It comes out of nowhere: one second you’re having a perfectly pleasant conversation with a man from Pomona College, and then, the inevitable. “My music taste is really underground.” And when you ask for artist names, he responds, “you’ve probably never heard of them.”
The obscurer, the better. Music isn’t just a personal preference, it’s a complicated metric system for intellectual superiority. Being in the one percent of Spotify monthly listeners of the most “underground” artist you can find elevates your status. The less commodified, the better.
And the music to avoid? Call it mainstream, bubblegum pop, “basic” — whatever you label it, music by and for women should be avoided at all costs. God forbid your favorite artist would ever wear a sparkly outfit and have back-up dancers on a world tour. If she’s on TikTok? Forget it.
Labeling music as “basic” masks coded misogyny. For a girl, the weaponization of the term “basic” is deployed to devalue her identity by targeting the media she embraces.
“Basic” is a lifetime sentence girls are far too familiar with. Excavate the graveyard of “basic” and you’ll find the bones of once-beloved girlhood markers: Ugg boots, Starbucks frappuccinos, flip phones, a pink Nintendo 3DS, white high-top Converse, Lokai bracelets, EOS lip balm. The pattern is archaic and often recycled — once a piece of pop culture, an article of clothing, a boyband or even a video game is recognized as “basic”, we rush to shed the association as quickly as possible.
Yet despite a patronizing campaign against it, “basic music” persists as intelligent, talented and ultimately empowering. “Basic music” is a powerful signifier of the resilience of women dominating the music industry.
Female artists have faced immeasurable obstacles for as long as the industry has been around. From Kanye West grabbing the mic from Taylor Swift at the 2009 VMAs as she accepted the award for “Best Female Video”, vitriolic slut-shaming directed at Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion after the release of the “WAP” music video, Britney Spears’ conservatorship to Kesha’s legal battle with her emotionally abusive producer, the music industry consistently maintains obstacles for female artists.
The media isn’t much help, either. Billie Eilish weighs too much; Olivia Rodrigo weighs too little. Selena Gomez is a talentless dud riding the coattails of childhood Disney channel fame. Miley’s just a lost cause. And any girl who blows up on TikTok for singing or songwriting? Definitely a secret industry plant.
From emotionally abusive producers to restrictive record labels, a frenzied, drama-hungry public and media reporting propagated with double standards between male and female artists, there’s nothing easy about becoming a huge female name in the music industry.
Yet in a culture intent on isolating and devaluing girls, “basic music” is triumphantly persistent.
“Basic music” normalizes, even celebrates, the painful throes of girlhood: Lana Del Rey’s haunted lyrics of coked-up flings with sugar daddies articulate the nostalgia and despair of a pre-algebra heartbreak; Taylor Swift’s “Back to December” memorializes girlhood’s melancholic regret; Olivia Rodrigo’s lyrics, “where’s my fucking teenage dream”, encapsulate the gritty injustice of teenaged expectations.
“Basic music” is a celebration of community. Whether screaming every lyric of Taylor Swift’s ten-minute version of “All Too Well” in a room full of girls, making a new friend in a party bathroom under the beat of Selena Gomez’ “Love You Like a Love Song”, or blasting “Happier Than Ever” as the streetlights glide over you in a car full of girls heading to In-N-Out, “basic music” reinforces communal experience.
“Basic music” is a warm invitation into the sovereignty of girlhood. This music is inherently political: body-positive anthems confront an overwhelming diet culture; sexually-empowering songs challenge a culture saturated with slut-shaming; break-up hits provide healing through community.
Embracing “basic music” is a reclamation of power. Screaming Taylor Swift’s “I’ll get older, but your lovers stay my age” is a powerful challenge to our culturally-endorsed age gaps between older men and younger women. Carrie Underwood’s angry, triumphant hit “Before He Cheats” challenges the passivity of adulterous victimization. So many girls can relate to Billie Eilish’s lyrics “you scared me to death, but I’m wasting my breath / ’cause you only listen to your fucking friends”.
The next time you’re scared to add Britney Spears’ “Toxic” to the queue during a hangout for fear of being labeled “basic,” do it. And at the Grammys this Sunday, I’ll be rooting for the “basic music.”
Eliza Powers PO ’25 is from New Orleans, Louisiana. She loves reality TV, Phoebe Bridgers and searching for the perfect avocado toast recipe.