Should pleasures ever be considered ‘guilty’? I don’t think so.
It’s like dieting – few things irritate me more than people describing foods as ‘naughty’ or ‘sinful’, or saying ‘ooh, I’ve been so bad’ just because they’ve eaten some cheesecake. It’s stupid. Shoplifting and bitching about your friends is naughty. Eating a hotdog isn’t.
Anyway. The other area that always gets critiqued under the ‘guilty pleasure’ category is obviously music. Again, I find this a bit weird.
However, when friends go through my record collection or, more likely in This Modern Age, my iPod, there is the odd outlier that I’m embarrassed about. It’s not the obvious ones, because they are eccentric enough to speak for themselves – my adulation of the ‘Annie’ soundtrack is too bizarre to be frowned upon under usual standards of taste, and my complete works of Jason Donovan are a forgivable nostalgia-trip.
It’s always the ones, where I cringe just a tiny bit, that are just a little bit rubbish, that aren’t quite naff or weird enough – so my fear is that people might think that I think they are genuinely cool…
The thing is, I should just stop worrying because I DO KIND OF THINK THEY ARE COOL. Why do I care if no-one else agrees?
One of my favourite bands of all time is (oh dear) No Doubt. Yep, for some weird reason, those cheerful ska-loving OC pop-rockers speak to an obscure little corner of my soul in a way that I cannot begin to fathom. When I’m not listening to Leonard Cohen in a candlelit room, there is nothing I like more than dancing around my kitchen and pretending I’m Gwen Stefani. I love her and her red lips and her great abs – but, more weirdly, I really love her music.
My fondness for emulating Gwen was very literal in the mid-90s, when I first discovered No Doubt. I spent a good six months wearing far-too-large trousers with far-too-small tops and a Bindi hopefully stuck to my forehead. I even dyed my hair blonde – a mistake rarely to be repeated again. I knew it wasn’t “cool” – I had come from a background of Nirvana and Hole and PJ Harvey, and I knew that this was not the same thing – but it was great fun, and that was pretty cool for a bit.
Quickly, my pendulum of taste swung back the opposite way – to wearing black, to ridiculous amounts of eyeliner, to bruise-hued lipstick which inspired my stepdad to quip “um, hi, have you drowned?” as I was leaving the house. And that was when I found Placebo.
Let me state right now: Placebo have never, ever been cool. Goth is not cool (unless we’re talking Nick Cave, and that doesn’t really count), and this is even more laughable sort of goth-lite – Diet Goth, if you will. Basically, euro-rock with power chords and eyeliner, and the worst rhyming-couplet lyrics in history, replete with tedious drug and kink references. Sample: “Don’t let them have their way/ You’re beautiful and so blasé/ Don’t fall back into the decay/ There is no law we must obey/ Don’t give in to yesterday”. And that’s to say nothing of the song (“Haemoglobin”) that Brian Molko wrote from the point of view of a Civil War-era black man being killed by a lynch mob. “I was hanging from a tree…”
I loved Brian Molko and Placebo like I had not loved a pop star since Kurt Cobain. I cut my hair, bought a charity shop fake fur, read a lot of Jean Genet and plastered my bedroom wall with photos of my new leper messiah (which prompted my stepdad to ask me if I had become a lesbian, thinking that Monsieur Molko was a lady – a fair mistake). And I had no idea of my own ridiculousness – I actually thought this was the height of coolness and superiority. It took me a while to grow out of that one, actually.
I still love No Doubt and I still love Placebo. It’s not just a nostalgia thing – I genuinely believe that if a band came out doing those songs now, I would be hooked.
Neil and I still go and see Placebo live once a year, for old time’s sake; whenever we do, I am silly enough to be sneery all the way there (“I can’t believe that they’re still chugging away, gothily and baldingly – and that we’re still going to see them!”) – and then the second they get on stage and start playing, I am transported back to fourteen-year-old square one. I love Brian’s face and his guitar-playing and his strangled singing and I hope they do Our Lady of the Flowers but they won’t and I simply cannot let myself die without having had sex with him just once because I bet it would be amazing.
In a recent time of more-stress-than-usual, I found myself crying to Placebo songs – never a good sign – and simultaneously made the discovery that the only thing guaranteed to cheer me up was – you guessed it – putting on some No Doubt.
In those most shallow of ways, we really are the sum of all the things that we have loved and what we are naturally drawn to, and cool is beside the point. Just like I know I’m truly miserable when I find myself rereading “Franny and Zooey”; if I can stop myself in time, I crack out “Prudence” as the tried and tested antidote.
I should be old enough by now to stop caring. Why does it matter if someone suspects that I might consider my guilty pleasures to be right up there with my non-guilty ones? It doesn’t matter because I do.