Is Making Playlists My Free Version of Therapy?

Is Making Playlists My Free Version of Therapy?

Illustration courtesy of  kb.illustration

Illustration courtesy of kb.illustration

Currently, I have 46 (and counting) playlists exclusively made by me on my Spotify, which I have been actively using for about three years. That means that I have made one playlist every three weeks for the past three years, respectively. Even more, half of these playlists have intricate titles that expand from more than just a season (like “summer ‘18,” for example),typically involve a lot of contemplation, and, more importantly, a lot of free time to come up with (aka result of procrastination).

A few weeks ago, I decided to make a playlist named after a Tumblr post that goes like this: “seven mitski lyrics that will make you yearn desperately for the touch of another human being literally anyone oh my god im so lonelyinstead of reading a book that was meant to be finished the following day. I continue to procrastinate by adding descriptions to these well-thought-out mixes and even adding cover photos to some of them, as if I think people will actually follow these playlists. I surprisingly got eight followers on the aforementioned Mitski one, but I consider that a rarity, as these playlists are for myself, no matter how public and beautiful I make them out to be.

I skimmed through some of my friend’s Spotify accounts as well to see if I was the only one who counted making playlists as one of my favorite hobbies, and I realized it wasn’t just me—many of my friends also had even more playlists than myself and decorated them with cover photos, usually consisting of memes, and unconventional titles that usually wouldn’t make any sense unless you intimately knew the person, with their quirks and sense of humor. Were they simply procrastinating as well? Or is the act of making playlists way bigger than we ever once imagined?

On the surface, making Spotify playlists as a ritual activity makes all the sense for music lovers like myself. It resembles my evolution in music taste, where all of my current ones are filled to the brim with female and/or queer indie artists like Phoebe Bridgers and Adult Mom. Previously, they used to contain artists like Arcade Fire and The National, which are bands I still dearly love but have grown from, at least in the playlists I make. When I get bored of the playlist I’ve been listening to nonstop, I just make a new one! They make my walk to class and commute to work far more enjoyable, and they also act as soundtracks to when I need to write a paper or, alternatively, have a good cry sesh—I have one, particularly for heartbreak, that’s dedicated to 5 hours and 43 minutes of just crying. And even better, they act as the best form of procrastination; instead of wasting time by scrolling through Instagram, making a playlist at least results in a product that can be productively used until the end of time (or rather, the end of Spotify, which I hope never comes). But exactly why has this become a popular form of procrastination, at least for myself? There’s usually some sort of pleasure-based profit to gain from doing something rather than my responsibilities, but what exactly was this?

I realized I’ve been making playlists even before the age of Spotify—when I was 15, I obsessively used the now outdated website of 8tracks to curate playlists rather than completing my high school responsibilities. Ranging from emo heartbreak playlists (at a time when I didn’t even know what heartbreak was) to some dedicated to my favorite TV shows, I put my entire life into these babies. I would take the time out of my day to find the perfect cover photo and mix of songs rather than facing the harsh realities of high school, filled with insecurity and depression that I’d rather not look back on. While I did actually get likes on these, being somewhat of a motivator for me to continue making mixes, I would typically make these for myself—not just to listen to the finished product, but to enjoy the time of actually curating said playlists.

When I was in an emotional rut, which was far too common at this stage in my life, spending hours choosing the perfect theme and songs that encapsulated it allowed me to stop, think, and tune into my emotions, whether I was going through a friend breakup or feeling really sad after reading A Catcher in the Rye for the third time. I’m not going to deny that 90% of these mixes aren’t more than cringe-inducing, yet they’re evidence of my ability to manifest my mood, which was typically impossible to define in just one word, into intricate playlists of the songs I both loved at that time and would go to for some sort of emotional healing. Even during that mess of my life, I at least had the ability to feel! Go me!

Now, I realize that maybe I haven’t changed since my 8tracks days. Maybe my music taste has gotten better, at least in my eyes, and maybe Spotify is a far more user-friendly and widespread app than antiquated websites like 8tracks. Yet, my intentions in making these playlists, other than simply having a new mix to listen to, feel all too familiar. I made that aforementioned 5-hour long cry playlist in the midst of heavy heartbreak that practically required me to make a mix such as that one. I not only got better through crying to those songs, but I also healed through the process of making it, because they forced me to understand exactly what I was feeling, even if it was too painful to face head on or put into my own words. On the opposite end, I also have evidence of my better days, particularly from last summer when I was feeling those heat-induced highs and made this one to commemorate them. I treat these playlists as time capsules of my emotions at their certain point in time; they remind me of how much I’ve grown since an emotional low, or rather, how I aim to feel if I’m currently stuck in one of those lows.

But, most importantly, it’s merely the act of creating these playlists that continues to be therapeutic to me. When I feel that I don’t have a tether on my feelings, or rather my entire life, making yet another Spotify playlist allows me to take control of at least one aspect of my current state. Being able to find a perfect set of songs to encapsulate a mood I can’t seem to physically talk about, along with the perfect title and cover photo, if I’m feeling ambitious, allows me to finally have autonomy over my emotions. As someone who loves to create, formulating playlists to represent that very niche mood is like my form of journaling when I’m too lazy to actually dump my physical emotions out onto paper. Instead, I dump them out in songs, which is basically two birds with one stone—I get to listen to a sick playlist as a result of me attempting to understand my feelings through the power of music.

Yesterday, I made a playlist commemorating Taurus season coming up in a few weeks, as my favorite astrological placement is my Venus in Taurus, and this one was definitely more than an act of understanding the stars. I oftentimes notice my friends and family making equally niche, emotion-laden playlists as me, and I begin to realize that I’m not the only one who uses the magic of Spotify as a free form of therapy. Are my friends just weird like I am, or is this resembling of a more widespread trend?

I took the question to an Instagram stories poll, and a whopping 76% of my followers said they also made playlists to feel in tune with their emotions. Some shared their playlists with me, allowing me to understand the full range of human emotion, which is a wild, wild concept to grasp. But, it seems that others’ examples perfectly encapsulated this, as shown through one devoted to songs someone cried to in high school, one on recovery in all forms, and one that carries practically every musical genre on why love sucks. Some of these I instantly felt, but others I couldn’t even come close to fully understanding, highlighting the complexity of our emotions and how these playlists are truly for ourselves, and ourselves only. It can be reaffirming for someone to stumble upon one of your Spotify playlists and comment on how relatable it is, yet it’s necessary to note that this isn’t the sole purpose of these creations; it’s instead reaffirming to be able to translate your feelings all on your own. Knowing that others did exactly this was actually the most reaffirming—we all feel things, and we ultimately know how to understand what we’re feeling. Thanks, Spotify!


About the Author

Natalie Geisel is in her third year at The George Washington University studying women’s, gender, and sexuality studies with a minor in communication. Her love of writing sprouted from starting her fashion blog in high school, and her current written work spans from topics such as style, LGBTQ+ content, and music. She is interested in intersecting gender and sexuality into the world of wellness, hoping to add a queer voice to its editorial side. When she’s not writing, she spends her spare time at dance rehearsal, attending local indie shows in the DC area, or finding the best cafes that serve oat milk. She’s passionate about inclusive sex education and sustainable fashion and thinks everyone should be, too.

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