Recently I ran soundboards at a local music venue for new year's eve. The venue was right in the center of downtown and was hosting three bands over the course of the night. The first band was pop-punk, the second acoustic folk and Virginia bluegrass, and the third was a primarily pop and funk cover band. All bands were technically almost as good as each other and they all sounded terrific, (the bluegrass band had the most skilled and experienced players). A girl, about 15-18 years old, came in during the first set, and her bubblegum ice cream smile melted. She turned around and immediately left. Second set. She returns. This time she sneers at her friends about how boring this music was, at loud volume, and leaves. Third set she comes in sings the words to every song and will not shut her trap about how great this band is. All the musicians were equally talented, yet for some reason she declared the pop band best. The scary thing is she's entirely right.
A person is completely entitled to their musical opinion. Therefore a person is never wrong about one band being better than another, because it's there opinion. While I think modern pop is mostly crap, that girl thinks Lady Gaga is bigger than Jesus, and we are both correct in our own, eclectic, little worlds. However there is legitimate, musical, reason for why we are both wrong.
In it's most simplistic definition, music is a combination of sounds. Depending on the culture in which the artist is engulfed, their definition of music, more specifically good music, may have extra connotations. But based on how culture shifts, musical concepts bend with them, changing the definition of good music and the connotations it carries. However with all of these culture shifts there is never one solid scale on how to judge and evaluate music by quality. You can judge music by it's relevance and impact, however as time shifts, a musical piece may have it's relevance dwindle.
Saying one style of music is of better quality than another is akin to saying one culture is better than another. There isn't a relative scale to judge from, meaning no one genre is better than another in quality, because our liking of a music is based in our own culture and experience. So although the girl from the show would probably say Justin Bieber's, Mistletoe is better than Beethoven's, Moonlight Sonata, even if she's not familiar with the piece, she is right, and I am wrong. Aren't incongruities awesome!
This essay was written to, Queens of the Stone Age: From the Basement 1/07/09. Featuring tracks: Millionaire, Mexicola, Turnin' the Screw, Monster in your Parasol, and I Think I Lost My Headache.