“A couple of years ago I did something I don’t usually do: I made a new year’s resolution. ‘I’ll curate a perfect music playlist every single month’. I planned to discover new artists, get back in touch with music and generally just listen to really good stuff all the time. That was it.
I wasn’t expecting this simple thing to send me so deep into my own habits that I could no longer ignore my mental health.
And I didn’t think I’d still be doing it in 2017; I had no idea it would change my life, but here we are.
When I started the playlists it was because I needed to take the edge off a tough year. After years of disappearing into books I now found myself struggling to concentrate – every time I’d start a book, I’d find myself unable to finish it and consequently feel ashamed. Ashamed that a graduate of English Literature had forgotten how to focus. I found myself angry at authors. Retrospectively, the fact I blamed literature as a whole before considering the real problem - that words on the page couldn’t contend with all the dialogues in my head - makes me laugh.
It turns out, I’ve been misfiring my anger in all sorts of ways.
Lesson number one from the playlists.
2. Faking It
At first, I forced myself to discover new artists. The blunt truth is that I needed something new. New slate. Having been on my fair share of January diets, I know that striving for a ‘new you’ can be dangerous – but I failed to draw parallels between my complicated body image and the workings of my mind. Listening to this first playlist now borders on embarrassing – it’s self conscious, try hard and disingenuously uplifting.
I don’t know who that person is anymore but I know she thought she could fake it til she makes it.
Soon after, a suitor (don’t judge him, we all make mistakes) sent me a YouTube link – to ‘Or Nah’ by Ty Dolla $ign. Just as I finished yawning to the performed misogyny of Wiz Kalifah rapping ‘Are we fucking when we leave the club or not?/ I aint spending cash for nothing/ I wanna see you take it off?’ The Weeknd appeared before me like an epiphany:
the voice of an angel singing ‘you can ride my face’.
I screamed while jumping on my bed (that’s dramatised – no one does that). By the end of a brief Google search I found myself concentrating on ‘Trilogy’ more than I’d concentrated on anything in months. That alt R&B vocal tinged with sexy self hatred lead to levels of crushing that I hadn’t experienced in years. And I fucking loved it.
I learnt things I needed to learn about fragile masculinity during this whole episode (both in and out of Spotify).
And I remembered – with intensity – how fun it is to have a full on obsession with someone you will (probably) never reach.
As the months ploughed on though I become sick of hearing men sing about bitches and had to ask myself, am I starting to see things a little bit too much through the eyes of The Weeknd?
Do I always put men at the centre of the story?
My playlists were dominated by male voices and it was taking its toll. I was listening to so much fuckboy music that I’d started to feel more cynical than ever about love and relationships. Oh. Shit. I was starting to think like a fuckboy.
You only need to be mistreated once while you’re in that head space for your whole outlook on love and gender to change.
One playlist centred entirely around ‘Whatever I Like’ by Bashy. Because that song makes me smile. Every. Single. Time. The childishness of ‘If I get bored catch me up in Thorpe Park’ inspires me and reminds me that, like Bashy, I can do whatever the fuck I want – even if it’s really really juvenile.
Somewhere in this time period I start going to the cinema on my onesome, I kick my phobia of eating alone in public and I stop waiting for everyone to want to do the same stuff I want to do.
Surprisingly, this makes me feel like an adult.
The loss of a loved one meant my post festival blues were amplified loud as fuck. The only way out of this dark spell was playlisting. Having something small to focus on amidst the grief was important. In this time, I heard a lot of Turkish and Arabic songs – the rawness of which – drew the tears right out of me.
Past me would have opted for a happy playlist, but I didn’t bother this time – I needed to see the emotions out.
6. Being In Control
Having spent a long time being nervous about what happens when I’m completely by myself, I was now craving the opportunity to be alone with all these artists.
I select favourite tracks, read interviews, watch videos. I stop stalking other people’s lives on social media, I go to more gigs and I form airtight friendships over common Hip Hop ground. I’m in control. When was the last time I felt in control? Have I ever?
7. Finally Being Me
While the early lists operated as a kind of to do list – you should be listening to this – you should be this kind of person.
Two years later they’ve become about what I want to commit to, what I need and who I am. I’m not on a mission to be more focused because I feel I should be but because I want to be. I wanted to work on the fact I find it difficult to be alone. I wanted to address my propensity towards only being extremely negative or extremely positive.
I needed to accept that external factors – such as mainstream music – 100% effect the way I view relationships.
It was time to acknowledge my paranoia and seek an antidote. I’d lost and needed to regain a grip on my femininity. I learnt to listen to the contending voices in my head. I started back on the books. And I remembered what it feels like to be passionate about something which isn’t intrinsically connected to my work – because yes I can discuss movies passionately but that will never happen without a pressure as to what I should be making. I am relieved to say I have no plans to release a rap album.
Some people write diaries or paint pictures, this playlist thing is what I do, this is my thing now.
During these astonishing years packed with incredible moments, terrible moments, births, deaths, relationships, illness, recovery, love stories, heart breaks, politics, votes, violence, apathy and revolutions there has been one predictable thing: that artists will keep putting music out: the violinists keep going as the Titanic splits in half. And in gratitude, I will keep making playlists.”