What a playlist can teach you

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At a Spoons in Bury St Edmunds a man once asked me “What music do you like?” When eighteen-year-old me panicked and said “Everything” he told me: “I hate it when people say that.”

Fast forward two years and, throughout lockdown, I have asked friends and family for new music to listen to, which I have compiled into a Spotify playlist titled ‘recommended music from people I know’. I start each day with a morning ritual of listening to five new songs from the playlist. These include albums by artists I have previously dismissed, and genres I thought I would never get into. Once I have listened to a song, I remove it from the playlist. My one rule is: Listen to everything, even if I feel a resistance within me, and even if I know I will hate it. 

I am currently on my fourth round of the playlist; twenty-five hours of pure recommendation staring back at me. I like watching the songs whittle down, so I can start the whole process again, and the long hours of listening are made all the more worthwhile when I find a gem of a song. Over the past few months these have included: ‘Bachelorette’ by Björk, ‘First Love / Late Spring’ by Mitski, and ‘Me in 20 Years’ by Moses Sumney. Other highlights have been PJ Harvey’s album Let England Shake, as well as new albums by Shingai, SOPHIE and Lianne La Havas. I have grown accustomed to listening to Daft Punk, Elliott Smith and 100 gecs in the same sitting, and I no longer flinch at the sudden mood swings of each new song. 

Moses Sumney – Me In 20 Years [Official Video] via Moses Sumney on YouTube.

All this exploration has paid off and, as evident through my 2020 Spotify Wrapped, the numbers do not lie: 917 artists (of which 717 were new) and a total of 412 genres listened to this year. Whilst starting this project came from a desire to expand my music knowledge, it has also become yet another excuse to reach out and message people during the pandemic. What the Spotify statistics don’t show is how I have rediscovered parts of myself by listening to the artists I loved when I was in secondary school. Nor do they reveal just how much the playlist has allowed me to build on friendships, and bridge the gap that lockdown created between us. It has given me insight into other people, even those I have known for years, and I have found out what my friends and family are listening to during big life events, or just on their allowed daily walks. And when I cannot walk with the people I love, I stick on the songs they have recommended to me. 

The playlist has let loose my newfound curiosity in music; a world I never thought I was qualified enough to have an opinion on. And now, if anyone ever asks me what music I listen to, I can say confidently “Everything.”

Elliott Smith outside of Coffee People, Portland, 1993. Credit JJ Gonson, via Pitchfork.

Header image: SOPHIE’s artwork for OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES. Credit: Motormouthmedia via Variety.