The Importance of Listening To Your Ears: How “Guilty Pleasures” Stunt Young Listeners’ Musical Growth

Written by Emily Balcerak

I originally wrote this piece for MTV Founders. It was rejected because of its tone. I get that. However, I still find it to be of value and a reflection of my personal experience.

It’s 8:43P.M. on a Thursday night and after a day of enough typing and internet grazing to fry my brain, I flip absentmindedly through a Spotify playlist, hoping a melody–any melody will catch my ear’s attention.

To no avail, my ears can’t settle their internal dispute. Springsteen? “No, I don’t have the capacity to feel that motivated right now,” I thought. “Maybe in the morning when my brain is fresh.”

What about that new Culture Abuse record? “Nah, I don’t really want to listen to something new right now. I want to listen to something familiar.”

The entire discography of nearly any artist imaginable at the tips of my fingers, and yet nothing. Nothing.

After a day of saturating my eardrums with high-velocity garage, punk and alternative music in rotation, they refuse to listen anymore. They are exhausted. They would like something lighter to listen to, so I listen to them. I listen to my ears.

I don’t want my mood to shift from content to sullen in a stint of late-night sad-f.m. with the likes of Elliott Smith, and I am certainly not in the mood to reflect on my most recent mistakes and stew in regret as per accompaniment of Sorority Noise, a punk-meets-emo outfit; I want to have fun.

After all, it’s what girls just want to do, right?

That’s right. I frantically type in, “Cyndi Lauper” and entail on a three-hour long binge of 80’s pop all the way to ‘90s one-hit-wonders like Tal Bachman’s, “She’s So High” with a hint of Sixpence None The Richer’s “Kiss Me” thrown into the mix for good measure. The songs that have been noted to only be acceptable if you’re young and in lust, or drunk and at karaoke–only to be sung with an air of irony of course.

I’m enjoying myself enough that the songs pass my ear’s musical litmus test, and drag and drop them onto a playlist. I attempt to type, “Guilty Pleas–” before reluctantly backspacing, knowing I’m not being authentic to myself.

For years, I fell into the trap of feeling obligated to listen to what my peers listened to, and still feel that conditioning from time to time. There’s a shame associated with liking something that is not approved by your peers, which ultimately, inhibits and reduces the true beauty in a musical preference; exploring and making it unabashedly your own.

In lieu of the ever-joked about topic of, “What’s punk” and what’s not spurring seemingly from punk itself’s delivery room in the ever-debated timeline of 1970-something, the inherited anti-commercial sentiments that couple the genre inevitably manifested into being about the self, rather, the ear. Paradoxically, image became more important, and that has undeniably carried over through today.

From generation to generation, the myth of the, “guilty pleasure” seemed to penetrate every foray and niche of cheap dive bars, basements and backyard that created the repertoire of, “What’s cool” and “What’s not.” In punk, the early prerequisites for coolness are the Ramones and the Misfits. If you pass this test, may you never be able to walk without the full knowledge of every move Iggy Pop has ever made in case you’re quizzed. If you’ve found your way into 80’s New Wave, I hope you have hard opinions about New Order vs. Joy Division, and god forbid you step foot on ‘90s territory without a thesis of shoegaze to prove yourself highly apart from the Radiohead-listening crowd.

Today it’s being expected to know and like every single up and coming band before it’s picked up by a major label, and before the colored vinyl pre-orders sell out.

This is where saying, something is just a “guilty pleasure” becomes crucial to protect yourself, because the people that make these rules equate your musical taste solely with your personality, and passing their tests should make you feel like you’re wearing a badge of honor.

Topically, this emergence developed into exclusionary tactic. You know, to make others feel subservient about liking essentially harmless, but somehow, “uncool” things that don’t fit into someone else’s bias of what’s acceptable. And to that, I say, “Fuck it.”


Because as hard as it is to believe in alternative communities, guilty pleasures do not exist if you do not let them.

“Guilty pleasure,” has become a term so common, which strips all earnestness from the listener’s relationship with the song, album, or artist. It has become a way for those in alternative and underground communities to not fear judgement from their peers, while unintentionally continuing that cycle of exclusivity. By boldly liking what you like, when you like it, you have taken back all of that fear and judgement, and reclaimed your music taste as your own, and not your peers’.

I am not guilty, and I am not ashamed, and you shouldn’t be either. It is just a pleasure. It took me until I was 19 to stop falling into the trap that is needing to prove myself. I no longer hide what I’m listening from my friends on Spotify or Facebook by clicking the convenient, “Private Mode” option. Instead, I let it sit, proudly displaying publicly the remnants of my Tom-Cruise-in-Risky-Business solo dance party that I had while folding laundry.

You do not have to feel worried about not being, “Cool enough” in terms of musical taste. Listen to the Aladdin soundtrack if you please, or let that Shakira album play on rotation. The songs that you listen to will not judge you. The songs that you listen to will not exclude you. The simple act of listening to your ears over your peers will do you wonders.

