What music is stuck in your head?
September 5, 2006 9:29 AM   Subscribe

You are an American female born in 1983 or 1986. What music resonates for you? For why I want to know, there's

I'm writing a novel with two main characters (both female), one born in 1983 and the other in 1986. Since I'm somewhat older than this, I have no idea what music was really important to people born in these years. Help me make my characters a little more authentic! Both characters are themselves musically inclined, and live in Seattle. Thanks!
posted by lhauser to Media & Arts (38 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Nirvana? Pearl Jam?
posted by Skyanth at 9:31 AM on September 5, 2006

Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, STP, Rage against the Machine, and Nine Inch Nails. Basically whatever was playing on the rock stations between 1995-1997.
posted by gatorae at 9:37 AM on September 5, 2006

The age range you describe (20 - 23) falls smack in the middle of what I think of as the MySpace demographic.

As painful as it may be to your eyes and ears (and, probably, to your sanity), I suggest you start exploring MySpace pages of young women from Seattle, and see what music appears to be important to them.
posted by dersins at 9:37 AM on September 5, 2006

If your characters are from Seattle, you can't help but put Nirvana on their minds.
posted by sjuhawk31 at 9:40 AM on September 5, 2006

if you have iTunes, I believe there's a couple Essentials lists you can check out and get an idea of as far as Grunge, 90s and there may even be a Seattle one as well.
posted by jerseygirl at 9:42 AM on September 5, 2006

I was born in 1984. I am generally considered to be both female and American. Cheesy 80s ballads really resonate with me, in a completely unironical sense. I'm not saying I consider them good music, but if a song was on the Top Gun or Dirty Dancing soundtrack, it's probably pretty resonant emotionally.

If you want to talk about what 20-something females listen to now, it's going to be entirely dependent on cultural factors not necessarily linked to age. I currently listen to a lot of Radiohead, Flaming Lips, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, for what it's worth.
posted by muddgirl at 9:44 AM on September 5, 2006

If your characters are out-of-the-mainstream types, which your description of "musically inclined" seems to indicate, go with Beat Happening, the Fastbacks, Flop (or Rusty Willoughby's other band, Pure Joy), the Young Fresh Fellows, Hammerbox, and Seattle bands of that stripe, rather than the more mainstream Nirvana/Pearl Jam type.

Seattle music in the early '90s was a whole lot more than grunge.
posted by pdb at 9:56 AM on September 5, 2006

I was born in '82 and I started out in 4th or 5th grade really liking the cure and depeche mode and david bowie-- then in middle school I really liked the brit-pop and brit-pop-type monosyllabic bands like blur, ash, cast, pulp, etc. Radiohead became (and continues to be) very important to me around 7th grade (the bends). Also got into trip-hop around the beginning of high school-- tricky, portishead, massive attack, etc. Moved on to punk and discord records type music towards the end of high school-- now in my mellow old age of 24 I listen to boring indie rock and swedish pop--
How old are the characters in your novel? Are they how old they would be presently at 20 and 23? I guess it depends on what stage of life these characters are in--
But I'm from the east coast, so I couldn't tell you about girls my age from the west coast-- nor have I ever really known any girls my age from the west coast-- but look into sub pop records bands.
posted by greta simone at 10:01 AM on September 5, 2006

My sister was born in '83 and she loves the Chieftans and Waylon Jennings.
posted by thirteenkiller at 10:04 AM on September 5, 2006

23 year old American female here.

Are you looking for the things we were all listening to when we where 12-15, or things that we listen to now? Because you'll find a lot more (almost unmanageable) variety in the latter. However, it would feel a lot more authentic.

