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In 2017, Liz Pelly wrote a piece for The Baffler called "The Problem with Muzak" where she called attention to Spotify's then-new practice of curating mood playlists and its potential long-term effects on the music industry. She described it as part of their "ambition to turn all music into emotional wallpaper." The entire piece is well worth a read, but her calling out the concept of Spotify and Chill - where the more easy-listening a release the better it will perform on "chill" playlists and streaming in general - was something I couldn't un-know.
Since then, it hasn't been difficult to witness the race-to-the-bottom of made-for-streaming hits, writing for the algorithm, and fake artists used to populate aforementioned mood playlists. Much of what finds easy success on streaming platforms is what can easily fade into the background.
It's not just online, either. A year after Liz's piece came out, I saw a band open for a major indie artist that was so boring I had to leave the room, only to later see them rise in popularity. It happened a few times recently that people have suggested new songs to me that sound like the singer is about to fall asleep. A couple of months ago I watched a band let their singer perform with his back to the crowd almost the entire time, complete with banter so disinterested in being there that I almost heckled him.
I try not to get too disillusioned by it, focusing on the success of decidedly not-chill artists that I enjoy and the work of many of my friends. Some of it is just a matter of taste, but I can't help but see it as a symptom of a larger cultural issue, the concealment of anything uncomfortable or challenging for the sake of staying positive and avoiding tough conversations. It's partially an understandable coping mechanism in the face of our current dark timeline, but it's more than just an indie singer sounding like they took too much Xanax. It's the friends who say Good Vibes Only. It's the folks who say they love you while telling you you're living in sin. It's the lawmakers who legislate other people's bodies lest we slightly confuse a child. It makes me want to claw my eyes out.
The new Worriers song that was released this week, Never Quite Kicks In, is a short one inspired by all of the above and the impulse to avoid anxiety by burying one's head in the sand. It's the throughline of the new album and a mission statement of sorts. I made a music video with some friends in a sad office space near LAX that I think illustrates it well.
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