What was the first album you ever bought for yourself? If you can't answer without feeling a pang of embarrassment, you understand that the evolution of your personal music taste can take many twists and turns. What was once close to your heart in your adolescence may have you selling records in your teenage years.
What if we were able to chart the way people grow to develop their musical taste? What if we could identify the different stages and when to expect them? Well, that ship has come in. I present to you the greatest cartographic accomplishment since the mapping of the human genome: The map of developing music tastes. This is science.
Childhood: Kids Music & Your Parents' Music
Until about the age of 8, the only music you can conceivably like is kids music, like the songs Sesame Street
teaches you. Otherwise, you'll grow a tiny affinity for whatever your parents listen to, whether it's their intent or not. That means that you can grow up listening to anything from AC/DC to Boyz II Men. This is important to note for your current/future babies.
Pre-Teens: Whatever's Popular With Teenagers
Kids always get their hooks into pop music earlier than people think they're supposed to. For some generations, that means 4th graders that are super into Nirvana. For people of my generation, that meant a bunch of 9 year olds rapping along to Bone Thugs-n-Harmony.
Middle School: Whatever Makes You Cool
Middle School, typically ages 11 through 14, is sometimes called The Great In-Between Darkness. It's a time when kids retain the cruelty of small children, but are beginning to manifest the need to fit in. This intersection of selfish apathy and desire produces some strange years, and no, I don't know what projection is. In music taste, this is where most kids conform to whatever makes them cool in their circle: if they're on the fast track to being cool outsiders, they'll hear their first punk song. If they're going to be the top of the social ladder, they'll get into the top pop act of the day, whether that's Michael Jackson or Lady Gaga.
High School: The Divergence
At long last, people begin to really define their music tastes (and themselves), and the results can be wildly different. What's new is that teenagers begin to realize that music has existed for a while – even before they were born! It's when people start to learn music backwards, as we all do, finding the influences of our favorites and the kings of the genres we love. It's when kids start wearing The Doors t-shirts and memorize Beatles lyrics, things they couldn't pull off before.
College and Post-Grad: Eclecticism
You know those weirdos that say they like everything except rap? Or those oddballs that hate all country music without having given its rich history a listen? This is when they start listening to a little bit of rap and country. For the rest of us, this is where we get in-depth with our tastes, which, depending on the branching path you took, can mean a Miles Davis phase or brand new genres with names like “Witch house.”
And that's where I'm at so far. In the interest of space and saving the rest for medical journals, I'm going to have to cut it off here. Hopefully, with further research and, of course, a ton of grant money, we'll be able to further unlock the secrets of why we like what we like, and perhaps prevent some unfortunate choices before they happen.