Application Essay: Shuffle Shame
Kelly's essay is about taste, judgment, snobbery...and Brit-Brit. Check it out!
Shuffle Shame, as defined by Urban Dictionary—“Shuffle shame is when your mp3 music player is playing on speakers in shuffle mode, and somebody enters the room at the exact moment the worst song of your collection is being played.” Though seemingly a trivial embarrassment, an experience with shuffle shame had an unexpectedly powerful impact on me, and considerably altered the way I think about others’ perceptions of me.
It was sophomore year, and I was driving a friend home from a party. Well, not really a friend, at the time we were more of acquaintances—but this was someone I had always respected and admired from afar, but had been too cowardly to approach. So I was secretly thrilled when he asked me for a ride home. As we approached the car and chatted about the party, I pondered a thought of utmost importance—what song I would play when we got into the car. It was the first time we had ever really been alone together, and I way dying to make a good impression. And for me (in 10th grade especially), music taste was paramount.
Though my music taste was still much developing in 10th grade, I felt I had finally reached a point where I was on level with my many music-savvy friends, and was extremely proud of my extensive music library. I would spend multiple hours every weekend researching new and obscure bands, downloading dozens of albums, and painstakingly categorizing them into carefully selected playlists. I felt like I had found identity through my music, and comparing bands and genres was one of my favorite topics of conversation. I felt like I had finally been ushered into the exclusive secret society of people with “good taste in music”, and though I now realize good taste is totally subjective, it then felt like one of the biggest achievements of my young life.
I was proud of my music, but also had some insecurities about it at the same time. Though the majority of my library (13,000+ songs) was what I felt to be beyond criticism, there were still some skeletons in my musical closet that I absolutely never wanted anyone to see (or hear, for that matter). These were the songs that I secretly loved, sung to in the shower and blasted in my room when I was home alone, but would never publicly admit to liking.
So when we got into the car, the first thing I reached for was my iPod. I was scrolling through playlists, quickly determining which would make the best impression—should I go for the undeniable classics (like Led Zeppelin and the Beatles), something obscure and edgy (like Gogol Bordello and Animal Collective), or something chill and indie (like the Shins and Andrew Bird)? As this all zoomed through my mind, he pointed at the iPod, said “May I?” I agreed and handed it over, desperately hoping that he would show some sign of approval as he perused my music. But instead of my hoped for scrutiny, he immediately went straight for the shuffle button, saying “let’s see what comes up”. I stammered “you might not want to do that…”, and my heart sank as I considered the disastrous possibilities. And wouldn’t you know it, one of the worst possible songs of my collection surfaced, showing its ugly, terrible head for the one person I wanted to impress the most.
It was “Lucky” by Britney Spears. Now as far as Britney Spears’ songs go, some of them aren’t that bad—the ones that are edgy and sexy can even be somewhat decent. But this wasn’t one of those songs. This was the most stereotypical teenage girl song in existence; about a girl who seems to have it all but is secretly sad and lonely, complete with a bubble gum and cotton candy sound, and ample repetition of the painfully unintelligent lyrics. But in spite of being aware of all of its faults, I secretly loved it. I couldn’t really say why, it was just something about that song that I could never get out of my head. When the song burst forth on the stereo, he raised his eyebrows, and I quickly stuttered excuses—“I must’ve accidentally downloaded that, I have no idea how it got on there, I never listen to it”—all the while, I was thinking “lies lies lies! I love this song!” I was in despair, imagining him immediately losing all respect for me, then going on to tell the entire school about my secret Britney Spears fixation. But despite my mortification, it was difficult to resist the urge to sing along with one of my favorite guilty pleasure songs. He then shocked me by saying “Its all right, I know how it is. I secretly like Britney Spears too, it’s just so catchy!” and proceeding to sing along. I was too shocked to respond at first, but I was then struck by the awkward humor of the whole situation, my embarrassment melted away and I burst out laughing. We sang to Britney Spears the whole way home, screaming the chorus “she’s so lucky, she’s a star, but she cries, cries, cries in the lonely night!”
After the whole ordeal was over and I was at home, I remembered it with a smile, and realized it really wasn’t that big of a deal. So why was I so mortified at the thought of people thinking I had bad taste in music? Maybe it was because I had been equating my music taste to be so intertwined with myself that the two were inseparable—it hadn’t occurred to me that a person could dislike my taste in music, but still like me as a person. Maybe I was just placing too much value on the opinions of others in the first place. If I enjoyed something, why should I be ashamed of it and try to hide it? This thought really impacted me, and I realized that if I continued to live my life by the guidelines of others, I would lose all individuality and life would be really boring. From then on some things changed in my life. It was a subtle change—I didn’t go and announce to my whole school that I loved Britney Spears—but it mostly changed the way I think. Now, when I make a decision, I don’t obsess over what other people will think because of it, I just go with what feels right for me. And though I realistically know I will never be totally free from caring about what others think, it now holds only a very small influence on me. And I am proud to say I have not experienced shuffle shame in over three years.
Kelly could stand to do some pruning; the car story moves a little slowly. For the most part, though, I think this is a strong, funny, and self-aware essay.
Do you agree with me? Leave your thoughts in the comments!
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