Swipe Left for Bad Taste
By Alana McConnell (she/her)
| Illustration by Yi Jong (she/her)
Feature writer Alana McConnell explores the role music plays in our dating lives, and its importance in forming lasting and meaningful connections.
I love music. It’s played an integral role in my childhood, my teenage years, and now my tentative early adulthood. Growing up, my dad played CDs in our Toyota Previa, with the 2000s staples of Imogen Heap, Death Cab For Cutie, Radiohead, and Sufjan Stevens all making appearances. My dad is a huge music nerd who loved making mix tapes for his friends and writing about his favourite artists and that was definitely transferred onto me.
Forming your own music taste can take years and years of experiences and exposure. It can change drastically and go through a unique evolution that is completely personal to you and your life. My music taste now is starkly different to what it was like even just a few years ago. I wouldn’t dream of listening to the same stuff I did when I was 14, though I do still hold a slight fond nostalgia for Pearl Jam and Nirvana. A lot of the time, music taste is influenced by the people around you, whether it be your family, friends, or people you look up to and admire. You can discover your favourite artist playing at the cool record store around the corner, or your local cafe when you shyly ask the person behind the counter to kindly share what’s playing. You may hear an unknown band open for someone else and instantly connect, becoming the newest groupie and avidly scrolling through their Bandcamp. This evolution is fascinating and rich, and I love to reflect back on how I’ve come to like the music that I like. It’s a key part of my identity.
Sometimes it's hard to pinpoint why you like something, especially music. There can be this mystical quality to a song that you instantly connect with. It can captivate you, drawing you in with the hypnotic beat, lyrics or voice. It can create a visceral or quiet emotion within you, bringing you back to a certain time or reminding you of someone from your past. But a lot of the time you can’t explain it, which makes it even more magical and validating when someone else is also captivated. They understand the music, so therefore it can feel like they understand you. That’s why music taste can feel like it matters quite a bit in the world of dating. If someone doesn’t understand your music taste, then can they truly understand you? It’s a truly disappointing feeling sharing a song that you find incredibly special with someone you think will enjoy it, and have it fall completely flat. It’s a bit deflating and makes you question whether you were right in thinking they would like it. Feeling misunderstood does not exactly stoke the flames of a budding relationship. For one of my friends, Matt, music taste is a two factor litmus test of a person.
If someone doesn’t understand your music taste, then can they truly understand you?
“The first factor is that music is a message and we usually like what we relate to. Music taste can be indicative then, of types of experiences a person has been through. The other factor is aesthetics. Music taste tends to describe the aesthetic that a person has a preference for. This would show me that their aesthetic preferences may not be compatible with mine and may cause unnecessary tension.” When I posed this question to those around me I received wildly different responses, with some people not viewing it as a valid factor in dating at all, and some using it as a measure of compatibility and connection.
With past partners, music has played an important role. I dated someone in Wellington and from the first day we met we instantly connected, and this was largely maintained through the sharing of music and listening to music together. It was amazing how similar our taste was, and it also felt like we were similar in so many other regards as well. One memory I have is of us driving from Auckland back to Wellington after the break, and only having two CDs in the car and no Bluetooth. One of those CDs was Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, and we listened to that on repeat for hours. He even brought out a recorder to play as he was driving, which was simultaneously hilarious and dangerous. As we drove through the Desert Road during dusk we listened to the likes of 'Wasted Hours' and 'Sprawl II' (Mountains Beyond Mountains), and I just felt incredibly content. Music is magic. It’s sometimes unexplainable how magical music is, the way it can bring people together in a way that words or actions may not be able to do.
You might automatically assume someone is “cool” because of their Spotify selection, and then quickly realise they actually are an asshole.
