It's a terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible question. And a necessary one.
Why necessary? Hell, we need some way to talk about the stuff. And it's terrible, obviously, because there's no successful way to answer it. You're always leaving something out or implying something unthinkable. (If I include "mainstream pop" in my answer, aiming to lasso in someone as commercial as Lady Gaga, will you think I mean Ke$ha?)
Yet there are some exceptionally awful ways to describe your taste in music. One of them is, of course, to describe exceptionally awful taste in music. But this at least usefully indicates to the one listening that music is not going to be a fruitful topic in the current conversation. Plenty of common responses don't mean anything -- or at least don't mean what they aim to mean. So here: the 10 worst answers to the question, "what kind of music do you listen to? (And yes, we've given some of these answers ourselves, more times than we care to recall.)
1. "All kinds of music." (Also, "I listen to everything." Frequently amended by, "Except country.")
These common replies are never correct. If you literally think you listen to everything, you are ignorant of the amount of music there is. If you mean (as many people do) that you listen to both mainstream rap and modern rock, you owe it to yourself to explore some other genres. If you mean that you grew up listening to classic rock, got into punk in college, can get behind some hip-hop, chill out to Afropop, dig jazz, study Latin dance, savor going to the opera, and have a soft spot for gritty, old-school country, relax. This question just sucks.
2. "Whatever's on the radio"
A very bad sign. Nothing's wrong with the radio, but people who say this generally don't mean that they listen to radio stations that reflect their taste in music. They mean that they only bother listening to whatever combination of Top 40 shit-pop the commercial music industry has decided to foist upon them this week. (Obvious exceptions granted to Internet radio and to services like Pandora, whose users ought to appreciate the value of specificity in describing one's taste in music.)
3. "Alvin and the Chipmunks"
Or any other musical artist who happens to be a cartoon. (Except Gorillaz and the fictional band the Beets from the early-'90's Nickelodeon TV show Doug
. Their song "Killer Tofu
" hella rules. And if not, the person who says it does is a wizard of irony.)
4. "Crunk Metal" (Also, "Crunkcore")
OK, so hating on BrokeNCYDE
is about as hard as hating on the oil spill. But sucking hard is what got the band and its bullshit genre on this list. Don't just not bother talking about music with the person who answers thusly. Work really, really hard to make sure you don't have to talk to them about anything at all.
5. "Dream Theater"
This prog-metal band
makes music so overwrought, tuneless, and self-indulgent that it's impossible to appreciate, even ironically. But rest assured that the person who supplies this response will a) tell you lots of other embarrassing things about themselves and b) spend hours perfecting their masturbation technique.
6. "Barbra Streisand"
If your favorite artist's website
has a "truth alerts" section to combat vicious tabloid rumors, I can pretty much tell you right now that we aren't going to have a lot in common. Let's talk about something else. You seem like a very nice person, even if you are prone to acting on your own hyper-irrational fears. What kind of cheese do you like?
"Powerfully fucking violent" is the highest form of praise here, in a musical genre where tempos break down suddenly and songs rarely last longer than 30 seconds. It's supposed to be radical, but to untrained ears, it sounds eerily similar to a Metallica tape played on fast-forward. The person who answers this way really just means to say that he/she thinks you are a pussy
8. "Smooth Jazz"
Including smooth jazz in the shortlist of your favorite music is akin to naming Bud Light as among your favorite beers. Perhaps it fits the rough specifications, but chances are that you like Kenny G or B-minus because they are beer- and music-like substitutes for the real thing. Music is supposed to make the listener feel something, good or bad; smooth jazz just makes you numb.
9. "Only old [insert genre name here]. Music made these days sucks."
Readers are hereby advised to avoid discussing music with grouchy old men.
10. A fevered, 15-minute exhortation on the relative merits of Son House, Hank Williams, Chet Baker, Muddy Waters, Charles Mingus, Jimi Hendrix, The Jam, Motorhead, the Sex Pistols, New Order, Captain Beefheart, Lou Reed, skate punk, garage rock, Ice Cube, Animal Collective, Biggie, New Jack Swing, Erik Satie, Sleigh Bells, Ace of Base, and Prince.
Aka our own incomplete, never-satisfying answer. Told you it was a terrible question.