F.N.V. 4: Disappointment on a Winter’s Eve: My Spotify Letdown

        The overcast, early December day had lapsed into an opaque blue sky arching over a frigid winter night in rural southwestern Pennsylvania.  The lights shining out the window of the warm apartment in Indiana PA sliced through the tranquil darkness, penetrated the night. Inside the apartment, I reclined on a plush, brick-red chair while drinking tiny cup after tiny cup of Arabic coffee and conversing with a friend, and a friend of a friend I’d just met.  The conversation, initially engaging to me, started to lapse in and out of English,veering off into a tongue that I could not understand, much less speak myself.  As I listened to the melodic cadence of words, beautifully spoken but beyond my grasp, I instinctively did what any good,self-centered American would do; I reached for my phone, and started doing “taktaga,” which is an Arabic phrase (and some of the little Arabic I know) for the act of busying oneself on one’s smartphone. I planned on ejecting myself from the conversation for only a short moment or two, but as this story will demonstrate, the best laid plans are often not those that come to fruition.

                Reasoning that I hadn’t played any word games in a while, I started by opening my WordScapes app.  But I soon lost interest in unscrambling letters, so I directed my attention to a more mindless affair: scrolling Facebook.  I moved through the feed, visually ingesting fragments of different peoples’ lives as I entered a sort of numb, unthinking mental space.  I was about to close the app, lest I start to drool and not recover my wits for the rest of the evening, when something rather exciting caught my eye: a post about someone’s top 100 songs of 2018, according to Spotify.  What?!  I exclaimed to myself.  The Spotify personalized top 100 list is out, and I didn’t even know?  I scanned the list posted on Facebook before I hurriedly opened Spotify to see what mine would look like.  I just had to find out.  With avaricious frenzy, I closed Facebook and clicked on the Spotify app on my phone. I quickly found “2018 wrapped,” and stared at the icon for a minute; I had been waiting anxiously for the past few months to receive my personalized top 100-of-the-year list, and I couldn’t wait to see what musical delights it would contain.  With much anticipation, I clicked on the list.  I read the first few songs, then the next few, then a few more. 

                “Kalie, stop doing taktaga and talk to us,” my friend’s voice sounded from a distance that seemed miles away, though she was sitting next to me on the couch.  I was suddenly wrapped in a thick, searing bubble of shock and disappointment, from which I could hardly emerge.  “This is my top 100 list?!”  I exclaimed. My friend and her friend gave me quizzical glances.  It was late, I was tired, and after a wonderful day, I had been hit by an abysmal letdown. I had been the recipient of a regrettable fate.  It was as if Descartes’ hypothetical evil demon was playing a trick on me.  I, who love music so much, who creates mix after mix on Spotify and listens to those mixes while I write, while I walk, while I get ready in the morning and while I lay down to sleep at night – I had been given a rogue playlist.  The list my eyes were settled on hardly reflected the songs I had loved so dearly in 2018.  It was all a sham, and my faith was shaken.  So, here are my alleged top 15 songs of 2018:  I will try to write this piece as a musical mini-memoir, the way I usually do, but because my list isn’t accurate, this task will be a difficult one indeed.

  •  Colorblind:  The Counting Crows:

 I have no qualms with the band that sits in the number one spot for the year; I’ve experienced a sort of Counting Crows renaissance the past couple of years, and I listen to Mr. Jones and Round Here practically on repeat sometimes.  One morning two or three years ago, Michael and I loaded the car with music to drive to his friend’s wedding in Illinois,and I remember sipping my energy drink to stay awake in the morning as the deep melancholy of “Round Here” emanated through the radio speakers and seemed to strike something deep inside my then-heavily caffeinated being.  But, Colorblind?  I think it might be my sister’s favorite Crows song, but it’s hardly mine.  I don’t hate it, but I also don’t love it.  Furthermore, of all 50-some Spotify playlists I’ve made, I’m not sure I have a playlist that contains it.  And yet, for some reason, it’s the first song on my favorites of 2018 list.  Surely, someone tampered with the streaming service’s algorithm.  Weirdly, watching part of the video for this piece really did make me want to see Cruel Intentions, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.  And it’s not such a bad song.  But, number one?  Not hardly.   

