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Guilty music pleasures could make you feel happier and more popular, new DMU research suggests

Music-lovers who listen to guilty pleasures do so to feel happier, fit in socially and reminisce about the past, new research carried out in conjunction with De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) shows.

A pair of experts from DMU and the University of Kent asked more than 140 people of varying ages from across the world about their musical habits, asking why they chose to listen to music they considered 'bad' or 'cheesy'.

Sad songs main

Many said they listened to such songs with friends, strengthening social bonds by laughing at and ridiculing this music, reinforcing their own shared musical tastes. In other words, they liked the music because it was bad.

But others suggested that while this ridiculing distanced them from the social values associated with the music, the enjoyment of the song was the same as that gained from music they were more confident in admitting liking. In short, they liked it in spite of it being bad.

They described their enjoyment of the music as 'ironic' - an enjoyment linked to factors other than the primary pleasure given by the music.

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The study was carried out by DMU Psychology lecturer Dr Annemieke van den Tol, together with Professor Roger Giner-Sorolla of the University of Kent.

They found that the kind of music often cited as 'bad' or 'cheesy' by respondents often had a strong beat and catchy melody or lyrics. Artists like Nickelback, the Bloodhound Gang and Lil Wayne were mentioned by respondents as examples of the kind of music they listened to 'ironically'.

Some people said that while the music was catchy, they felt ashamed about wanting to listen to it because of its social connotations and therefore described their enjoyment of it as 'ironic'.

Many participants said they listened so as not to feel left out in their awareness of pop-culture, to laugh about the music with friends, or because they wanted to try out a new identity, associating the music with someone quite different to themselves. Whereas, some participants also said they enjoyed listening to music they knew others disliked because it made them feel unique and nonconformist.

Others said that while they did not like these songs, they listened to them because they had valuable memories associated with them, or that they felt nostalgic for a time when they enjoyed the music guilt-free and un-ironically.

Dr Van den Tol said this was the first serious study into the notion of ironic music listening undertaken.

She said: "Our main study showed, first, that ironic enjoyment of music sometimes serves similar functions to general music listening. People who listen 'despite' the music being bad are often looking for energy and excitement .

"But, when music is listened to 'because' it is bad, this usually served functions that general music listening does not serve, such as finding amusement, ridiculing the music, and looking cool to friends.".

Posted on Tuesday 16th August 2016

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