…First off, excuse the hell out of the winceworthy, hamfisted structure of this prompt. I didn’t make it up!
This might be a challenging one to answer. There are plenty of kinds of music that I might not personally like, but I can understand how somebody else would. Christian Rock. Screamo. Nu-Metal. Disco. There are people who have certain thoughts, feelings, and attitudes, and they find those feelings reflected in that music. Listening to that music gives them a sense of inclusion and solidarity. Is it depressing to think that someone’s life and mind might exist in such a way that they could see something like Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie” as anthemic? Good sweet gods on a waffle griddle, it sure is. But that’s not the same thing as having no idea why they like it.
And, after all, not everything is about the lyrics or the melody or anything else. You can like a song because it reminds you, more strongly than almost anything else, of a certain place and time. The music itself was incidental to the experience, really, but – this many years on – it’s the only element of that experience or that memory that you can really engage with again. You know you’ll never see those people again, or be in that place, and even if you were, you’re not the same person you’d been. Hearing that song, then letting your memories unspool, is the closest thing you can ever have to experiencing those memories again. Well, short of dreams, hallucinations, or certain types of brain trauma. It might be inaccurate in the strictest sense, but I have no problem with someone saying they like that song, even when it’s just a shortcut for saying they like the memories that only that song can evoke.
So, at heart, the question might actually be, “Is there any artist or band that seems so completely aberrant that I can’t see how anyone could empathize with their work — while simultaneously NOT being ‘performance artists’ whose entire purpose is to actually *create* that sense of alienation, such that a conscious failure to empathize actually fulfills their purpose?”
Good dang question.
I’m not going to take the easy route of castigating Justin Bieber. He’s just a product. I can understand how people like his music, or other manufactured pop music, because it is specifically designed to be catchy. I can take umbrage with that whole racket – and do! – but, again, that doesn’t mean I can’t understand how people like it. It’s like saying I can’t understand why people don’t like the taste of… well, bubblegum. It isn’t nutritious, it isn’t filling, it isn’t even what you’d call a food, and it’s just a sticky, artificial vector for sugar. If you have a tongue, and you like the taste of sugar, you probably like the taste of bubblegum. It’s not “good food,” of course, and Bieber isn’t “good music,” but it’s cheap, well-marketed, and designed to appeal to the most basic receptors.
So. It can’t be music that’s designed to be unpleasant, dissonant, or confrontational, because disliking it actually fulfills its purpose. And it can’t be music that’s designed to be popular, because liking it fulfills its purpose. This artist’s music has to be something else. Something that I can’t fathom anyone having strong feelings for whatsoever. Something that just seems devoid of unpleasantness or dissonance, with no polarizing themes… something inoffensive. Offensively inoffensive. Music that’s like tepid tap water: no zing, no sourness, no heat, no high fructose corn syrup, no caffeine, nothing that’s going to stir the blood, nothing that’s going to make you feel anything about anything. Something so neutral that I can’t imagine anyone saying they LIKED it. Just that they didn’t necessarily dislike it.
I think I’ve got it.
I have no idea why anyone would like Kenny G.
It’s hold music. It does little more than occupy your ears. When silence might make you think the line was dead, and the hold time is going to be so long that a series of beeps will get annoying, you play Kenny G. It’s musical grout – a white, pasty, spongy spacefiller. It’s functional — almost clinical. I cannot fathom anybody going out of their way to seek Kenny G music. I cannot comprehend purchasing a Kenny G album. While I could understand it if more than 50% of persons surveyed in a broad cross-section of age and cultural demographics ranked Kenny G’s music as at least a 5/10, I can’t imagine anyone ranking it a 10/10, feeling their heart swell with hitherto unknown joy as the music gave song to their innermost self. It simply strains my imagination to believe that someone out there is an obsessive, die-hard Kenny G fan. That they have all the albums, all the merchandise, they’ve followed the tour, their bedroom is bedecked in signed memorabilia. That it isn’t a pathological fixation, but your usual sort of superfandom.
Even assuming such a person exists, I can’t help but imagine them saying they were proud of their collection, and glad to be Kenny’s #1 fan in all the world, but had to admit that they really liked Hall and Oates.