What I Learned by Swapping Playlists with a Stranger

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Kurt Vile
Photo of Kurt Vile by Bekah Cope (Flickr)

It’s hard to explain why sharing your favorite music with someone—especially someone you don’t really know—makes you feel so heart-achingly vulnerable.

Easy topics like Marxist theories and childhood trauma are bound to come up naturally in friendly conversation, but claiming your favorite album is often prefaced with a defensive, “Now hear me out!”

Even movies seem like a safer topic; somehow less personal.

I think this is because listening to a person’s playlist is another way of looking at them as a person.

What are they listening to while they’re getting ready for their day? When they’re making their commute to work? When they’re at the gym? When they’re cooking dinner for one? When they miss their mom?

I came up with the idea for UTIOM writers to switch playlists with each other in what I now realize is a sick social experiment.

This plan came after driving my car around with a guy and asking what music I should play. I read him the titles of my carefully curated playlists, “Porch Smoke Songs, High School Songs, Gettin’ It, Mood Music (subtle), Sleepy Time Station, Liked From Rad-“

“Liked From Radio,” he answered, cutting me off.

Now, this was rude.

For those who don’t use Spotify, “Liked From Radio” is a playlist created automatically based off the songs you hit “like” when listening to the radio function. (I think Pandora has something similar.)

You can’t edit this playlist. It’s just a list of songs a user impulsively likes.

I agreed but immediately gave disclaimers. “A lot of these songs are from undergrad, I don’t really use Spotify Radio anymore, I think the algorithms are off.”

I’ll just say it featured a disproportionate amount of Brad Paisley.

Now because I’m a masochist, I wanted my fellow UTIOM writers—several of whom I’ve never met IRL—to join in on the fun!

In doing so I learned a few things about Rob and also about myself:

1. Why the hell do I feel so affirmed when someone I don’t know compliments songs I like? Aside from Slack conversations and one group Google Hangout, I don’t know this motherfucker. Still, the SMALLEST comment is validating and endorphin-releasing:

Screen Shot 2018-04-27 at 3.23.25 PM.png

This is basically a marriage proposal.

2. I would describe Rob’s musical genre as “cool guy,” and mine as “sad girl.” There’s no crossover here, but I think our musical tastes complement each other if you tilt your head and squint your eyes. If you like a handful of the songs on my playlist, you’re bound to also like a handful of his.

3. The one song I kept replaying isn’t actually the song I would label as my favorite. “Lucky” by Tommy Genesis is perfect for me while applying makeup in the morning,  jogging after work and boiling water for the fourth pasta-based meal I’m about to eat that week. Genesis seems similar to the lady rappers I had on my playlist like Dessa, Lizzo and Janelle Monae.

4. My favorite was “Pretty Pimpin” by Kurt Vile, followed closely by “The Rabbit, the Bat & the Reindeer” by Dr. Dog. Turns our I’m a sucker for some good angsty weirdo music.

5. Speaking generally, separate from the swap, I tend to romanticize music but a playlist is just a quick glimpse into someone’s artistic attraction. It can’t tell you everything you want or need to know about a person. Equally as important, you can’t make yourself like something you’re instinctually bored or repelled by. Of course our musical palates ebb and flow and our experiences shape the music we like. A certain song that reminds you of a breakup or loss of a loved one would otherwise have no impact on you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Be proud of the music you like, don’t make fun of other people for their music and keep your ears and mind open.

 

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