Why Our Musical Tastes Are Stuck at the Age of 30

Aris Setyawan
Aris Setyawan
Posted undercultural studiescultureethnomusicologyetnomusikologimusicmusik

Imagine this scene: You are a person aged 30 who often listens to music on Spotify or other streaming platforms. When you first open the app, you are offered countless music choices. There are tons of music playlists, either compiled by app algorithms or by human curators.

However, you end up ignoring all of the recommended music. You don’t want to see what music is in the “Discover Weekly” or “Release Radar” lists. Instead, you prefer to listen to music on your personal playlist. You only want to listen to music that is familiar to your ears, music that you have listened to since you were a teenager.

You might ask: Why can’t I try listening to new releases? It’s my fault, I guess. My mind is too short-sighted and reluctant to accept new things.

For example, in the 2000s you were still a teenager. Back then, the music that you were close to included Dewa, Sheila On 7, Padi, or Jamrud. Decades later, in 2023, you don’t want to listen to younger and new generations of musicians, such as Isyana Sarasvati, Kunto Aji .feast, or Hindia.

Back to the statement above: Is this my short-sighted mind that is reluctant to accept new things?

No. It’s not our fault. This is something human. Most people experience this incident: Their taste in music is stuck at the age of 30 years.

Based on research conducted by a French streaming music service, Deezer, this phenomenon is known as musical paralysis. It is a condition when a person stops listening to new music and listens to the same music over and over again.

The study involved 1,000 respondents, who were asked about their music preferences and music listening habits. It found 60 percent of respondents said they stopped listening to new music and were stuck in the same music circle. The rest were willing to try new releases.

Most of the respondents said they were reluctant to try new music because of several factors, including being busy working and caring for children if they were married.

They feel they no longer have time to try new music. With the various obligations of life, such as work, monthly bills, and children’s education, why should they take the extra effort to find new, unfamiliar music? Listening to familiar music is a kind of escapism for them.

Interestingly, the research found that the place where we live contributes to musical paralysis. Simply put, if we live in urban areas, then our musical paralysis will be different from that experienced by people who live in suburban or remote areas.

The research did not explain what caused the differences. However, I assume it has something to do with the infrastructure or access to music, which is different from one place to another.

The phenomenon can be explained using an approach known in psychology as reminiscence bump. It explains why when it comes to listening to music, our taste buds stagnate at the age of 30. Why is it that at the age of 30, we experience musical paralysis?

Yes, most of the music we choose is the music that we have listened to since we were teenagers (12-24 years old according to the WHO) until we reach our 30s.

According to Steve MJ Janssen et al. in an article titled “Temporal distribution of favorite books, movies, and records: Differential encoding and re-sampling” published in the journal Memory, the memory bump is a person’s tendency to vividly remember, explore and recall events from adolescence to early adulthood.

The most efficient brain memory systems occur during late adolescence and early adulthood. We also experience many things for the first time, which makes it very memorable. But the main reason we return to music from this very period of our lives is because it reminds us of who we are.

It is during these formative years that we make many important life-changing decisions, begin long-term relationships, and build the cultural and political beliefs that shape our identity.

The reminiscence bump explains why I, personally, no matter how hard I try to listen to The Comet Is Coming, Ela Minus, Okidoki, The Mars Volta, or Sharon Van Etten, keep coming back to Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, Incubus, Korn, Linkin Park, Pas Band, and Sheila On 7.

Some of the musicians I mentioned last formed my identity when I was a teenager on the slopes of Mt. Lawu in Central Java, and their music is firmly entrenched now that I’m over 30.

On one hand, the reminiscence bump is good. We can conclude that musical paralysis is the body’s natural mechanism to stay sane and on the safest path. Musical paralysis keeps us from worrying too much about exploring new music and staying in a safe and comfortable zone.

But on the other hand, this musical paralysis is a bad thing considering there are so many interesting music options out there. Musical paralysis makes us like frogs in a shell, or humans in Plato’s cave who don’t know that there are many amazing things happening out there, there is lots of great music that exists.

Fighting music paralysis is like trying to forget your ex-lover, which is certainly not easy. But we have to move on.

By fighting musical paralysis and getting out of the cage, we will be surprised to find that there is actually so much good music out there.

Just like food, no matter how much we like the music that is to our taste, there will be a point when we feel bored with that music. It is at this time that we can take advantage of it by listening to new music.

The market can be created, according to Cholil Mahmud and Efek Rumah Kaca. Tastes can be created according to me.

So, what’s your teenage music that’s still going strong today? Are you still determined to just listen to that music? Or do you dare go out of your way and try new music?

PS: Previously featured on The Jakarta Post.

TaggedMusicmusic tastesmusical paralysispsychology musicreminiscence bump

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