My personal list (copied from my Facebook account, incidentally):

Will Hoge, Butch Walker, Ryan Adams, Whiskeytown, Jump Little Children, My Chemical Romance, Fiona Apple, Al Green, Better Than Ezra, White Stripes, Scott Little, Fall Out Boy, Veblen, Injected, Tinkers Punishment, The Outfit, The Beatles, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Damien Rice, Bain Mattox, Elliott Smith, Ben Folds, Chet Baker, Billie Holiday, Sondre Lerche, Keane, Marvelous 3, The Killers, Sugarland, Otis Redding, Sarah Tollerson, Louis XIV, Muse, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Death Cab for Cutie, Incubus, Kanye West, Rufus Wainwright, Carrying O'Brien, Incubus, Aerosmith, Queen, Soul Miner's Daughter, The Darkness, Frank Sinatra, James Brown, Sean Kagalis, Adam James, Angie Aparo, Candiass, Elvis Costello, The Films, Jackson 5, Razorlight, Missy Elliot, Guster, Outkast, Gavin Degraw, Jeff Buckley, Jennifer Nettles Band, Jet, Jimmy Eat World, Maroon 5, Modest Mouse, Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, Rosebud, Scissor Sisters, Sondre Lerche, Via Satellite, Badly Drawn Boy, Johnny Cash, Basement Jaxx, The Chrystal Method, Roth-Era Van Halen, Gorillaz, Led Zeppelin, Queens of the Stone Age, David Mead, The Vines, Daft Punk, Chemical Brothers, Panic At the Disco, The Academy Is..., The Dears, Head Automatica, Slow Runner, Innerview, We Are Scientists, Hillside Manor. Also fond of cellos and opera.

You'll find some classic rock, some jazz, some pop, modern rock, pop punk, and lots of bands you probably have never even heard of. I am considering by my friends to be extremely discerning in my taste but not a snob, meaning, if I like it I like it and it has nothing to do with what is "cool" or not. I have no idea if your characters have a similar attitude.

If your characters are from Seattle, you can't help but put Nirvana on their minds.

Don't do that for the sake of doing it. It would feel like such a cliché to me.
posted by Famous at 10:07 AM on September 5, 2006

Nineties pop. Every girl I know born in the years you specified is nostalgic about this stuff, not because the music was good, but because it reminds them of family trips/middle school dances/first boyfriends in the mid nineties. If you can get access to XM Radio (or sign up for the trial), check out The Nineties.
posted by sian at 10:08 AM on September 5, 2006

I would strongly suggest that, if you yourself aren't familiar with the genres in which these characters would express interest, you not make their musical tastes anything prominent in the story. There is alot of social and cultural baggage that comes along with any musical "scene", and even if you can drop all the right names, you're probably going to mess it up if you try to assume knowledge you don't have.

The old maxim to "write what you know" holds true here. Rather than talking about how Sue is jamming to some band that you've never heard of but has been told was "cool to that type", which will almost certainly come off somehow false, give her an interesting quirk by making her interested in fugues, or early 20th century minimalism, or cheesy country western.

There's alot of space in the music spectrum to be "musically inclined".
posted by jammer at 10:12 AM on September 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

If your characters are from Seattle, you can't help but put Nirvana on their minds.

Don't do that for the sake of doing it. It would feel like such a cliché to me.

As someone who lived in Seattle from 1987-2003, and went to 3-4 shows a night during the early/mid 90's, I wholeheartedly agree. There was so much more to the Seattle music scene than "grunge", it would make for much more interesting character development if your character went deeper.
posted by pdb at 10:30 AM on September 5, 2006

or, 3-4 shows a *week*.
posted by pdb at 10:31 AM on September 5, 2006

Born at the tail end of 1985, I am currently a 20 year old female living in Victoria, Canada. Seattle is merely an hour or two boat ride away.
To be perfectly honest, the music that (I am assuming) older MeFi's seems to mention isn't it. In 1997 I was 12, and that music wasn't directed at me. I also could never have gathered the $25 to buy an album at that age. I was aware of it, but at the time didn't care. As a preeteen I wasn't angsty enough, and I doubt many others were. So please toss that idea out the window.
We had two factors when it came to music: The first was our parents and their cheezy 80's soundtracks, as muddgirl already explained. The other was Bubblegum Pop, which was hitting our demographic hard.
I'm really really sorry to say it, but early Backstreet Boys, Britney Spear's first album, Aqua's first album (Oh Barbie Girl), and early nasty horrible pop stars were our music among the girls. Look at the top albums of 1999 for what we first listened to.
It seems like we were the group they revived pop with. After years of Grunge and Alternative, which we couldn't understand at such a young age, the powers that be made us scream for Pop.
By the time I hit my teens hard in 2001 (16), I started searching back in time for my music. I wasn't alone. Old punk, classic Rock, and anything underground (or was cool to love until it came above ground), was what we listened too. Pop never changed, and as we got older it failed to fulfill our needs. I remember the day I turned on MuchMusic, and then promptly turned it off. I was my first day back to school in grade 11. Without much 'good' music being supplied by the media, we had to search elsewhere. The results? Rather eclectic tastes today. But we all remember those early days. I don't want to listen to "I Want it That Way", but I do know all the words to it.

