Right Person Wrong Time: The Process of Appreciation

by Olive Soki-Kavwahirehi

Romantic movies, like many fictional recountings of very human emotions, can reveal a lot about our attitudes when faced with similar situations. The level of sheer patience and understanding we willingly extend to clueless lovers - who by the end of the movie ultimately fail to grapple with the struggles of a modern romance - isn’t always easy to mirror in our personal lives. While ending a movie with the conclusion that the protagonist met the "right person at the wrong time" can be justified, it isn’t as satisfying of an ending when taken out of a fictional context. Albeit it might sound like the end of a story, it also offers the possibility of redemption in the near future.

Now, what if we extended this compassion to ourselves in the context of art - particularly music - and the process that goes into appreciation? I have to ask because it doesn't seem to be the case - though I’m not sure it ever was. The way we collectively experience music has changed since the dawn of the digital age. Social media and the instant access we have to our peers’ opinions is both a blessing and a curse. Every Friday, new albums and singles are released and the 48-hour media circus begins. Reaction videos are dropped, tweets drafted, Instagram stories posted, and by noon you already know your friends and favourite music critics’ thoughts before you’ve given it a chance. When you finally get around to the album, the songs “worth the listen” have already been pointed out to you along with perfectly curated footnotes suggesting takes and reactions to each track. Like everything these days, the cycle moves quickly, creating a sense of urgency around the listening part of the process.

You don’t want to miss the train or worse delay the collective disparagement or praise of the latest release, so listening to the right albums at the right time becomes crucial to fall in line with the weekly ritual. However, opinions and experiences, though similar in appearance, are different all across the board. Relationships are nuanced and so is music. So what happens when you get caught up in the thick of it all and come across an album that takes longer than the time you are granted?

While the creation of an album ends in the studio, it begins again the moment it is released on streaming platforms - or put on shelves - through the listener's experiences and the memories attached to it over time. Great art takes time, and so does appreciation. What to do when an album requires more time? Give it more time, it’s that simple. There should be a balance in the time, effort, and attention dedicated to the music from both the creator and the recipient. Oftentimes it really is a case of bad timing, in the sense that at this moment you might not have the tools or references to process it. Maybe what it needs is two, three heck even four listens before it finally clicks. And sometimes what you need is that extra knowledge or attachment to the genre to make it more relevant to you.

People change, and so does our taste. Although we are free to be opinionated and react to our environment, it is unrealistic to ignore the fact that our tastes and interests are constantly fluctuating. I’m not necessarily condemning sharing freshly baked opinions, rather I want to encourage or alleviate the pressure to feel like your stance on a particular album - or anything really - is cemented and will define you forever. If anything, they will continue to grow and evolve, eventually developing a life of their own interwoven with value that can only be acquired through lived experiences.

And when you do find yourself experiencing a change of heart, remember that it is also worth documenting, and sharing as it offers a new angle to the conversation. Initial reactions usually fall into the general stream of online criticism, but once left to your own devices, and given the time to reckon with it as a whole, the redemption arc kicks in leading to the second act of this love affair. Take it from Pitchfork who recently released a list of 19 albums they would consider rescoring - because even critics’ feelings and opinions can change.

I experienced a similar epiphany earlier this year. My friend had just gotten her driver’s license, and by association, I too gained the freedom only the open road (and a perfectly curated playlist) could offer. Eager to spend as much time as possible listening to music - and suggesting new songs hoping to impress each other - we turned every commute into a road trip. One day, as we were making our way downtown to get our weekly fix of boba, she suggested we listen to “River” by Joni Mitchell, and went on to passionately explain the story behind “The Last Time I Saw Richard”.

Though I appreciated her enthusiasm, the songs flew right over my head leaving me empty and quite disinterested. Winter left and along with the snow my plans to reconsider Joni's catalogue also melted away, I assumed it wasn’t meant to be. That summer she played “California” but I still didn’t get it. That was until the bridge kicked in, revealing the most viscous and heartwarming slide guitar. Instantly I yelled out “yes!” In that moment, I found the missing piece finally allowing me to hear the song for what it truly was. That day I went home and listened to the song on repeat, looking forward to the swoon-worthy guitars. And from then on I lived for and dreamt about the canyons.

By the time the autumn leaves tainted our routes, “California” became the title track to every scenic ride. In the end, I found that it wasn’t a matter of the album not being meant for me, but rather that I hadn’t given it nearly as much thought as I should have nor was I ready to do so back then.

Music isn’t the only medium that falls into the melodramatic trope of “right person, wrong time” as fashion is subjected to the same treatment due to its cyclical nature. As chronicled in a series of Vogue articles debating the re-emergence of low-rise jeans, it took a village - or multiple generations - to repurpose the garment and give it a second life and narrative. Back in the 90s, the initial take on low-rise jeans was very exclusive, both in size and in status. Often pictured worn by stars of the time, they were undeniably perfect jeans marketed to the “ideal body type'' of the time.

By the mid-2010s, mid to high-rise jeans made their comeback as the low-rise became a symbol of the unrealistic body standard that took over the runways the previous decade. However, recently low-rise have once again come back, perhaps making a point that they never left, but this time around it might be a perfect match. As the idea of an “ideal body” is gradually redefined, restrictions as to who can and can’t wear them seem archaic.

There is no perfect garment for the perfect body as we should be free to wear what we want when we want, including low-rise jeans. It took a couple of generations but eventually everything aligned: right generation, right time.

The process of appreciating and understanding isn't always instantaneous, or linear. People are constantly growing and patience is an important step to this metamorphosis. Besides, love at first sight is overrated. What I really want is to experience the satisfaction of a slow burn, and a compassionate romance. Because nothing feels better than meeting back where it all began. Only this time around it feels just right.