  •  Beat It – Michael Jackson: 

Okay, where did this song even come from?  It’s on one Spotify playlist that I made four or five years ago, and it’s an unceremonious playlist that I hardly listen to anymore.  I mean, come on Spotify.  If you’re going to sporadically throw Michael Jackson in the number two slot of my top 100 list, with no empirical data to back the choice up, at least give me something really good, like Billy Jean or Smooth Criminal.  After all, I enjoy a good MJ song as well as the next music fan.  Hell, I’ll even take Heal the World, which we used to sing when I was in fourth grade as we stood in a circle and held hands.  But Beat It?  Once again, I’m not arguing that it’s a “bad”song; I’m sure there are many Jackson fans who love it.  But if this list is supposed to reflect my unique listening tastes, the algorithm has glitched again, because I can’t remember the last time I sat down and though to myself: “I think I’ll listen to Michael Jackson’s Beat It right now.”  Alas, there’s always a bright side: this music video looks really cool, and this is a fun song, so despite my initial disappointment, I hope you enjoy. 

  •  Fake Plastic Trees – Radiohead:

I do really like this song, but if there’s a Radiohead song that should be in my number three spot, it’s “Black Star,” which I’ve listened to on repeat many-a-nights since this summer, when I discovered Gillian Welch’s rendition of the song – a rendition that I fell in love with, even though it brought me back to the original Radiohead version.  I doubt I’ve listened to Fake Plastic Trees as much as Spotify says I have this year, but I do remember the song playing on my friend’s car CD player as we’d ride through the country back roads of Greencastle, Indiana during an early evening twilight years ago when I was in college.  Memories associated with it are bittersweet, and it’s an excellent song, but again, I know what I’ve listened to this year,and this song does not deserve to be in my number three spot.  Okay, now that I’m through the so-called top three songs of 2018, it’s time to move through the list more quickly.

  • Leader of the Band – Dan Fogelberg:  This is a beautiful song – one that I put on a playlist years ago and then forgot about.  I appreciate Spotify reminding me that I like it, but I definitely haven’t played it that much (if at all) this year.
  • Winter –Tori Amos:  I’m a big fan of this song.  When I was living in D.C. for a semester, a friend made me a set of six CDs, and this song was on one of the CDs in the set.  It’s a beautiful song, but I can think of many others I’ve listened to more frequently this year.
  • Oh La La –Brigitte:  I downloaded a few Brigitte songs about five or six years ago, and I hardly listen to them anymore.  I’m not sure why this song is in my number six of the year spot, but it’s kind of fun to listen to, so I guess I can acquiesce to its inclusion. 
  • Friday I’m in Love – The Cure:  I adore The Cure.  I’m okay with this song sitting at number seven, although again, it’s probably an inaccurate estimation of my listening for this year.  As I’ve written in previous posts, The Cure conjures up so many pleasant memories of living in Houston.  I listen to their songs and I drift back happily albeit temporarily to my early 20’s. 
  • My Life –Billy Joel:  This song’s not bad, but I listen to Elton John more than I listen to Billy Joel, and the Billy Joel song that I’ve listened to the most this year is probably “Vienna” – a song I like for a lot of reasons, and a song that reminds me of meeting Michael (we listened to a lot of Billy and Elton early on). I like this song, but it strikes me as another rather random selection.
  • Whatever You Do – Brandi Carlile:  Again, I really like some of Brandi Carlile’s stuff, but I hardly even know this song.  I’ve listened to “That Year” by Brandi Carlile on repeat this year, but I don’t remember listening to “Whatever You Do.”  I appreciate the introduction to a lesser known song, but come on Spotify. That’s not the purpose of the annual personalized top 100 playlist!
  • I’m a Cuckoo – Belle and Sebastian:  As much as I’ve always appreciated Belle and Sebastian, I don’t know that I’ve listened to much of their stuff this year.  And when I do listen to an album, it’s usually The Boy with the Arab Strap, not Dear Catastrophe Waitress (which is the album “I’m a Cuckoo” is on).  Despite its possible inaccuracy, I would have appreciated a Belle and Sebastian addition to this list, but preferably a favorite B & S song. 
  • Despacito (Remix) – Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yanke:  I have no idea how this song got on this list.  I swear, I’ve never listen to Despacito. I mean, why would I? I mean…oh wait, maybe I have listened to it….over and over and over again.  Okay, fine, I admit it.  I listened to Despacito on repeat this year.  What can I say?  I actually love Despacito.  In a stroke of something akin to irony, Despacito is the one song that Spotify got right this year.    
  •   Brain Damage – Pink Floyd:  I love The Dark Side of the Moon, the album that this song is from, and it also conjures up many memories from college: namely, of hearing the album for the first time and being absolutely mesmerized.  Still, bearing in mind what I’ve listened to this year, Brain Damage probably doesn’t deserve the number 12 spot on the list.  I don’t resent its inclusion, but it’s another example of this list’s spurious deviation.
  •  Strip My Mind – The Red Hot Chili Peppers:  I love the Chili Peppers, and I really love a lot of the songs on the album Stadium Arcadium, an album that had just come out when I moved to Houston.  But I can’t say this song is one I listen to much, so again, its inclusion seems sporadic.
  • Your Woman – White Town:  This random 90s tune came to mind one day, so I looked it up and listened to it a few times on Spotify.  As far as I know, I only listened to it two or three times, one day this year, so I’m surprised, once again, to find it in my number fourteen spot.  But, as Kurt Vonnegut writes, I think, in Slaughterhouse Five, So it goes. 
  • Run for the Roses – Dan Fogelberg:  This is another beautiful song that I kind of forgot about this year, so it’s another song on the list that I like, but that doesn’t accurately reflect my listening preferences for the year.