With a lot of people, music may not factor in when choosing to date someone, but for others like myself, if someone has a starkly different taste or even just a lack of passion when it comes to music, it can bring up the question of compatibility. I will admit that whenever I swipe on Tinder, if someone’s Spotify selection is run-of- the-mill pop or radio bangers exclusively, I will most likely be swiping left unless there is something more compelling about them. The way Tinder integrates Spotify is quite fascinating because it makes you instantly categorise people through their music. You might automatically assume someone is “cool” because of their Spotify selection, and then quickly realise they actually are an asshole. Despite what I have said about its importance, having similar music taste isn’t a clear indicator of compatibility. We stereotype people instantly and are also very aware of how we come across to others through how we represent ourselves. I’m going to make my anthem the perfect amount of obscure, but also accessible enough to create an image of a mysterious cool girl. In her essay 'Generation Why?', Zadie Smith writes about social networks and Zuckerberg’s Facebook. She then references Jaron Lanier, a virtual reality pioneer and a computer philosophy writer, who is interested in the way that people reduce themselves in order to make a computer’s description of them more accurate. “Information systems need to have information to run, but information underrepresents reality” he says. Life is then turned into a database and that in itself is a degradation. On Tinder we choose 5 of our best photos, making sure we strike the right balance between funny, cool and popular. We choose a witty bio which will pique our target’s interest.
We use Spotify to show the world that this is what we listen to, our top 9 artists in a nutshell. We get rid of the uncool and basic artists and keep the interesting ones. I am guilty of using these incredibly limited and short-sighted representations of someone to make the split second decision to swipe right or left, because that is literally the nature of dating apps. But we need to dig a little deeper. One person I asked replied to me by saying “my boyfriend and I have really different tastes in music, but we’re both extremely passionate about music so the difference doesn’t matter to me – in fact I’ve learnt way more about music from him because of it. I thought music taste was important to me, but then I was in a relationship with someone who had identical taste to me and he was an asshole and ruined my life, so that showed me there are way more important things to be able to connect on.” Reducing someone via one factor is limiting and doesn’t accurately represent who they are.
I’m not saying if I met the perfect man and he listened to Ed Sheeran I would immediately ghost him.
I’m not saying if I met the perfect man and he listened to Ed Sheeran I would immediately ghost him. Or if he loved The Greatest Showman soundtrack and would listen to it on repeat I would end it right there. Of course there are many other qualities and attributes that make up an ideal future partner that would trump someone’s taste in music. Being a good communicator, being loyal, being caring. Someone’s beliefs and values are a way more telling sign of a relationship’s success, but a lot of the time you only find those out when the honeymoon period has ended and you are farther down the track. I would look past a conflicting taste in music if someone ticked other boxes, but early on it’s hard to know if they do tick these boxes. I also think I would need to grieve the fact that we wouldn’t connect over music, something that plays an important role in my life. If the person would be able to be open-minded to what I listen to and try to understand why I love the songs I love, then that would be incredibly meaningful. I know that you will never find someone who completely understands you, in any area of who you are. But the willingness to try to understand as best they can is an incredibly attractive trait, and shows that they care enough about you to invest time into you and what makes you unique.
I would look past a conflicting taste in music if someone ticked other boxes, but early on it’s hard to know if they do tick these boxes.
Having similar music taste can really help build that initial connection, my friend Jasper told me. But he was also sure that it didn’t matter long term. “Everyone has at least something they love to dive deep into and explore emotion within, be it music or movies or hiking, and what I love about getting to know someone while dating is getting that how and why.” Sometimes music can actually cause ruptures within a relationship. One person I spoke to said that she once dated a music student who was obsessive about music, to the point where he would lecture her for hours about Radiohead. If music is your only passion or personality trait then that doesn’t exactly make for a future successful relationship.
Building a relationship and a connection with someone, especially a long lasting one, is made up of many different factors, elements and must-haves. It’s not some magical formula that everyone must follow to get a one-size fits all version of success. One where you and your partner will be together forever. This is of course unique to the individual, as we form our beliefs of what a relationship should look like from our families, what we've seen modelled, and images from the world around us. For me, music has always played an important role in my identity, and finding someone who is similar or who understands that part of me would be incredibly validating and gratifying. It may not be vital for a successful relationship, but it sure helps. As we go through life, growing and changing and evolving, some things that were important will melt away and become non-factors. You may hold something up as a must-have in a relationship, and then meet a specific person and it becomes completely irrelevant.