New York Times Celebrates the 'Emotional' Playlist of Obama, Avatar of Cultural Cool

August 15th, 2016 7:42 PM

President Obama, demi-god of cool. The New York Times Gardiner Harris hailed Obama’s musical taste in his Monday “White House Letter,” “The President’s Revealing Disclosure, in Rhythm and Prose.” Yep, it’s more of that tough Times coverage of the president, as Harris got way too excited over the president's “Musical taste that includes surf rock, soul and the blues.” The online headline: "President Obama’s Emotional Spotify Playlist Is a Hit."

When it came to documenting Obama’s cultural signifiers that appeal to the self-congratulating liberal elite, Harris was only following in the fawning footsteps of his colleagues. Michael Shear gushed that “Mr. Obama knows his hoops” during the March Madness season of 2011.

Reporter Julie Hirschfeld Davis in 2014 bragged about Obama’s intellectual dinner talks in Europe, summed up in a text box as "Freewheeling events, with conversations about architecture, art and literature." Davis noted that “In Paris, the president was up again until nearly midnight enjoying, among other things, Drappier Champagne.”

Harris wrote on Monday:

Some full-time music critics spend their lives curating playlists they hope become popular. President Obama outdid them all last week in between briefings by senior aides and rounds of golf with friends on vacation here.

For the second year in a row, Mr. Obama released his summer vacation music and reading lists. And within a day, Mr. Obama’s playlist was the most listened-to on Spotify, other than those organized by the global music streaming service itself. That level of popularity occurs only when listeners do more than sample the songs, but actually enjoy the set, said Jonathan Prince, a Spotify spokesman.

“For a playlist to hit No. 1 globally on its own out of nowhere is just bananas,” Mr. Prince said. “If he wants a job curating music when this presidential gig is over, we’d take him in a second. That’s very impressive.”

Harris found time to praise Obama’s poll numbers as well, and plenty of others in the music field willing to pat the president on the back for his song selection.

....Mr. Obama’s own popularity has been steadily rising and is now above 50 percent. Admiration for Mr. Obama is particularly high among young adults, or those 18 to 29 who are so coveted by TV and radio advertisers.


Mr. Obama got high marks from several music critics for his summer playlist choices, in part because he mostly avoided politically expedient selections. There were no songs, for instance, from wildly popular artists like Adele, Ariana Grande, Justin Timberlake or Rihanna.

The president’s musical taste -- which includes surf rock, soul, blues and hip-hop -- is open-minded, even eclectic. However, there is one notable exception: Missing for the second year in a row was even a nod to country music, widely played in Southern states where Mr. Obama could benefit from more people relating to him.

“This is not a politician’s playlist,” said Rob Sheffield, a music columnist for Rolling Stone Magazine. “It’s a list of someone who, if they were a full-time music lover or a full-time music archivist, would be an extremely good playlist.” White House officials insisted that the picks were made solely by the president.

Harris couldn’t help himself from slipping in an anti-Republican dig:

Another song on the list indicated the president’s continued attachment to his adopted hometown and life there, as he picked one by Chance the Rapper, a hip-hop star from Chicago with a commitment to social issues, especially ending gun violence.

In 2005, President George W. Bush released an iPod playlist and officials said the process was done largely by aides.

While admitting that the president’s reading list was more politicized, Harris still spun it to Obama’s advantage.

The president’s reading list has received a different reception. Several literary critics suggested that Mr. Obama’s decision to include “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead on his reading list may have had more political overtones than his musical selections.

“He’s signaling that it’s an important book in the day of Black Lives Matter,” said Michael Schaub, a literary critic based in Austin, Tex.

In a phone interview, Mr. Whitehead said that he and Mr. Obama both struggle to account for, and explain, the legacies of slavery and racism.


Critics say the lists reflect Mr. Obama’s self-assurance. “This playlist is confident and way cool, and it is decidedly not dictated by what the radio or the media is force-feeding him,” said Dan McCarroll, the president of Warner Bros. Records.

Mr. Bridges said he saw that side of the president during Mr. Obama’s recent birthday celebration, attended by filmmakers, musicians, actors and corporate executives -- who were all forced to surrender their smartphones and cameras to prevent photographs of the private event.

“I thought it would be this really stiff kind of thing,” Mr. Bridges said. “But it was a total party. The president and Michelle were on the dance floor the whole night.”