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Something about the clinical sterility of anonymously-assembled streaming service flagship playlists has really been getting me down lately. I truly distrust the rise of the coveted and cosseted "playlist" as one of the main hallmarks of the streaming era.
Now don't get me wrong. Spotify's Discover Weekly (and to a lesser extent, Release Radar and Daily Mix) is one of my favorite things in the world. I exult in the weekly discovery of the coolest, weirdest music that has been algorithmically curated for me and me only. That's because I was born in 1995 and I'm a narcissist.
On the flipside, it's those naggingly uninteresting Spotify-curated playlists that make me despair for the state of the industry. The widely-held assumption that you should, frictionlessly, pull up Indie Mix or Pop Rising to soundtrack your shower or meal prep session or pregame or whatever, is deeply offensive to me.
In examining this gut feeling, it seems to me that the blandness and genericness I react so negatively to is a result of the playlists' facade of anonymous perfection. Don't question it, they seem to say. This is what you should be hearing right now. Trust us. And who is us? Well, if you did enough digging you could probably find the names of some of the people on the backend who are pulling songs from blogs and tastemaker tweets and Hype Machine and sending them up the algorithmic ladder. But Spotify's whole game is that you're not supposed to know– and even worse, that it's not supposed to matter.
Apple has many of the same problems, but where they make up for it is the practically frothing-with-personality Beats 1 Radio. I'm not an Apple Music subscriber quite yet— their interface makes me want to claw my face off— but there's something truly beautiful about being able to switch on Beats 1 and hear Ezra Koenig waxing poetic about the Grateful Dead, or Kevin Abstract from Brockhampton spinning his favorite early-2000s R&B, or even just one of their stalwart DJs like Zane Lowe giving us the Hottest Frickin Records Ever In The World every day.
Spotify's assumption that I don't, and shouldn't, care about the "man behind the curtain" is offensive to me, as an intelligent consumer of culture. I'm happy to be recommended music on occasion by the Discover Weekly algorithm, because it is the future, after all. But when the central delivery mechanism for new artists on the biggest independent streaming platform involves stripping songs of all visual and textual context in favor of an endless flow of anonymous recommendation, "placements," and "looks," I have to wrinkle my nose.
(This isn't even to mention the behind-the-scenes prostrating, pitching, bargaining that artists and teams have to performatively engage in to even be considered for a spot on major playlists. It's embarrassing, honestly.)
I love finding new music from Twitter, from Instagram, from Beats 1, and even from terrestrial commercial and non-commercial radio, because when I have context about who is doing the listening and the recommending, it informs and enhances my experience of listening, and affects the way I go on to share the music in turn.
I make new heavy-rotation playlists every week or so on Spotify, adding my favorite new tracks and just-discovered gems. I share the playlists with my friends, who in turn take their favorites and add it to their own playlists, like a Moebius mixtape. Despite valiant attempts to dive in, I don't think a single song on those weekly personal charts has ever come from an "official" Spotify playlist. They just make me so sad!
Anyway here's this week's so far:
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