Miss Misery, You Better Turn that Music Down

by Freya Golden

Eleanor Fason with headphones in the library.

According to a recent study, published in the medical journal BMJ it’s estimated that 0.67–1.35 billion adolescents and young adults worldwide could be at risk of hearing loss from exposure to unsafe listening levels. The article goes on to say that while the acceptable noise limit is around 85 decimals, individuals from 12 to 35 are regularly listening to music at 105 decimals. On average, concert venues don’t surpass 112 decimals. 

There is a certain effect that music has on teenagers. For some angsty youth, blasting punk helps emit their frustrations with society. Whereas pop is listened to while rushing to school—or before a first date. In the 1980s’ film Footloose, a teenage boy works to “break free” from his conservative town, where dancing has been outlawed, through rock ‘n’ roll. And in the television series Glee (2009), a vocal group brings together jocks, geeks, and cheerleaders—as they navigate through high school. Across popular culture, we see the same message: music is often the only respite from the awkwardness of adolescence. But what if kids went deaf? 

Teenagers are no longer using Walkmans, but instead Bluetooth headphones. And with the new technology, young people are playing music way too loud. 

For Jared Hung, 11th grade Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA) instrumental major, music has always been a major part of his life. His favorite food is sushi, but he would (with hesitation) never eat a salmon roll again, if it meant he could still listen to “everything except for rap.” The songs that give him inspiration are always found on his friend’s Spotify account—playing louder than necessary. 

“If the volume is turned up, you are more immersed in it. But on my commute home, I try to be aware of my surroundings,” he said.

Jared gets iPhone warnings for his audio exposure, but usually stays below the limit. 

“I think these warnings are important. Earbuds attack your eardrums, so I think it’s better to keep music low,” he added.

Even so, he accepts his potential fate of damaged hearing. 

“I play the tuba so I am right next to the snare drum, and yeah it’s loud,” Jared added.

Angelina Kwan, 10th grade dance major, isn’t really sure what music she listens to, but agrees that these warnings are “probably important.”

Eleanor Fason, 12th grade visual arts major at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, disagrees. 

“Yeah. When I get the notifications that my music is playing too loud, I’m like aw, but I don’t see the difference. I won’t turn it down. I don’t think these warnings are that important. I feel like I’ve learned more about live music than headphones specifically. Like I have heard about when you go to shows, bring earplugs, because that’s a risk,”  Eleanor said.

She is a self described avid-music listener, and her black, bulky Audio Technica Headphones are permanently glued to her ears as she takes the M train, perfects her paintings, and reads Donna Tart’s The Goldfinch

Q: What are your most listened to artists and genres of music?

“Elliot Smith is my favorite artist of all time. I have a stick and poke tattoo of a figure 8 for his album. It was stupid. I got it sophomore year. My friend had the stuff, so I did it myself. It turned out really good and she was like you should do one for me, and I never did. It’s on my thigh, which was the most accessible point…It’s very there. I also like a lot of the Beastie Boys, Big Thief, Phoebe Bridgers, Beabadoobee, Mark DeMarco, and Alex G. According to my Spotify Wrapped, my top genres are indie-pop, indie-rock, a lot of rock alternative, classic rock… and bubble grunge. Whatever that is.”

Q: What effect does music have on your life?

“Music is part of my daily routine, I listen to music everyday. I can’t do a lot of things without music, it’s alarming. I would say that music impacts my emotions a lot. It can get me through a hard time, but it can also create debilitating depression for me, because of the artists I listen to. It’s like when people smell a perfume from a certain time, I have the same thing with songs. I can’t listen to Thirteen by Big Strong, without thinking about COVID. I think music also controls how I look at certain people, like I am less likely to be your friend if you listen to someone that I don’t like. I think it definitely controls my judgment of people’s personalities and identities, which can be a good thing, but also a bad thing.”

Q: How loud do you listen to music?

“I listen to music way too loud. Funny story is that last year, when I was sitting across from Chase (another student at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts) during art class, I was listening to music so loud that he picked up his phone and showed me the song that I was listening to. The thing about quiet music is that I think some of the purpose of music is to cancel out what else is going on around you. So if you’re not listening to music loud enough, like you’re still able to have a touch in reality, which is like “what’s the point?”

Q: Have you ever experienced hearing loss? 

“No, I don’t think so. But do you know what tinnitus is? It’s when you get this ringing sensation in your ears, and it can be on both sides. It can last a little while and you’re just hearing this ringing sound. That happens to me quite often. I think it’s totally related to my headphones.”