Once again as muddgirl said, what we listen to today is -very- diverse. To elaborate, this is because our early music doesn't leave much to pick from. Today I do listen to Nirvana, but I can't feel nostalgic about it, because while I was alive at the time, I wasn't -there-. I was too busy collecting grass stains on my knees. Then trend I find, in my general area among the people I meet my age, is they each have a 'thing'. Mine happens to be old punk.

I confess, I kept the Aqua CD.
posted by billy_the_punk at 10:34 AM on September 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

Might not be on their minds now, but certainly formed a large part of their lives growing up:

- Backstreet Boys
- Spice Girls
- S Club 7
- O Town
- Other boy/girl bands from the early-mid 90's
posted by antifuse at 10:42 AM on September 5, 2006

Most of the rock bands mentioned were around a while when I was a teen, and I am a few years older than your girls. Now, if they're really musically inclined in a certain way, and matured very quickly compared to others, then they'd be all about Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails, but not necessarily.
posted by dagnyscott at 10:49 AM on September 5, 2006

Does it have to be old stuff? What about the recommendation of current bands that 20-22 year old women would be interested in? I'd go with things like The Killers and Panic At The Disco! etc..
posted by wackybrit at 10:57 AM on September 5, 2006

Within that approximate cohort, many of the young ladies of my acquaintance enjoy what, for want of a better name, I'll call post-riot-grrrl. Sleater-Kinney, Le Tigre, etc. My impression, and I might be wrong, is that these tastes are pretty widespread.

That said: all you've told us is their age, gender and that they live in Seattle and are 'musically inclined.' Frankly, that's not enough information to form a good answer (though it appears to be enough information for a bad one). They could be b-girls, or rivetheads, or fans of musical theater, for Chrissake.
posted by box at 11:00 AM on September 5, 2006

Two words: "No Diggity"
posted by Bizurke at 11:03 AM on September 5, 2006

Music is intensely personal. Telling us only the years they were born can tell us nothing about what music was "really important" to them growing up. What do you mean by "important" anyway? Was played at the school dances? Convinced them not to kill themselves at 14? Came on the radio when their first serious relationship dissolved at 17? Influenced them musically? Got them really thinking about the world around them and got them into activism? Was what their friends were listening to at whatever age? What was would piss off their parents the most? Inspired them to become musicians?

Does musically inclined mean they had a lot of classical instrument lessons and are concert pianists or taught themselves guitar and now play in a garage band?

I guess as an American female born in 1984 with a sister born in 1986, I don't know if I'd believe a literary shortcut of trying to get me to identify with a character by naming the bands they liked. I agree strongly with jammer. here. If I'm the target audience for your book I might actively resent the idea that my age bracket all likes the same music as teenagers and now and might feel that you just looked this up on "Top 40 Hits" for 199x.

BUT, give us more about your characters and those of us of that era can direct you to listen to the bands they might have picked up on. WHEN did they start listening to the radio and picking their own music? Are these girls trend followers or trend defyers? Did they fit in in high school? Would they actively go to indie concerts and coffeehouses or enjoy what what offered on the radio? Would like they punk, rock, pop, R&B, hip hop, dance, or something else? Would they want music with a message/ideaology or prefer love ballads? Did they have a close relationship with their parents and so be fond of an earlier era's music?

Do you get what I'm saying? There are a LOT of possibilities here and I think if you truly want to make your characters authentic we need MUCH more to go on than "born in 1983."

Instead, tell me something like "Age 15 in 1999 and an angry, feminist grrrl with a urge to be different" and I'll know that she likely listened to Ani DiFranco, Sleater Kinney, or boysetsfire.

