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We’re All Thinking the Same Thing About Obama’s Summer Playlists, Right?

On Tuesday, former President Barack Obama continued his annual tradition of dropping his summer playlist on the TL. Obama’s 44 tracks was a great mix of new and old, surefire crowdpleasers and little known gems. You’ve got “Dancing in the Dark” from Obama’s friend and podcast co-host Bruce Springsteen, “That’s Where I Am” from the reliably excellent Maggie Rogers and the fresh banger “Many Times” from rising indie artist Dijon. It’s pretty much perfect. A little too perfect, don’t you think?

Look, we’re all thinking the same thing here, right? These annual playlists are very fun and full of great tunes. There’s no reason to think that Obama doesn’t listen to them and enjoy them. He probably does! But is he really the one selecting them, curating them, putting them all together? Is Obama really crunched over his laptop by the pool or at the kitchen island, listening to the latest tracks from Wet Leg and Tems, putting these together? Really?

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Obviously, he has some time on his hands and can enjoy his retirement however he wants to. But there’s something about these mixes that feels almost too curated — like it was put together by a team of scientists to be as broadly appealing as possible while having just enough indie cred to keep Gen Z’s attention. A little Harry Styles to balance out the Al Green. Some Rosalía to balance out the Aretha. It feels perfect for a Starbucks, which is to say it’s so on that it’s almost off.

Contrast Obama’s summer playlist with this one Maggie Rogers put together at the request of NPR. On the surface, it’s pretty similar to the Obama mix. Some new (Kendrick), some old (Otis Redding), some indie staples and rock classics. But there’s also something just slightly rough around the edges about it. Maybe it’s the inclusion of the Cardigans’ “Erase/Rewind,” a terrific song that wouldn’t fit anyone’s definition of “so hot right now.” Maybe it’s Madonna’s “Ray of Light” — a banger, but not necessarily the one an algorithm would pick. Rogers’ playlist sounds like a lot of things, but one tone you hear over it all is the pleasant sound of truth. These feel like songs that Rogers really does love and handpicked for a summer mix.

We’re not accusing the former president of anything untoward, to be clear! He’s clearly a man who enjoys good art, and these songs reflect that. But it’d also be very interesting to see what sort of summer playlist Obama would come up with on his own, left entirely to his own devices. Maybe it’d be this exact same one and if so, we’ll be the first to congratulate him on a playlist well made.

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