Event Specific Playlists

In recent weeks, I have enjoyed a series of posts people have made in various corner of the internet sharing playlists they have created for processing the results of the recent U.S. Presidential election.  Roaming around online, I have seen such playlists show up from people on the left, people on the right, and moderates alike, and though the contents – not surprisingly – of the playlists differ greatly between these groups, each seeks to use music to make sense of the event and what may follow it.  I have also noticed quite a bit of variation between individuals’ – even with similar political and other demographic leanings and statuses – and enjoyed the varied ways people utilize different musical tastes to express similar points and reactions.  As someone who rarely spends much time at all without music playing nearby, I’ve really enjoyed both remembering songs I haven’t listened to in a while and even learning new ones to try while reading these shared and otherwise posted playlists.

At the same time, the amount of people sharing such lists following the U.S. Presidential election led me to start thinking about what I would call, for lack of a better term, event specific playlists and the roles such list might play in our emotional and cognitive processing and experiences.  I think about people I’ve seen post “wedding day playlists,” “final exam playlists,” “anniversary playlists” (related to various kinds of anniversaries), and a wide variety of other examples.  On my own computer every day, I have a “fiction” playlist that contains the main musical numbers I listened to when crafting each of my novels because sometimes I listen to them when I’m struggling with a story.  I’ve also seen people post playlists for various recreation activities, such as “Going to the River Songs” and “Girls Night Out Playlist” at times over the years.  I’ve also seen playlists posted online or shared between friends that remember specific things, people, places or events – “Songs that take me back to Georgia” or “Remembering Mama Playlist,” for examples.  In all such cases, people experience or process specific events in the life course with the use of songs that, at least for them, speak to those events.  Simply put, these playlists represent people’s attempts, best I can tell and I admit I do it to, to create soundtracks for their lives, emotions, and concerns.

Especially as I’ve been studying and becoming more active in arts-based research throughout this year, this strikes me as an interesting question that could be examined by interactionists focuses on relationships between music and society.  How do people narrate their lives through the use of songs and albums?  What playlists might people form to explain their reactions to varied life events like elections, graduations, breakups, first loves, and many other major moments?  What might we learn about the influence of art on identity and narrative creation, and what might we learn about broader patterns of narrative and identity creation from such studies?  What lessons might we learn about events and the ways people experience them by examining the playlists created by this or that group (and especially those shared widely) after such events?  I don’t know what the answers might be, but I think this could be an interesting line of inquiry.

Alongside the questions above, I think I’ll close this post by sharing some of the songs I have most often listened to following the recent election, and in so doing, potentially share some of the enjoyment I’ve gotten reading and thinking about the lists shared by others.  Alongside the songs listed below, I’ve found myself listening to a couple of complete albums fairly regularly in the last few weeks – “We got it from here…thank you for your service” by A Tribe Called Quest and “The Ghost of Tom Joad” by Bruce Springsteen.  Alongside those two albums, here are some of the other songs (I limited it to ten) I listen to these days when I think about the recent election:

American Skin (41 Shots) – Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Transgender Dysphoria Blues – Against Me

Pray to Jesus – Brandy Clark

Don’t Die – Killer Mike

Crucify – Tori Amos 

Not Ready – Dixie Chicks 

Formation – Beyonce 

Bend before it Breaks – Brandi Carlile 

We’ve been had – Uncle Tupelo 

Inside Job – Pearl Jam 








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The Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction (SSSI) is an international professional organization of scholars interested in the study of a wide range of social issues with an emphasis on identity, everyday practice, and language.
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