Pandemic Playlists – The New York Times


To get through the pandemic, the writer Hanif Abdurraqib has relied on “sad bangers”: “songs whose lyrics of grief, anxiety, yearning or some other mild or great darkness are washed over with an upbeat tune, or a chorus so infectious that it can weave its way into your brain without your brain taking stock of whatever emotional damage it carries with it.” Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” is a sad banger, he writes in The Times Magazine’s annual music issue. So are Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” and Lil Nas X’s “Lost in the Citadel.”

Music that conveys multiple, contradictory feelings has been precious these past few years. Uncertainty has been constant, optimism tempered by caution, anticipation mixed with fear. Thank goodness, then, for songs that permit us to dwell and even delight in the liminal state between OK and not OK. Such a song, Abdurraqib writes, “gets beyond binary emotions and unlocks a multilayered fullness that might, depending on the song, involve dancing, and crying, and longing, and stumbling out of some dive bar midtune to text or call the person you probably shouldn’t.”

I label my playlists by month and use them like a diary, to keep a record of a particular moment. A month or a year or a decade down the line, I can cue up a playlist and be returned, briefly, to that moment in time, to its unique matrix of feelings and impulses. My playlists from the past couple years are teeming with sad bangers, songs that I could dance and sing to, drive and weep to. Old songs like “True Faith” by New Order (March 2020). Newer ones like Olivia Rodrigo’s “good 4 u” (July 2021).

I wonder what will become of our pandemic playlists years from now. Will we be inclined to revisit them? Will we want to re-experience what Abdurraqib calls “the minute-by-minute emotional contradictions of this era”? Or will we leave them to history, fossils from a time we’d prefer to forget?

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