Music is a weirdly unifying phenomenon. People at bars, athletic events, and the like are more than happy to break out into song when certain songs are played. At the bars around here, any ‘90s classics from the likes of N’Sync, Backstreet Boys, and the Spice Girls is enough to warrant not only a series of cheers of excitement, but also drunk kids singing the entire song and dancing along.

Current chart toppers and a few classic rock songs will also warrant the same response. At a Red Sox game, I know that songs like “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond will have the whole stadium singing along.

There is some psychology that says singing songs together creates a unifying feeling and can help build bonds between groups and individuals, so there is no doubt that this sort of behavior is not only useful, but probably encouraged in some scenarios.

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But for all the bringing together and connection music can provide the world, it can also be contentious and dividing. There are a large number of people who seem to dislike the music of modern, mainstream artists like Katy Perry, Justin Beiber, and Bruno Mars.

These people decry modern pop music as manufactured and unoriginal, created only to sell records and make a profit. Generally, those critical of modern music instead favor music from a few decades ago, or even modern musical acts who are not mainstream musical acts.

The love of non-mainstream artists even goes so far as to create a phenomenon known to most internet users as the “hipster phenomenon.”

The best example I can think of to explain this phenomenon is the Plain White T’s song “Hey There, Delilah.” When that song broke out onto the scene it was just everywhere, every radio station; a vast majority of the world knew that song and that artist purely because of that song.

However, when that song started getting mainstream attention, there seemed to be people who were convinced that they somehow “discovered” that band and that song and consequently all of those who only liked it after hearing it on the radio were somehow unworthy of the Plain White T’s and their hit song.

The amount of times I heard the statement “I liked that song before it was popular” during the summer that song was a hit was innumerable.

This notion has taken a strange turn in the wake of celebrity deaths recently. As I’m sure a vast majority of people know, Whitney Houston passed away this weekend. As with the death of Michael Jackson a few years ago, social media was ablaze with statuses, photo tributes and videos and a plethora of other signs of admiration and fandom emerged from unlikely sources. As soon as the internet was alive with news and reflections on the death of Whitney Houston, the critics began to emerge. These critics began to call out people posting about the death of Whitney Houston, implying that people only cared about her music and her career because she had died.

I found this to be particularly offensive on so many levels. Just because  musical acts falls away from the mainstream, it doesn’t exactly mean that their fan base stops worshipping the act as well. It just means that the devotion starts to fall into more nostalgic territory as opposed to mainstream. Much like the musical acts of the ‘90s young people still seem to enjoy after a few drinks, Whitney Houston’s music fell into the category of not being “cool” anymore, and was tossed into the “embarrassing but I still love this song” territory. It might not exactly have been cool to listen to Whitney Houston until the night she passed away, but I bet a vast majority of girls my age knows every word to “I Will Always Love You” and “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.”

That’s the thing about being a fan of someone like Whitney Houston. I have always liked her music, and I have extremely fond memories of listening to her music with my mom when I was growing up. I had several songs on my iTunes playlist and when I was feeling nostalgic for my childhood I’d play them.

I didn’t follow her career, and she was not exactly my favorite act of all time. I respected her as an artist, and she was a formidable one at that. She was no doubt talented and was a force to be reckoned with in her heyday. It is likely that many other people who were upset over her death felt the same way I did, that it was like a little piece of our childhood died right along with her.

For me, it’s not necessarily the value of a song musically that makes me like it; more often than not it’s the memories attached to a particular piece of music. For me, “I Will Always Love You” will be my favorite song for the memories it brings to me.

I was riding in the car with my best friend (who prides herself on her love of obscure music) and she tells me that I’m going to laugh, but she loves this song. As soon as  the first few notes of “I Will Always Love You” came on I started to laugh and essentially lost my mind over my excitement that my friend who loves obscure bands also loves this Whitney Houston ballad. I will never forget the memory of her and I driving around the state in the middle of the night, singing along with Whitney Houston in our highest falsettos, emphatic arm movements included.

That is what music is really about. Not about mainstream, unknown, who knew it first, or who the more talented artist is. It’s all about the memories you make when you listen to it.


Chelsea Mellin can be contacted at


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