There are, of course, 85 more songs where those came from, including songs by Queen, who I know I haven’t listened to this year, and songs from Adele’s album 19, though I only started listening to Adele when she released 21, and I never got a chance to backtrack.  In short, this is an intriguing list, but it’s not the list I was looking for.

I will admit, in fact, that having looked forward to my Spotify top 100 playlist of 2018, that night, as I lay on my friend’s couch trying to sleep, I tossed and turned restlessly for about a half hour, maybe an hour, thinking of the Spotify list that could have been.  I was perplexed by the list Spotify had given me, and at the time I was, dare I say, angry at my sorry fate.  I felt, I suppose, like Oedipus, when he learns that Jocasta is his mother and gouges his eyes out (minus the personal shame) – angry at the Gods, angry at the course that my life had taken without my knowing. How could Spotify do this to me, I lamented to myself.  Indeed, the world,including that pretty winter night, seemed much bleaker after opening my Spotify wrapped playlist.

But the paragraph above does not accurately summarize the end of the story.  Like a Jane Austen heroine who has just undergone a harrowing day in a small social circle and is revitalized by an evening of sleep, I awoke the next day, refreshed, and ready to not only accept my fate, but to do something about it.

Now, I’ll be a bit more serious,since I’m of course being intentionally hyperbolic.  I love Spotify, and I greatly appreciate all the mixes that their computer system generates for me, along with my ability to mix and listen to all the music I want for $11 a month.  I’ve stated before that I have moral qualms with them, but I remain unabashedly unfaithful to my own principles and listen to them anyway, because I just love music, and because I think Spotify does music better than any other service.

My ultimate critique of my top 100 list is this:  If Spotify is trying to get me to listen to a wider range of music than I normally would, be up front about the list that I’m getting.  Don’t tell me your wrapping up my favorite songs of 2018 for me, if you’re giving me a list that of songs I hardly listened to – especially since the list you gave me last year was so awesome.  The situation becomes a huge letdown.  Of course, the whole ordeal isn’t, well, isn’t nearly the ordeal I made it appear to be on this post, but I was disappointed, nonetheless.  According to Spotify, I spent 53,602 minutes listening to music this year, and I want my list to reflect the music I’ve listened to! While my most listened to artist, in my wrapped overview, was listed as Joan Baez, there’s not one Baez song on my entire playlist.  Sigh. Alas, when we set our own expectations for a situation, we are often disappointed.  

On the bright side, I have given myself a new project:  I’m going to make my own top 100 list, based on the songs I think I’ve listened to the most this year. I will have to cull songs from every playlist I’ve ever made, so this could be quite an endeavor, but I’m looking forward to the project nonetheless.  And I do like the list Spotify made for me, even if it’s not the list I was anticipating. It contains, at the very least, some old favorites that I haven’t listened to in a while, and some seldom-heard songs that might be worth checking out.

In short,  the ending of this story turns out to be a rather happy one, despite the deep, inner turmoil that I experienced at times throughout this harrowing ordeal.  I gained some new favorite songs, and I have an intense project to focus on in the months to come.  Thus, to make a Little House on the Prairie reference (oh yes I did), it’s like Ma always said, “All’s Well that Ends Well.”      

F.N.V. 4: Disappointment on a Winter’s Eve: My Spotify Letdown

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