how I could be more appreciative of the things that I do enjoy.

I don’t want to switch off my inner critic. I think it’s important to be critical of pop culture, because it’s never just a TV show. But I do want to celebrate the songs or books or movies that really captured my attention, because there’s a lot of them. And instead of more circular, excited conversations with my best friend about how Matthew Reilly is really how action should be written, I found this enjoyment in another form of media.

At the risk of sounding like my NPR-obsessed parents, podcasts are unexpectedly great. This past week, I discovered “Switched on Pop,” a show dissecting what makes pop music so darn catchy according to music theory. There’s some wildly deep insights that remind me of being in a literature class, and there’s some classical references every now and then that go over my head.

But despite the critiquing it does, “Switched on Pop” is at its core two music lovers breaking down what makes pop so good. Imagine that: A review show that is just crammed full of enjoyment of some of the most popular—and therefore most criticized—Top 40 tracks. And for every time my mind is blown while binge-listening to “Switched on Pop,” there’s five times when I’m just sitting in my seat, eyes closed, swaying to the beat. That’s a feeling you can’t replicate.

It’s that in-the-moment, all-encompassing appreciation that I want to write odes to. I’m still grappling with how to reconcile that aspiration with the part of me that wants to write an entire novel on how much I dislike “Game of Thrones.” But while I’m figuring it out, I’ll be thinking about Ariana Grande’s musical genius.

Stuti R. Telidevara ’20 is a Crimson Blog Comp Director in Cabot House.

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