on Spotify Playlists

The moment took me. This isn’t IR-y, politics-y, or really relevant to anything this blog has ever done. Musings on the delightful Spotify playlists I discovered this afternoon after the jump.

The quest for new music leads me up to the top half of the Spotify menu bar on a fairly regular basis. Away from the familiar categories I’ve made for myself* – “Kanye”, “Sleep”, “Howard Shore” – and into other people’s playlists. I had a good run with the apps that suggest playlists for you until I realised they were basically the iTunes Genius feature, giving you a preset playlist that matched one or two arbitrary criteria the song had (playlist based on Taylor Swift? Generic teenage pop. Playlist based on Led Zeppelin? Generic classic rock). Today, I discovered Spotify’s own “Browse” feature – which, as far as I can tell, might be the only good feature they’ve added in that god-awful update, cosmetic upgrades aside (the nuking of the “Star” option is still unforgivable).

Operating on the Netflix model of ambiguous categories and subcategories, it presents you with a choice of genres and moods, and within those categories, a variety of idiosyncratically named playlists. Many of them are what you’d expect – Acoustic Blues, Funk Rock, 50 Great Female Voices – descriptive, a bit bland.


Some of them, on the other hand, are wonderful. There’s always a slightly disappointing moment where you realise the music doesn’t quite live up to the description, but before that sets in, there’s something beautifully evocative about them. Where Netflix categories are the oddly specific and joyless  (“Emotional Independent Dramas for Hopeless Romantics.”, “Oscar-winning Visually-Striking Movies from the 1970s”) product of an algorithm, the Spotify playlists occasionally seem to be named with real humanity.

Reading the title, looking at the photo, pressing play, and then closing your eyes for a moment can be like being transported for a second.  “This device isn’t a spaceship. It’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again.”

from a smokey bar

One playlist conjures up a time long before you were born,

Another glass

Another conjures up an achingly cool Don Draper future.


One almost makes you feel like you’re at the party the playlist would be the soundtrack to.


One is a playlist of popular Brazilian music which seems to mostly revolve around Pharrell and Coldplay that turns out to just be another algorithm-driven automaton, and the spell is broken.

But for those few seconds when you discover a new title and imagine where you’d choose to listen to this playlist (other than alone in your bedroom) it’s properly delightful as an experience.

That was weird. Back to lists Sunday, don’t worry.

UPDATE: Added links to all the playlists mentioned because I’m a helpful sort – including “I’mma let you finish”, down there \/\/\/

*my crowning achievement this year has been “I’mma let you finish”, a playlist combining the complete works of Taylor Swift and Kanye West. I did it because there was a week where they were all I’d listen to in the background of whatever video game I was playing at the time, so a playlist saved me changing windows to skip non-Swift/West music. But it was only once I made the playlist that I realised the potential. First off, the title (*awaits applause*). Secondly, given half of Taylor Swift’s oeuvre is complaining about bad boyfriends, and half of Kanye’s is about being a bad boyfriend, there’s the occasional transcendental moment where it sounds like the songs are in conversation with one another.

One thought on “on Spotify Playlists

  1. Pingback: Too Much Time

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s