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I listened to every song on UTSC’s back to school playlist so you don’t have to

The verdict: life would be better off without this musical mess
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ROSALIND LIANG/THE VARSITY
ROSALIND LIANG/THE VARSITY

When the description of a Spotify playlist promises to get me “pumped for the new school year,” I become suspicious right away. I’ve yet to find music that could make me excited about enduring another semester of online classes from the other side of the world. 

But with 82 songs on UTSC’s back to school playlist, I figured it couldn’t be too hard to deliver a satisfactory musical experience. And so I hit ‘play.’

Initially, its five-hour runtime didn’t seem daunting. Then I realized that two of the first three tracks were by Doja Cat. Once I soldiered through those, I found a Justin Bieber single that’s worth mentioning only because it confirmed my belief that he peaked in 2012. It was a demoralizing beginning. Unfortunately, it was only the beginning.

Up next was a half hour of K-pop. Given the genre’s popularity, I have nothing against the decision to include it — and I’m not just saying that because I’m terrified of being cancelled by stans on Twitter. However, I did wonder about the proportion of K-pop to other genres in the mix — counting by the number of songs, it made up about 20 per cent of the playlist. Is this the most appropriate ratio for a general interest playlist? Are K-pop fans that plentiful, or just that loud?

As I listened more, I realized that the playlist was indeed organized by genre, with the K-pop odyssey mercifully giving way to hip-hop. Although there were multiple songs in this section, in my humble opinion, its sound resembled a single rhapsody on cocaine, fame, and large-denomination dollar bills. 

There is good rap out in the world — but with a few exceptions by Kendrick Lamar and Tyler, the Creator, this playlist wasn’t it. If you find study motivation in Baby Keem’s “ORANGE SODA,” whose memorable lyrics include, “Bitch, sit on my face, I attack that,” maybe you’ll disagree.

Following this was a selection of jaunty pop-rock and indie tunes that could play in the film version of a young adult novel. It featured music by Fall Out Boy and All Time Low, making it my favourite part of the playlist for nostalgia-related purposes. I took away points here because it reminded me of my middle school emo phase, but it’s not like I kept score.

Near the end of this interlude was “Nowhere Left to Run” by British boy band McFly, most of which I spent reeling from the shock that people are listening to McFly in 2021. Immediately after was “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People, which was an especially odd choice for a back-to-school playlist, given that its lyrics allude to shooting children with a gun.

The rest of the selection could only be described as a potluck that wrought absolute hell on my poor Spotify recommendations algorithm. There was the English version of yet another K-pop track, this one titled “Cat & Dog,” which I’d best describe as a furry BDSM fantasy. Lorde and The Neighbourhood were tacked on near the end, presumably to appease the indie kids. Doja Cat made a comeback, two tracks away from Andy Grammer.

At one point of the selection, Burnham’s “Bezos I” came and went like a fever dream, its purpose on the playlist a mystery. Was it meant to be motivational? Were we to see ourselves as CEO and entrepreneur Jeffrey? Or was this meant to be the perfect sing-along for my race to finish my paper on the pitfalls of global consumerism by 11:59 pm? I may never know. 

There was gold to be found in the mud, however. “California” and “Midsummer Madness” from 88rising were the two best songs on the playlist, which I’ll admit doesn’t say much. Also, I went into this bracing myself for the inevitable Ed Sheeran number, but it never appeared. Small victories.

Unfortunately, a few good songs do not make a halfway decent playlist. While there was a very limited effort to include a variety of genres to appeal to diverse tastes, the overall effect was one of confusion, not harmony. The verdict: one’s library study session and TPASC workout — indeed, one’s life — would be better off without this musical mess.