Will Nostalgia Make Us Love Katy Perry in Ten Years?

By Eric B. Jacobson

Yes, okay, Katy Perry’s songs are catchy. And yes, she’s rather talented and some of her songs actually go beyond bubblegum pop. But these days, when I hear her music on the radio, I can’t help but think that, in 10 years, we’re going to look back on her songs like we do the cheesy songs of the ‘80s or the bad rap from the ‘90s: stuff we ate up at the time, but now realize was candy when really we prefer vegetables. Then again, maybe we’ll remember her songs fondly, with a sense of nostalgia for a different time, when we were younger and life was mortgage ­free.

For most music lovers, songs are often tied to memories, either specific moments or broader periods in our lives. Maybe we were listening to a song when something notable happened, maybe we turned to music to celebrate something, or to forget something. Because of this association between music and memories, our feelings about songs can change over time. In fact, our view of music over time is often a reflection of how we feel about our pasts.

Sometimes, our view of music changes because our tastes change, and we learn to appreciate things that previously went unnoticed. While I once laughed as a pubescent teen at Marvin Gaye's name, during college I realized he is a musical genius. Similarly, a friend of mine is only now discovering Radiohead, despite the fact that they first rose to popularity while she was still in high school. Another friend is just getting into Lionel Richie, decades after his prime, even going so far as to see him in concert. And an older friend of mine is starting to appreciate Santana and the Grateful Dead because of her growing understanding of song composition, despite not liking those bands when they were first popular.

Other times, we develop a fondness for music because it reminds us of good times in our pasts. I grew up listening to the soft rock of the ‘80s in my parents' car. At the time, soft rock was old, mushy stuff I didn’t care for. These days, I’m nostalgic for it, seeking it out and singing along (sometimes in public, so be warned). This is partly because I realize how good those lyrical ballads really are, especially in light of a lot of the flat, rhythm-­heavy music that’s popular today. But it’s also partly because those songs remind me of the easier, more carefree days of my youth.

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In talking with other people about their musical tastes, it seems that, if someone’s opinion of a song or band has changed, it’s usually because of nostalgia. A friend never really cared for rock growing up, but her older brothers did, and now she likes AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” because it reminds her of them. Another friend has found herself drawn to contemporary bands like Haim and Marina & The Diamonds because they have a very ‘90s sound that makes her nostalgic for her youth.

It seems the only time people really stop liking a song is because it became associated with a bad relationship or break­up or some other painful event. (My now ­Radiohead­-loving friend says she’s reminded of 9-11 when she hears Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” because a cover was done in memoriam of those lost, but she still likes the original.) There are definitely songs I can’t listen to anymore because they bring back memories of a break­up, but over time the pain subsides and the songs are added back to my life’s soundtrack.

So this brings me back to Katy Perry. I quickly get pretty sick of her music now, given how often her songs are played, but might I hear those same songs in 10 years and be reminded of good times? After all, I like her song “California Girls” (despite its rather ridiculous lyrics) because it was popular the summer I moved to California and it reminds me of driving around the Peninsula on warm summer evenings.

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Who knows? As we get older and we learn to appreciate our pasts, maybe we’re also destined to appreciate the music from that time. If that’s the case, I guess I can look forward to buying “The Best of Katy Perry” someday.

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