Tell me "Started buying her own albums in 1995 and listened to pop rock" and I'll reccomend the Blues Traveler, Collective Soul or Dave Matthews Band.

And so on! Give us more to work with!
posted by nelleish at 11:04 AM on September 5, 2006 [3 favorites]

(My money's on Tori Amos.)
posted by RavinDave at 11:11 AM on September 5, 2006

seconding what nelleish said. (born in 1986 here)
posted by mittenedsex at 11:12 AM on September 5, 2006

Oh, well, more to work with? OK...

I see now that my timing was a bit off. The story is SET in 2000, so my ladies were born in 1980 and 1983 (sorry). I'm not intending to do a whole characterization just based on what music they like, but I know how important the popular music of my day (the early 70s) was to me, so I think it has to be important to them as well.

Grace is 17, is a white classical guitar prodigy who grew up in a with her unmarried parents, who had an open relationship. Because she was a professional performer from early on, she was home schooled and never attended high school. She was surrounded by all sort of music, popular and classical, when she was growing up. At the time of the story she's legally an emancipated minor and is coming to the University of Washington to get a music degree. She's seen a lot of life and is emotionally mature, socially a bit naive.

Aida is black, a junior majoring in piano, from a moderate (not "right wing") Christian background. She's recovering from the deaths of her boyfriend and father, who died within weeks of each other a year earlier. She had a fairly typical high school career, loves her family, but has a stubborn, independent streak.

Obviously both of these ladies are heavily into classical music, but I think very few people sit in musical isolation. Grace especially longs to leave her classical guitar in its case and plug in now and then.

Thanks for the suggestions so far, you're all helping a lot!
posted by lhauser at 2:12 PM on September 5, 2006

Whenever I read a story where a character has a diverse taste in music, I have no problem believing it. Whenever I read a story where a character is just like every other person is supposed to be at that age and time, I sigh and put the book down.

I think that a lot of the answers have shown, there is no stereotypical music for a 20 year old woman, and if there was, your character would be bland. Throw caution to the winds - make one an early Blues fan with a taste for Ella Fitzgerald, and the other to love the Bay City Rollers. (Okay, I was kidding about the Bay City Rollers).

You might also consider how they were influenced. In the 80s, my first taste of the Beatles was when my much older and very dearly loved brother sang me Rocky Raccoon. I could never get into the boppy Beatles stuff, but the White Album and Revolver are still dear to me.

My 13 year old daughter has developed a taste for Billy Idol after going through her father's collection.

In story telling, I would hope you always have a reason for what you are saying. I wouldn't list my character's musical taste just like the colour of their hair. Perhaps it will segue into a realisation that they used to like this music, but the events in their life changed it, or maybe they recognise the music is twee, but as the writer's symbol of their strenghth of character they refuse to abandon it. IAMNAW as you can tell.
posted by b33j at 2:22 PM on September 5, 2006

Yeah, this is a tough question. In 2000, I listened to contemporary christian rock (you know, Jars of Clay, Newsboys, etc). In 2002, I started listening to only good stuff - Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers. Is any of this helping? Basically, I agree with b33j. I'm thinking about girls I know now at that age, and they often listen to bands as diverse as classic Yes and Kelly Clarkson.

Think about how your character's musical taste changes at pivotal moments in their life - new schools, new friends, new influential musical mentors, etc.
posted by muddgirl at 2:36 PM on September 5, 2006

As a female, born in 1985, who lived her pre-teen and teen years in Seattle, I recommend that you email me. I'll give you a good list, complete with a list of the stations each social group listened to. I am also willing to help out with any other detail help you may need.

My email is the same as my metafiltername at gmail.com
posted by piratebowling at 2:47 PM on September 5, 2006

'Telling us only the years they were born can tell us nothing about what music was "really important" to them growing up.'

precisely. and although I'm middle aged and can't answer this question from my personal POV, let me just point out the following:

I think you might be overlooking something rather crucial here: due to the advent of digital convenience, music is no longer 'hoarded' by the generation that spawned it. the reason being that there is SO MUCH music, from so many eras, so readily available on the internet, that kids are listening to a staggering array of stuff that's, quite honestly, all over the board.

