If you would have told me a year ago that, sometime next summer, I would be seen be driving around the hood, volume up, windows down, and jamming away to a love song made by a man clearly and unambiguously speaking about his unrequited romantic love for another man, I wouldn't have believed you.
Why? Well, out of the 1500 or so songs currently stored in my car, maybe 1460 of them are rap related (The other 40? Tracks from the Kill Bill soundtracks.), and I’m just not a “listen to R&B while riding in the whip” type of guy. Also, as much as I’d like to say that the gay thing wouldn’t have mattered because I’m enlightened and intellectual and shop at Trader Joe’s, it definitely would have.
Listening to music is a uniquely personal experience — listeners relate to musicians in a way we rarely do with other types of performers — and hearing it in a car or while rocking headphones is even more intimate. And, while I didn’t consider myself to be particularly homophobic, I would have said that this hyper-intimacy would prevent me from feeling a song I couldn’t “relate” to. Basically, a song about a man falling in love with a man wouldn’t resonate because I’ve never fallen in love with a man.
I'm sure you've figured out by now that “Bad Religion” — the Frank Ocean track whose use of a masculine pronoun prompted Ocean to come out and confirm that he was, in fact, referring to a man when writing it — is the song I'm referring to. (Perhaps the title of this story gave that away.)
What prompted the change from “I wouldn’t do that because I couldn’t relate” to “Not only am I listening, but I’m listening in a way to let everyone within a two block radius know exactly what I’m listening to?” “Bad Religion” is a great f*cking song. That’s it. It — as great art is supposed to do — moves, inspires, resonates, and reverberates. Feeling it wasn’t a political statement or an expression of my level of personal progression. I like it because I like it.
I suspect that I’m not alone in feeling this way, though. Humans are wont to make certain reflexive judgments even though we’re not quite sure if we actually mean them. And, sometimes we make them just because we think we’re expected to.
I'd bet the majority of people who make assumptions like “I’d hate living out West” or “I could never give up eating beef” have no idea what they’re talking about because they haven’t even tried. In my case, I would have said that I’d have trouble connecting to a song such as “Bad Religion” because of how it would look if I did, just as I would have made the same faulty assumption about how it would look if at lunch with a gay co-worker. In both cases, I would have allowed the hypothetical biases of people who don’t even exist to cast judgment on my life and prevent me from enjoying it.
By seeing and embracing it as just a great song instead of a “gay” song and subsequently ridding me of my own self-conscious hangup about homosexuality, “Bad Religion” was able to break a mental barrier in a way that decades worth of protests, political campaigns, commercials, and After-School Specials weren’t able to. For this reason, it’s my song of the year.