As an internet-age successor of the mixtape, there’s something youthful, almost immature, about the playlist. It tries but never succeeds in its efforts to shake the associations with teenagers obsessing over the music they’ll share with an adolescent crush to present their best self, while their lack of wider life experiences means they’ll necessarily imbue the music in question with a huge amount of emotional heft. As the pandemic has skewed our relationship with time, condensing all previous experiences into a ‘before’ pile, it’s only natural for us to revert to the priorities shared by younger, less complete versions of ourselves. On top of this, the ubiquity of playlists on Spotify has covered off nearly every conceivable differentiator, be it year, genre or a combination of the two - as with the occasional relitigation of the Landfill Indie
or Nu-Rave eras which comes around every few months on social media. Because that’s how social media worked even before time ceased to be real.
And so, in addition to creating more explicable playlists, including carefully compiled ‘best of’ selections by year, featuring internal debates
over where to include certain singles, the personal playlists encouraged more readily might be those whose theme is a kind of energy you need to spend a sentence or two describing in detail. In his excellent newsletter ‘No Archive’
, my friend Miles wrote of “the kind of music that makes you want to write a screenplay about the last day of the one wild summer where you felt you finally crossed the threshold into adulthood, both gaining and losing things you can never quite describe” - a qualifier which instantly throws up a dozen or more songs which hit the bullseye of that sentence. Another friend, Duncan, willingly created me a playlist
to the brief of “Coopting American college culture with a Saturday morning varsity football game at a provincial British university”, and I’m not sure if that says more about him or about me (spoiler: it’s me). As for my current obsessions, I have a playlist on the go which I’ve named ‘Spring 2021’, because if I’d gone with ‘The sensation of knowing you’ll be able to go outside after finishing work at 5:30 and it will still be light’ would have simply prompted too many questions already answered by the playlist.
An underrated benefit of the playlist obsession is to catch yourself hearing songs outside their intended surroundings and taking something new from them, like the first time you catch a Sopranos
cast member in a film or when you return to the golden era of The Simpsons
after watching Citizen Kane
for the first time. Sometimes it’s simply a case of spotting coincidences, like The Libertines’ ‘You’re My Waterloo’ playing during a walk down Waterloo Road, or the ‘time’ updates on a running app syncing up with the same word in ‘Find the Time’ by Get Cape Wear Cape Fly. Feel free to ask me why these were included in playlists, but don’t expect answers. On other occasions, though, it can be more subtle things not picked up on original half-listens, like the semi-background ‘whoo’ in ‘Kyoto’
by Phoebe Bridgers or the moment in ‘Charlie’
by Mallrat where you can, implausibly, hear
the singer smile.