Among all the “stuck on a desert island questions” asked at parties and over first dates, picking the music you’d take has to be one of the most difficult to answer.
Sure, it’d be easy choosing survival gear like a firestarter, a knife and a first aid kit, but it’s a whole different scenario when narrowing down your favorite songs.
So, because of the pointlessness of the question, I usually dodge listing specific examples of my favorite music and instead present what three characteristics I look for across all genres, from hip-hop to folk.
First among the essentials is sincerity, the foremost trait I look for when judging new music. Even to someone who only catches a song on the radio now and then, it’s not difficult to tell when an artist is seeking mass appeal over individual followers. When musicians are sincere, they put their art (no matter how sophisticated or vulgar) at the forefront of everything, allowing their personalities and talents to shine through their creative output.
Many radio hits nowadays seem to exist solely as a cash grab, lacking substance deeper than the surface level, which makes it that much more compelling to find something genuine and heartfelt. Artists such as Sufjan Stevens, Alvvays, Tame Impala and DIIV are just some of many who stitch their true selves into releases.
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Close behind sincerity is originality. There’s really no reason for musicians to retread another act or a former release without adding anything new. So, it’s impressive when an artist puts their own spin on things or executes musical ideas in fresh, innovative ways.
Even with covers like Iron & Wine’s “Such Great Heights,” originality allows artists to progress musical ideas in new and exciting ways. Sometimes these re-routes, even in the 21st century, lead to the creation of new genres like chillwave, trap and really strange stuff like tropical house.
The final characteristic that applies to pretty much all the music I most admire is a sense of relatability. We all want to feel like we’re a part of something even if it’s simply shared emotions. We tend to look for music that sticks with us.
If a song sticks with you, it’s probably because it resonates, either vocally or sonically, with something you feel. So, there’s really no reason to listen to something that you can’t relate or pretend to relate to, even if you think it’s well done.
Of all the music I add to playlists and put in rotation, the majority of it has these components to some degree (and the rest is probably in there for the sake of irony). Some genres stand out more to me than others such as indie folk, shoegaze, hip-hop and jazz, but in the end that’s purely subjective. Everybody can relate to different things, which is why there’s such a diversity of music. And if that music is sincere, original and relatable, it’s only a bonus.
Luke Furman is a sophomore studying journalism and a reporter for The Post. So, what’s your desert island album? Tweet him @LukeFurmanOU or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.