But my own music taste is a wee bit more complicated than that, and the past two weeks have been a very good reminder of that.
Anna Nalick emerged as a strong favorite of mine around 2005, as her debut single, "Breathe (2AM)," started playing everywhere - first on Sirius Satellite Radio, then terrestrial radio, and even on TV programs. When the song became a popular telephone ringtone, it was proof that she arrived. The reason why she really hooked me in was because of a very peculiar, brilliant style of lyric writing that she employed - no resorting to any fancy words or techniques, but profound when read as a whole. It didn't hurt that unlike my other favorite artists, who are at least 6 years older than me if not much older, Anna is actually 8 years younger, yet wrote in a very grown-up way.
As the photos above attest, I ended up meeting with Anna in 2006 for an autograph. And I was very disappointed when Anna disappeared without much of a warning in 2008. As it turned out there was an issue with her record label that had caused her second album to be scrapped. In any case, Anna went back in action in August 2010, and I made sure to attend three shows out of her four-show Hollywood residency in September and yesterday. It wasn't just the old hits I was enjoying - as it turned out, I liked the new numbers, to be included in her next album, even more.
One reason why I feel an affinity to Anna is because of her origins in Glendora - only a few minutes from where I am right now. Though if I look back to my own teenage years in Arcadia, I feel that there are even more parallels. Both Arcadia and Glendora are located on the old Route 66, and as far as Southern California suburbia goes, both communities are quite old (certainly much older than my current one). Both are affluent upper-middle-class communities that are quite quiet and not exactly exciting. Both were whites-only in the sad days of California's own segregation, but ironically because of that, have attracted well-to-do Asians in recent decades. (Though I have to say, Glendora hasn't turned all that much Asian, while Arcadia has become REALLY Asian especially after I left.) When I read about stories coming out of Anna's experiences in her grade school and high school years, it often feels like what happened in Arcadia back in my day - the vibe is similar enough that the inspirations that powered her songwriting were just as well present for me, and she sounds a lot like many white girls in my high school that I never got to know back in the day. With this added factor, I can feel an extra degree of affinity to her music in ways I would never feel with, say, an R&B artist from Compton or Harlem, as much as I try to appreciate R&B in general. Or a teen growing up in Halifax (Sarah Mac) or Long Island (Mariah Carey).
It doesn't hurt that I continue to keep in touch with Anna via her Facebook fanpage, where she actually spends time exchanging ideas with her fans (and hopefully draws ideas for future songs). That way I really have insights into her creative processes.
As much as I discouraged myself from developing a creative side in my teenage years, I want to think about it. There may be hidden gems of memory from my own high school years that I need to tap into - especially in terms of how those memories helped form who I am today. There were some negatives, as in my refusal to eat bagels even today after being force-fed them in my teenage years because that was all my folks could afford. There were some positives, such as learning to really cherish every moment of my summer New York visits and motivating myself to go to New York for college out of that. (It also explains one key reason why I idolized Mariah Carey - and the way Anna Nalick talks about idolizing certain favorite artists of her own and rewriting lyrics to their songs, I can totally identify.) And the way I craft Sarah's story grounds itself heavily to my own experiences growing up - even down to Sarah's fashion sense and the cars she drives. I need to put all these pieces together into a coherent story, and more importantly, see what kinds of creative spark Sarah may get. (I see Sarah as more of a gamer/aviation geek, but still.) Who knows, Sarah herself may have a few angst-ridden teenage poems lying around somewhere... Of course, minor adjustments will need to be made to account for Sarah's origins in the San Francisco Bay Area, but I don't see issues with that. Kirsten's upbringing as a mixed-race lesbian in Alabama will be much tougher for me, however. Though I may consider doing the "Kirsten rewrite" versions of Mariah Carey's key hits.
On a lighter note, I notice that one element of Anna Nalick's comeback is her appearance makeover, and as much as I had loved her natural dark brown hair, I love her even more as a redhead. Yes, my penchant for redheads, which was an acquired taste thanks to me making Sarah a redhead (primarily so that she would be bullied more often and severely), is at work here. However, honestly I want to keep Anna as my own Music Muse (incidentally one of her newest compositions), and not really share the gift of her music with my characters (though they may occasionally enjoy "Breathe (2AM)") - I do want Sarah and Kirsten to have their own sets of favorite artists and a fairly good reason for why they love each, and they already share more than a few favorites with me already (Melissa Etheridge would be a good example). What I do know is that the way Sarah enjoys Sarah Mac, and the way Kirsten enjoys Mariah, will largely mirror the way I enjoy Anna (though most likely minus the in-person interactions).
It'll be fun getting Sarah's creative juices flowing and giving her a complex, realistic taste in pop music.