‘It hurts my head’: the reason some people hate music

 

MRA influencer Tristan Tate set Twitter alight last month when he claimed that people who found music ‘meaningful’ and ‘important’ were dumb – but his opinion is more popular than you think

Alleged human trafficker and misogynistic influencer Tristan Tate shook even his most devout followers last month with the admission that he hated music. Tweeting his hypothesis that “the dumber somebody is the more ‘meaningful’ and ‘important’ they find music to be” Tate – who, at 35 is famous for sharing a bank account with his brother – set even the darkest corners of the internet alight. His otherwise keen supporters flooded the replies with variations of the sentiment, ‘I can excuse the accusations of sex trafficking… but I draw the line at hating music.’

The tweet, which at the time of writing this article has been viewed by 10.9 million people, was met with widespread disbelief. The concept of even somebody as morally corrupt as Tate disliking music seemed, to many, absurd. But, although his specific hatred of music seems to be a rarity, he’s actually not alone in choosing to live a life without it. In fact, there are quite a lot of people who report feeling unmoved or unbothered by music altogether.

Musical anhedonia is a neurological condition that prevents individuals from detracting enjoyment from listening to music, and scientists believe it affects an estimated three to five per cent of the population. “People with specific musical anhedonia do not experience pleasure when listening to music, but they do with other stimuli such as food or money,” Josep Marco-Pallarés, professor at the University of Barcelona’s Faculty of Psychology, explains. This highlights an important contrast between musical anhedonia and general anhedonia, which is an inability to feel pleasure at all. “They do not hate music, but they are more indifferent to it. They can listen to it, but it does not evoke in them any emotion or reward.”

By this definition, musical anhedonia doesn’t necessarily apply to Tate, whose loathing of music goes to the extreme (like most of his views), but for the millions living with the condition globally, this general apathy towards music, and the subsequent disbelief from others, is a part of daily life. “I don’t understand the hype,” explains Amber*, a 25-year-old who identifies with the characteristics of musical anhedonia. “Some people find a connection to their emotions through music, it makes people feel less alone. For me personally, this doesn’t apply.”

27-year-old Cristina agrees, admitting to choosing silence over music when cleaning her house or driving to work. “I don’t understand how people can be listening to music all the time. My head would hurt a lot, I couldn’t think and I would be stressed,” she says.

“It gets awkward when someone asks ‘what do you listen to?’, and I can’t give any specific names or songs” – Amber, 25

This indifference towards music is down to a reduction in the connectivity between areas of the reward network in our brains. “When people enjoy listening to music they activate brain areas of the reward network, which is the cerebral network active in response to pleasant stimuli such as food, money, sex, or music,” Marco-Pallarés explains. “In a study using functional resonance magnetic imaging, we showed that when listening to pleasant music, people with specific musical anhedonia did not activate these areas, but they did with other rewarding stimuli, like money.”

In the UK, music is much more than a rewarding pastime, existing as one of our biggest exports. The country’s innovative artistry brightens the airwaves of an otherwise chronically grim island and contributes £4 billion to the economy every year. Not only is music a colossal industry, but it’s also a sphere for community, ingrained into our culture in everything from football chants to the festivals that punctuate our summer calendars. Music lays the foundation for subcultures, evokes feelings of patriotism, and can often carve out an individual’s identity, with many of us subconsciously soundtracking fragments of our lives through curated Spotify playlists or (in previous years) well-worn CDs. But for a minority, it simply isn’t that deep. So how does it feel to be part of a society seemingly propelled by music, when you just don’t care about it?

“There’s a weird societal stigma around not enjoying music,” says 18-year-old Alex*, who describes a sense of “validation” upon discovering the term musical anhedonia two years ago. “‘What’s your favourite genre, artist or song?’ is such a common icebreaker that you’re pretty much expected to have an answer to it.” This is something Amber can relate to: “I’ve found that it makes it harder for others to judge my vibe or personality as you can get a feel of a person based on what they listen to,” she explains. “It sometimes gets awkward when someone asks ‘what do you listen to?’, and I can’t give any specific names or songs.”


For many, apathy towards music trickles down into their social lives. Cristina admits to avoiding dealing with the stigma by only confiding in a handful of close family and friends. “Some people I’ve mentioned it to have made a face as if I were an alien,” she says. In some cases, she admits, it also means she’s excluded from social activities: “There are plans I can’t join because of the music, like concerts and festivals.”

Since musical anhedonia isn’t a disease, there’s currently no known or needed remedy. But that doesn’t mean a life without music isn’t equally as rich or fulfilling – it just may not have the constant score that those of us chronically attached to our headphones experience. And, according to Marco-Pallarés, greater awareness of the condition in recent years has provided crucial validation for those living with it. “We’ve received positive comments from people with specific musical anhedonia, saying that it is good, or a relief, to know that this has been studied, that they are not alone and that a percentage of the population has this condition,” he says. And needless to say, despite Tate’s claim, there’s no solid link between intelligence and music consumption – but if his knowledge comes from the syllabus at his brother’s ‘Hustler’s University’ or his PhD programme (standing, of course, for Pimpin’ Hoes Degree), then maybe that’s not so surprising.

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