My partner’s interest in music is pushing me to define what my taste in music is. Ghostwheel is constantly accusing me of having poor taste in music. He reiterates this opinion every time I choose a Spotify playlist to have in the background as I cook, and he was pretty vocal about it when I wrote a post in the 30-day blogging challenge in April about six songs that I keep listening to when I’m happy, sad, or mad.

It is important to note that he is always teasing me about this, though. He’s the picky one about music in our relationship, and we both know it. He always comes around to admitting that my taste isn’t the worst, since what’s playing in the background is often something that I couldn’t care less for. But still, his more voiced opinions about what is and is not good music for him has made me reexamine my own.

Most of the time, I have music on for background noise and I’m not actually paying attention to what is playing. In that situation, music is there to support an atmosphere or provide me with more noise in a quiet situation. When I actually listen to music, however, I have noticed that I am a bit biased as to what I actually pay attention to: all songs tend to have to live up to one important criteria to make it onto my favorite’s list.

It’s all about the lyrics.

Sure, the tune is important and can make or break the overall effect of a song, and the vocal skill of the performer can evoke powerful reactions–both good and bad. And I’m not saying that I don’t love a good instrumental song or orchestral piece, because I do. But when it comes down to songs–songs that have vocal arrangements–it is usually the lyrics that help me weed through the plethora of songs floating around and decide whether a song is going to have a lasting effect on me or not.

It’s because of my focus on lyrics that show tunes are often in my top ten. When a song can pull you into a story and delve into the psyche of a given character or problem, you bet that I’m paying attention and wondering how it would apply in various other situations. Sondheim, Lerner & Loewe, Rogers & Hammerstein, those guys all knew exactly what they were/are doing with their lyrics.

Of course, it’s not just show tunes. A lot of old songs from the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s usually capture my interest with their complicated metaphors and timeless analogies. Bowie, Queen, and Elton John all managed to tie down the ’80s with some songs (not all) that are lyrically engaging. I like selected pieces from pop artists, as well, but I tend to go for earlier songs to experience more originality.

Sometimes, lyrics go overboard. Sometimes, lyrics are repetitive. Sometimes, lyrics make absolutely no sense. In any of these situations, I’m turned off from a song. Sure, the tune might be catchy so I’ll leave the radio on as it plays, but I’ll never seek out that song when I’m listening at home.

So there is the main criteria for me, on whether a song is good or not. Kinda obvious, isn’t it? That words, which are one of my most valuable possessions, are the things that determine whether I truly enjoy a song or not.