Until now, the music-streaming service Spotify served two primary purposes: providing a cheap and easy way to find and sample songs you would never actually buy, and allowing a peek into the terrible musical tastes of your Facebook friends. (Seriously, you guys, lay off the Hall & Oates.) And now we have a third: to get a look at what our president is listening to these days. Or, more likely, what President Obama would like you to think he's listening to.
To be sure, the "2012 campaign playlist" uploaded by Spotify user “barackobama” doesn’t pretend to be hand-selected by POTUS; according to the description, it “features picks by the campaign staff—including a few of President Obama’s favorites.” So, in other words, the interns put together some songs that were then carefully vetted by the staff and modified to appeal to just-folks the nation over. The resultant playlist is, in some ways, a lot like Obama’s first term: filled with strange choices that were clearly made in an ultimately futile attempt to please everyone.
Let's take a look at some of the more interesting tracks, and read way too much into them, shall we?
Raphael Saadiq, “Keep Marchin’”Zac Brown Band, “Keep Me In Mind” The Impressions, “Keep On Pushing” REO Speedwagon, “Roll With The Changes”
Okay, these are the easy ones—the songs themselves don’t even matter, because they’re on the playlist for the titles alone. President Obama is running for re-election, you see? So you’ve got to keep him in mind and keep marchin’ as we keep on pushing and rolling with the changes. (The on-the-money title of the last one is about the only excuse for a playlist in the year 2012 including an REO Speedwagon song non-ironically.) About the only surprise here is that they didn’t include Keith Urban’s “I’m In.”
Sugarland, “Stand Up” Ledisi, “Raise Up”
Songs of action! Calls to arms! Go to the website! Volunteer! Donate! Stand up! Rise up! Enough with all the sitting down!
Darius Rucker, “This” Darius Rucker, “Learn To Live”
There’s been plenty of snickering on Twitter and pop-culture blogs about the inclusion of not one, but two songs by former Hootie and the Blowfish frontman Darius Rucker. I think of them as the playlist’s equivalent to the Affordable Heathcare for America Act: so bland and watered-down that you can’t believe anyone’s as worked up about them as they are. (And let’s be honest: you know these are some of the ones Obama selected himself. We like to think he’s Mr. Super Cool, but don’t forget, this is a guy who keeps his cell phone in a belt holster.)
U2, “Even Better Than The Real Thing”
Lotta talk in this one about giving Bono “one more chance,” “one last chance,” even “half a chance,” so the song fits. Of course, a slightly closer read of the lyrics indicates that he’s pleading for the chance to “let me be your lover tonight,” but hey, every song can’t fit perfectly.
Bruce Springsteen, “We Take Care of Our Own”
When you’re looking for a song to convey the complications of modern patriotism (we love America, and there’s a lot about it that we need to fix), you go the Boss, who here invokes Katrina and the “road of good intentions” going “dry as a bone” as examples of the need to take care of everyone “wherever this flag’s flown”—even the “very poor,” presumably!
Dierks Bentley, “Home” Sugarland, “Everyday America” Montgomery Gentry, “My Town”
The none-too-subtle message sent by the inclusion of these country paeans to home and small-town life: “Hey there, white Southerners, we promise the President isn’t listening to Jay-Z anymore! He likes Dierks Bentley and Montgomery Gentry! Pinky swear!”
AgesandAges, “No Nostalgia” Arcade Fire, “We Used To Wait” Florence And The Machine, “You’ve Got The Love” Noah And The Whale, “Tonight’s The Kind Of Night”Wilco, “I Got You”
“Uh, we still need the ‘youth vote.’ Put some hipster stuff in there!”
Al Green, “Let’s Stay Together”
Earth Wind And Fire, “Got To Get You Into My Life (Live)”
One of the savviest choices on the playlist—and not just in picking the song itself, which is a good one. But by selecting the live version, Mr. Obama is preventing Spotify from suggesting other tracks from the soundtrack of the Frampton/Bee Gees Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band movie, and that is a win for technology, and for America.
James Taylor, “Your Smiling Face” Ricky Martin, “The Best Thing About Me Is You (feat. Joss Stone)”
Okay, these are the Bush tax cut extension and the Levin/McCain detention bill of the playlist: they simply defy explanation. No, wait, the Ricky Martin song has Joss Stone on it. People like her, right? The silky-smooth song stylings of British chanteuse Joss Stone? Yes, that must be it. But as fare as the James Taylor, I got nothin’. Courting the vanilla vote, perhaps?