Professor explains why people enjoy ‘oldies’ music

Mina Kim

Connections people have with “oldies” music today are far from old and gray.

According to psychology professor James Pennebaker, people have always had an intimate connection with music, because it’s closely related to feelings and emotions.

“The stronger your feelings are when you’re listening to a song, the stronger an emotional connection you make with the music,” Pennebaker said. “Music represents who you were when you first made that connection to it.”

This holds especially true during adolescence. Pennebaker said people aged 14 to 24 are going through several physical and psychological changes. These transitions make for a powerful period where young people experience their first loves, heartbreaks and other emotional milestones, which make for strong connections with music.

Miles Gibson, a chemistry freshman, said he feels this sensation.

“Music means so much to me,” Gibson said. “Someone can name a song I listen to, and I can just remember exactly where I was when I heard it, exactly what I was feeling or it reminds me of a specific event.”

The teenage years aren’t just about exploring emotions. Pennebaker said it’s also about exploration of the music itself, since teens become rebellious and rarely stick completely to the same exact genre their parents did. Teri Willig, a mother of one, said she exhibits this divergence from parent’s music preferences.

“I appreciate my parent’s music like big band and jazz, but I don’t love it like they do,” Willig said. “I listen to a lot of different genres, mainly rock and pop, some country, some classical and a few Broadway tunes.”

Despite what genre of music people end up preferring, it’s a choice that lasts their whole lives.

Pennebaker said this is a result of the end of adolescence, or biological reactivity.

“It’s not that your life is over — it just means you’ve reached that stage in life,” Pennebaker said. “You have a pretty good sense of who you are. You have a sense of independence, and now you have to work to continue that. You’re still going to listen to some new stuff, but when you’re 40 and driving down that road, you’re going to listen to the songs you always have.”

Willig, who is 51, said she still listens to the “oldies” to recall memories.

“I still really enjoy the 80’s music, and that was during my high school years,” Willig said.

Understanding life beyond your 20s can be hard for UT students, but Pennebaker said current artists will inevitably be “oldies” music one day.

“One day you’ll be in a nursing home and listening to Cardi B,” he said. “And the kids won’t know who she is. But you will … because of the connection.”