And yes, regionality will come into play with live stuff that's become meaningful to them, but for that you'd have to visit your local youth culture fansites (read: myspace or youtube, most likely).

The 15-25 year old demographic of today is no longer at the mercy of Casey Kasem and the 'top of the pops' drivel that was mindlessly spewed at we thirtysomethings (well we thirtysomethings who didn't have cool older siblings to sneak us into college shows underage, that is). And honestly, they haven't been subjected to that for oh, about a decade now. Sure, pop music is still heavily marketed in the mainstream media, but there are so many alternatives accessible that it's easy to say 'gee that sucks' and change the channel / web page / amazon listing / myspace profile / blogsite / XM station... you get the idea.

you wanna know what this demographic apparently listens to? well, I can't speak to the regionality but I can cite examples from my own circle of friends: all the Louis Armstrong and Beatles that's on my iTunes? it was given to me by a 25 year old who also listens to a lot of New Order and the B-52s. All my Simon and Garfunkel tracks? my 19 year old coaching client burned those for me off his mp3 collection, along with a bunch of Massive Attack. My 23 year old (female) colleague listens to Abba, Paul Simon and Radiohead in equal doses. Sure, these kids also listen to newer stuff from Death Cab, Modest Mouse and Neutral Milk Hotel, but from what I can tell they seem to be cherry picking (their) 'best of pop' music from roughly the past five or six decades.

From what I can gather, none of these kids listens to mainstream radio. At all. Most college age kids I know (and I work with them daily) could care less what's 'popular' by outmoded ClearChannel marketing definitions. And nearly all of the college kids I know seem to hold the endless parade of wankers on MTV in contempt as well.

I suggest you try a combination of the excellent advise from both dersins and nellish above. Figure out (and/or tell us) more about your characters' personalities. And, flip through myspace profiles from Seattle kids -- so what if it's cringe-inducing, it's research, right? Pick a few random myspace folk who have similar interests to your characters, and see what they have on their profile listings.
posted by lonefrontranger at 2:49 PM on September 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

I was born in 1982. One of the things that (supposedly) marked my generation was a fragmentation of experience and culture. Because we grew up with a million channels of cable and dozens of radio stations and, early in our adolescence, billions of webpages, we were able to carve out cultural niches for ourselves. Musical tates in my high school and middle school were very segregated: the "Jesus Freaks" listened to DC Talk and other Christian rock, the angsty/ artsy kids listened to Tori Amos and Ani Difranco, and the punk kids listened to the Ramones.

So, if you're looking for authenticity, I think it depends on who these kids are. For me, Smashing Pumpkins and Britney Spears (in an ironic way, of coooourse!) bring back floods of memories from high school, but I have friends-- hip-hop kids, country music fans, "scenesters"-- who wouldn't have been caught dead listening to either.

Earlier in my childhood, New Kids on the Block was a very big deal. I remember the J.C. Penney catalog including New Kids sleeping bags, electric toothbrushes, and watches.
posted by chickletworks at 2:55 PM on September 5, 2006

Of course music is important to teenagers of all decades! We just need to know what kind of music your characters would be seeking out as I think both loneftontranger and chickletworks have very valid points. Napster and its ilk were climbing to their glory days in 2000 so you could have your girls really be in to, and have access to, almost anything. I would believe a characterization that Aida might be listening to a lot of the music she listened to with her father. Maybe she is finding "your" 70s tunes resonating strongly with her now.

On further reflection I like the myspace research idea, as loathe as I am to admit that it may represent my age peers to any flattering degree. Then I think you could download some of the possiblities and listen with an ear of "Would Aida like this?" knowing her as well as an author should. Then you will have a good sense of both what a "typical" teenager of that time would have been exposed to, as what as what your individual teenager would have selected as her own music.

