Okay, hate is a very strong term. To hate something or someone is to invest a fair amount of energy into the actual act of intensely disliking something. I would like to think I rarely hate anything.
I don’t hate the Beatles.
I would say I dislike the Beatles.
Trust me, I’ve given them a shot – I usually find myself opening up to different forms of music. On my Google Play Music (down with iTunes… but that’s another story), I have a wealth of John Williams, I have a few tracks from Snow Patrol, the entire Mariah Carey & Beyonce discography, The Birds & the Bees, PARTYNEXTDOOR, SBTRKT, Bing Crosby, one or two tracks from the Ramones, Aretha Franklin, The (recently split) Civil Wars, Christian AIDS, some 2000s Sugababes, and for good measure, Yo-Yo Ma. But save for a few Glee covers, you’ll actually find my playlist barren of The Beatles.
And it took me a long time to realize that was fine.
High school was a pretty strange transition for me, as it is for everyone. I wouldn’t even have said I was comfortable with my likes, my dislikes and the actual person I was until halfway through first year university (I like to call this latter phase the moment I genuinely stopped giving a f*ck about what others thought). But high school was this cauldron of confusion, people-pleasing, and the fruitless quest of trying to be liked. It was made very apparent to me in Grade 9 that denying The Beatles was a quick way to lose my footing in the social hierarchy of high school.
“What do you mean you don’t like The Beatles?”
I remember the unintentional vitriol dripping out of my friend’s mouth. She seemed to be everything I wasn’t – calm, creative, cool and collected, compared to the rigid, moral Confucian upbringing by my mother. She played the guitar with exquisite talent, and lived in a heritage house where the shoes haphazardly stacked on a crooked carpet – I was the mousey Chinese-Viet boy who slept at 9 PM every night and who was confused by how informal parents could be. She was the random shoot of vegetation in her lawn that peeked out – I was the manicured grass on the lawn of our Burnaby bungalow. I wanted to be like her.
“Oh, I guess I didn’t listen to them very much.”
“You are so Asian.”
She played “I Am The Walrus” for me, and I pulled a tight smile.
“It’s The Beatles.” I could tell by her tone, she meant to add, “Oh dear.”
I remember panicking, and it seemed to fit logically – I wanted to be like others, and other people weren’t Asian. I was Asian and I disliked The Beatles. And how could I fit in if I kept hating The Beatles? It just made sense, so much sense – I had to immerse myself in this folk music. I dived into The Beatles discography – and the more I delved into it, I realized I couldn’t enjoy it. It just didn’t make sense to me – it didn’t match the backbeats of BET I had grown up with, the lyrics were sung lazily unlike the belting of my mom’s Celine Dion CDs, and the lyrics made little sense to me. I couldn’t relate. And for the next three years, I rambled off the names of Beatles songs like they were a part of my childhood.
It seemed so minute at the time, but I wonder what would’ve happened if I had voiced to my mother at the time, “Mom, you don’t understand. My friends think I’m Asian because I never listened to The Beatles! Where are your vinyls? What do you mean you don’t have a record player?! What do you mean you didn’t buy music?!?” Music, to many of us, is a part of our identity. And during a time as volatile as high school, to not conform to the tastes (and identity!) of your group, is frightening.
And people will usually single others out for not being able to engage in their cultural tastes. It’s bizarre – how could we possibly expect every other person to listen to what we’ve listened to? There’s a fair amount of assumption that we do – but we can’t just assume others have the same privileges as we do at being exposed to certain types. And this can translate into snobbery when we lift our noses up at others not sharing the same tastes. I have to admit I’ve been guilty of this in the past. At the end of the day, though, music preferences are just that – preferences, and preferences of a type that don’t assert to hurt, exclude or harm anyone.
But the association of music to my own racial identity is a link I haven’t made until now. I’m no more or less Asian for disliking The Beatles than I am for enjoying mashed potatoes over plain congee. How funny it is to think that a lack of exposure to a group could lead teenagers to point out to race as a factor … I think it goes to show our societal perceptions of race is more embedded, way past the stereotypes, way past the rumours and rubbed into different fabrics of culture. But it’s taken me a while to figure that out. And I expect this blog will help me figure more things out, thanks to these prompts.
So go ahead – like or dislike The Beatles, Beyonce, or Beethoven. To each their own!
Until the next time, let me know what’s on your playlist!