What makes music "authentic"


All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I've been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don't mean anything
When you've got no one to tell them to
It's true...I was made for you

Brandi Carlisle [ The Story Lyrics on http://www.lyricsmania.com/ ]

I love this song. I am a survivor. I have been through a lot, and when faced with a challenge or crisis, I know I will get through it, even if I am a little more bruised and scarred than before. My "battle scars" tell "the story of who I am." I am a divorced woman who has found love again; a single-mom raising three boys; a teacher demanding the best from her students, rejoicing in their triumphs and grieving in their defeats; a daughter and a sister; a friend and a mentor. All of these things make me who I am, and in this song by Brandi Carlisle, I appreciate the fact that the people in my life love and accept me for who I am. They listen to my stories, and most, if not all of them, make up the threads to my tale. Songs like this are the kind that makes me appreciate those in my life. Songs that speak of overcoming adversity, rising to the challenge, celebrating or grieving the human experience are the ones I will stop and listen to and remember the words to. (And if I am alone, I will sing along with! ) These are songs I find to be "authentic."

Now, when I first heard this song, I thought, "Wow, she is an old soul. This song totally speaks to me. She has to be someone who has experienced this stuff. She has to be older than me." Uh, no. She is not quite 30, and I am pretty sure she is single with no kids. Does this make her any less "legit" in my eyes? Well, sort of? Maybe not? You see, I connect well with people who have been there, done that in their life. I am not one who makes superficial friends. I want to know your story, and I want to understand where you have been, and if we can't understand each other, then we just can't be friends. That's the same with music. If I can't understand what the singer is talking about or get their experience, then I can't connect with the song. And if the singer hasn't shared the experiences they are singing about, how can I trust them? How can I believe they mean what they are saying? If the singer hasn't experienced the emotions in their song, it is authentic? This is where the "sort of"/ "maybe not" comes in. For me, a song is "authentic" when the singer has either experienced what they are singing about, or they are able to empathize with those who have gone through this experience and are sincere in the message they are trying to convey to the listener.

Now, of course, I see musicians that are "created" or "branded" to be a little less authentic than those that just sing and worry less about the image they portray and focus more on the music. I'm a big fan of country music, but some of the newer singers are bit too flashy for me, and as a result, I don't like their music as much. Also, if a song is too harsh to my ears, I can't even begin to listen to the words. (Hello, rap singers and head-bangers, I can't stand listening to some of the stuff that is out there.) But is that to say then that just because I can't stand it, it isn't "authentic?"

I think every generation and culture has its own version of music they consider "real." And I think everyone has their own definition of what makes a song "authentic." (Though does anyone think Lady Gaga is for real?). I could spend all day talking about why my music tastes are more authentic than, say, rap or heavy metal, but then I would probably be offending the lovers of those genres that feel just as strongly as I do. That type of music speaks to those listeners for a reason, right?

Now what if I told you I am NOT a music nut? Would that change the value of my opinion. I love listening to a good song and have some favorites from when I was growing up, but I don't have a favorite artist that I would absolutely lose it for. (I wouldn't have fit in so well with Elvis or Beatle fans.) So does that make my opinion about what makes music authentic less valuable than someone who is a total devotee to a genre or group? Details, detail.

So my final thoughts on this? I think music that connects to you in a way that moves you emotionally and makes you think and makes you feel is "authentic." I might not agree with the message (I certainly will argue with anyone that loves a song that promotes some perverted and/or deviant behavior), but maybe you have had experiences that the music can relate to and I can't. We all have experiences that make up who we are. We all have stories that we want to tell and sometimes that story is best told through music and its lyrics.


Awesome post, Caroline!

This is a true blog post with a ton of emotion. I couldn't agree with you more on so many things you said about this song. My one piece of advise when listening to music--and i mean actually listening to the deeper mean, the lyrics, the message--would be to not place too much emphasis on the artist and their similarities to you. So many times they are telling their own stories in their music, not yours (even if it seems eerily similar). This is just my opinion, but I think listening to the music and then applying your own situation to the song and making meaning of it make the music/particular song all the more personalized and meaningful.

I really enjoyed this post, thanks!

-cade fairchild


I found this assignment challenging because I could not decipher what to say. Your comment regarding a piece's ability to illicit a genuine emotional response as a signal of its authenticity completely gives voice to how I feel. When a song touches on something real in your life or gives voice to your feelings, that is legitimate and authentic. Thank you for your post.

-Hayley Wender

hi Hayley,

your email is not your email anymore, but I googled your name and found this reply to Caroline's post. Quite suitable.

Hi Caroline -
Perhaps you have her updated email, or a way to contact her? I'm an old friend


About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Caroline Benton published on June 10, 2010 2:02 PM.

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