Here is an honest sampling of my own musical experience of 2000 (being at that time a 16-year-old geek living away from my lefty parents at a math/science charter school):

Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam, The Who, Barenaked Ladies, The Beatles, They Might Be Giants, The Weakerthans, Radiohead, Indigo Girls, Alanis Morisette, Tori Amos, Ani DiFranco, Amiee Mann, Patty Griffin, Dar Williams, Cat Stevens, Nick Drake, and a whole lotta ska punk (Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Save Ferris, Goldfinger being some better known bands)

posted by nelleish at 4:17 PM on September 5, 2006

I don't think Aida could go to a desert island without A Tribe Called Quest's "Low End Theory" and "People's Instinctive Travels." Likewise, De La Soul's "Three Feet High and Rising" and the wu-Tang Clan's "Enter the 36 Chambers." I am not black, but I live in a black neighborhood and have twentysomething black friends---Tribe is more or less the hip-hop equivalent of the Beatles.

For Grace, Belle and Sebastian ("If You're Feeling Sinister"), Guided By Voices ("Bee Thousand"), the Smiths ("The Queen Is Dead"/"Meat is Murder"), and similar indie sounds like her sort of thing. You also can't leave out Simon and Garfunkel, who you're probably already very familiar with. For quiet/intellectual musical types, there are few bands more important despite their age..
posted by nasreddin at 6:21 PM on September 5, 2006

Sure, these kids also listen to newer stuff from Death Cab, Modest Mouse and Neutral Milk Hotel

One of these doesn't belong: Neutral Milk Hotel broke up in 1998.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:23 PM on September 5, 2006

And what nasreddin said. Belle and Sebastian, The Smiths would be great choices for a socially naive 17 year old in 2000. I'd also say weezer would be a very likely candidate. As she plays classical guitar and grew up around music, Simon and Garfunkel is a good choice too, and I'd throw in James Taylor as well.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:31 PM on September 5, 2006

being a girl born in 1980 i can only tell you what memories i have for myself and that of the girls i went to school with.

for me i always loved music and for the first several years of my life music to me was whatever my parents loved. (which was mostly what is now considered as classic rock) but MTV originated in 81 and my early years were filled with everthing from Madonna to Guns and Roses, music i still love to this day, but it was just the start of a long road for me. i have many memories of crying over ruined cassete tapes and wishing for the newly popular CDs (that i later ordered a ton of from BMG music as a kid, like many of my friends, illegally.)

i realize that i personally cant really narrow it down to many bands other than The Smiths. that band in itself did more for me over the years then any other, seconded by the cure.. trailing behind are bands like The Cranberries, Rage Against the Machine, Weezer, Smashing Pumpkins.. alot of them have already been covered above.

i second that the smiths are PERFECT for the socially naive, and is also a band that if you ask you are going to get more information than you ever wanted on.
posted by trishthedish at 7:53 PM on September 5, 2006

Use your own favorite bands as at least one of the main character's personal taste, too. That way it will be authentic and real, and it won't sound like you're pretending to love a band you've never even heard of.

And really, there's nothing unbelievable about a young girl loving 70s music. I know last year at work I became very infatuated with early 70s folk rock, disco and everything in between and I'm 19 years old, female and from Portland, OR.
posted by nonmerci at 10:35 PM on September 5, 2006

There was a great bit on All Things Considered a while back about something similar. The short version is that music tastes are formed between 14 and 29. In most cases, music we hear before 14 doesn't really resonate. Anything after 29 (or maybe it was early 30s) we're less likely to adopt... unless it echos what we liked at 15 (or whatever).

Here's the story. Robert Sapolsky, the interviewee, is a neuroscientist who looked into this phenomenon.
posted by jdfan at 11:41 AM on September 6, 2006

To be honest, jdfan, it was reading about Sapolsky that got me interested in this. Though I don't completely agree with him; I got seriously into Bjork at age 45, and Keith Jarrett at 49, neither of which seem to reflect the disco/pop or classical interests I had between 14 and 30 (I hated jazz with a passion, and Bjork is often still weird, though delightfully so). My musical tastes have changed over the years; I don't often crave the stuff I grew up with anymore. Though I enjoy occasionally listening to that formative years stuff now and then, the most lasting taste I seem to have developed was New Age in my 30s (probably an offshoot of my obsession with classical music).
posted by lhauser at 3:51 PM on September 6, 2006

MTV party to go Vol. 7, Vol. 8, Vol. 9, Vol. 10.

= Macarena!
posted by billtron at 8:18 AM on September 9, 2006

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