Putting The Recluse In “Brown Recluse”: I Got Bit, A Blog Post-Bite

With thick unmistakable accents that one could call, “Bostonian, but south and Italian” and Bagels readily available on any given day (as long as it’s before 4PM), Long Island isn’t exactly known for its bug population–let alone poisonous ones. In March. Hell, the most technically threatening ones we have are Daddy Long Legs that dwell in basements. That is of course, with the one exception. One sneaky sucker that boroughs in fabric and bed sheets and doesn’t abide by traditional seasonal norms–newly found global warming climate and all: The Brown Recluse. And I, as you may have guessed, was bitten.

(It doesn’t look AWFUL, but I can assure you, it was a big hot mess.)

Continue reading “Putting The Recluse In “Brown Recluse”: I Got Bit, A Blog Post-Bite”

The Runout: What’s In A Name? In An Era Of Instant Connection, Stage Names Fade From Punk

April 30, 1978: Over 100,000 rockers, punks and general lovers of humanity congregated in Victoria Park, Hackney for what is now known as the famous Rock Against Racism showcase in protest of Eric Clapton’s racist remarks he dropped only but a few years back. “Enoch was right,” he stated in a drunken, aggressive stupor. “We should send them all back.” Them, of course, in reference to the then-current elevation in Britain’s black community. As a white man whose predominant musical influences were rooted in blues, a genre famously founded and dominated by black musicians, Clapton’s hypocrisy was not taken lightly, especially in the snaggle-toothed face of punk. One of the festival’s most known and anticipated musicians, Joe Strummer, of obvious notoriety due to fronting The Clash, differed from Clapton for reasons other than just the obvious.

Continue reading “The Runout: What’s In A Name? In An Era Of Instant Connection, Stage Names Fade From Punk”

T3M ALBUM REVIEW: Pet Symmetry – Pets Hounds

Evan Weiss is not a name unfamiliar to the mouths of punk, emo, pop-punk and indie fans alike. In-fact, it’s kind of inhabited them in-between glugs of PBR for the better part of a decade due to Weiss’ constant involvement in both the Chicago and New Jersey scenes and, most-notably, Into it. Over it. In 2013, Weiss–along with members of emo-revival contemporaries Kittyhawk and Dowsing–cooked up what would become Pet Symmetry: The band our ears deserved, but not the one we needed right now (then). With the trio’s release of a 7″ comprising of two humorously long-titled songs, we played the debut on our turntables for as long as our ears could listen (which was a very, very long time of course.) Fast forward to 2015, specifically this past week, to Pet Symmetry releasing their/they’re/there full-length. They are officially the band we need–and fortunately have–right now.

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T3M Album Review: Gottem – Cool

GOTTEM–originally a solo acoustic act from Long island–was created with no serious intent by Max Gottesman in 2013. For all intents and purposes, I’ll call this the Squirtle phase. Like most developing bands, change in both lineup and sound are practically symbiotic. Although Shattered (otherwise known as GOTTEM’s debut LP and entrance into the Wartortle phase) was released only 9 months ago with the foundation of a full-band trio, the only remaining original member has been Gottesman himself.  With the recent addition of bassist Tom Lizo, guitarist Craig Warkoczeski and drummer PJ LaRocco, and the release of their new 5-track e.p. entitled COOL, GOTTEM has reach their highest form, thus evolving fully into the mighty, level 36, water-bearing Blastoise.

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Self Care Sunday: Retail Therapy Edition–by Emily Balcerak

Happy Sunday! I am taking things in a new direction with Self Care Sunday (since there is only so much I can tell you on my own) and am going to begin featuring voices from the scene. Community SCS’s will give industry folks a chance to discuss their own experiences with mental health issues and the healthy ways that they cope with the stressors of this lifestyle. Our first community post comes from Emily Balcerak, a wonderful friend of mine, contributing writer for Table Three Media, and drummer for Fake Estate  Read her self care below!

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T3M Album Review: Beach Slang – Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken?

In relation to music, looking back, some of my fondest memories can almost always be coincided with a Replacements track (I promise that’s not as morbid as it sounds). Whether it be screaming along to “Bastards of Young” as I drove home after a frustrating day, listening to “Unsatisfied” at 1AM while I’m sprawled out on my bedroom floor reflecting on the past few months, or having “Can’t Hardly Wait” flood my ears as I looked forward to the future, they were almost always a go-to band. The Replacements always had a way of having brutally honest lyrics courtesy of Paul Westerberg, but remained melodic, innocent, and still managed to not take themselves too seriously. This is what almost any band aspires to consist of. I mention this, because upon my first listen to “Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken?”, I heard those very same elements; Melodic lead guitar hooks, drums that drive it all home and voice that’s impossible to ignore, and trust me, you won’t.

Continue reading “T3M Album Review: Beach Slang – Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken?”

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