Adult Music vs. Teen Music

On April 14, 2017 Hanson’s famous single “MMMBop” turned 20-years-old. This 90’s song is a staple to many now-adult lives. As teenagers, many saw these three pretty boys singing an upbeat song and fell in love, but now, were it not for song’s nostalgic value, it’s just like any other pop song that most adults find, quite frankly, annoying.

Adult minds and teenage minds are very different, especially when it comes to likes and dislikes. Physically, the brain has reached its maximum growth by your adolescence — your brain is the size it’s going to be and all the neurons are built. However, functionality is different. Neuroscientists have found that when you’re an adult, your neurons are testing out what they can and cannot do, thus making you ready for independence.

It’s all about that dopamine, according to Dr. Beatriz Luna, Staunton Professor of Psychiatry, Professor of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, Director of the Laboratory of Neurocognitive Development, and president of Flux Congress.

“Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that makes you feel pleasure, that motivates you to go and do things,” Luna tells BTRtoday. In adolescence, there’s more of this [dopamine] because you really need to be motivated to leave the parents to go and find your own trajectory. We’re meant to go and explore but in order to do that you’ve got to be sensation-seeking.”

Basically, what Dr. Luna is saying is that kids tend to be wild and do crazy and stupid stuff because their neurons are telling them to, rewarding them for taking risks. This relates to music choice as well. When you’re in love with a band as a teenager, it’s going to be for different reasons when you’re an adult, and as a teenager you’re going to be attracted to music that coincides with the risk taking behavior your brain is trying out.

“During adolescence, there is an abundance of dopamine and heightened function in the brain’s reward systems,” Dr. Charles Geier, the assistant professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State University, adds. “Later on, during adulthood, dopaminergic reward systems don’t seem to be as active.”

Dr. Geier shines light on the fact that because of the higher attendance of dopamine in adolescence than in adulthood, it’s very likely that a certain song will produce a high experience as a teenager, rather than once you get older.

“Dopamine continues to function as a key neurotransmitter in the brain’s reward system for the rest of our lives, not just during adolescence,” Dr. Geier describes. “Really what changes with time are the overall levels and function of dopamine, and how much we can internally control our impulses to pursue salient rewards.”

So what does this all mean in context of the music you listen to or used to listen to?

Well, it means that when you were listing to “MMMBop” over and over again as a teenager, you probably would get all hot and bothered and swoon at every “mmmmmm…” sung. However, it also means that if you listen to it now, you would probably just put it once for nostalgia and that’s enough of that.

For more details, check out BTRtoday’s in-depth conversation with Dr. Luna and Dr. Geire about the science behind how music affects us during puberty versus as adults.

Take me for example, I was so obsessed with The Strokes from 12-years-old to probably 19—and I mean problematically obsessed. My parents would hate me because I would just blast their songs over and over again at full volume every day of my life. Songs about heartbreak, but also being rebellious—it was just perfect! Plus, Julian Casablancas would make me swoon hard.

Now that I’m a quarter of the way to being 100-years-old, I still love The Strokes, but I definitely can’t listen to them like I used to. I usually press skip when they come up on my iTunes, but I still appreciate them so much! They were a huge part of my emotional, dramatic, chaotic adolescence.

Below are some other examples of ‘90’s babies confessing their music obsessions from back then compared to now.

Claire Thurston-Emmert (24):
Oh man. I loved My Chemical Romance, “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge.” It made me feel different and “cool” at a time when social anxiety and low self-esteem ran high. Having a core group of girls who knew all the words to songs that were so angsty kind of gave me a sense that other people were in the same boat as me.

Now, honestly, I still love that album. It’s kind of like an old stuffed animal to me;it’s comforting. If I get angry or stressed it’s a great release. I definitely roll my eyes now at baby me thinking that her issues were so dramatic, but I was going through puberty and had so many emotions! The music made me accept feeling angry or upset without feeling overwhelmed, ashamed, or embarrassed, which is really important and still hard to do.

So on the one hand I’m face-palming like, “Jesus, this is so melodramatic,” but on the other hand it helped me manage my high-strung emotions at the time. Plus, I still love to sing a My Chemical Romance song at karaoke here and there.

Sophia Pierre (24):
It was Simple Plan for me! At the time I was like, “it’s okay! Everyone is listening to this so I’m going to too.” I feel like I loved that album because it was purely lyrically pleasing for young teen me. It was all about crushes and heartbreaks and your parents grounding you.

If I listen to it now, I hear the music and I’m like “…. every song sounds exactly the same.” The “music” just isn’t really all that good. It’s just poppy noise and nasally voices.

Shari Page (28):
When I was 13-years-old I thought Good Charlotte was so fun! I was totally obsessed with them. Now I think there are way better bands to listen to but they also got way worse as I got older, so there’s that.