Continuing the tradition from his presidency, Barack Obama shared the songs he loved in 2017 on Facebook and hot damn; it's a fire playlist.
There are pop faves that defined the year, like DJ Khaled and Rihanna's "Wild Thoughts," Camila Cabello's "Havana," and Portugal. The Man's "Feel It Still." There are meaningful, impactful, uplifting tracks by queens of soul, including Andra Day's "Rise Up," "Matter of Time" from Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, and "Little Bit" by Mavis Staples. Of course, there is dad rock from U2, The National, Bruce Springsteen (naturally, he's already been to see that one-man show on Broadway because he can get impossible to get tickets still), and Harry Styles (sorry, Styles stans). There are tracks I totally missed and tracks from 2017 faves (major shout out to SZA!).
And, most notably, there is a message behind nearly every track. Know this: the man likes songs with layers. He doesn't shy away from political songs, like Chance the Rapper's excellent "First World Problems," which, in under five minutes, addresses religion, fatherhood, violence in Chicago, access to clean water, gay rights, economic inequality, and civil rights. Or, put succinctly: human rights.
Daniel Caesar, who sings with Lamar in The Late Show clip above, also has a track of his own on Obama's list with "Blessed." It's a song about homecoming, and about being in a relationship that's imperfect but loving. Frankly, it's the kind of song I want to imagine Barack and Michelle slow dancing to. There are several songs like that on his list, songs I want to imagine speaking for him. Brandi Carlile's "The Joke" must be a rebuff to the forces that worked against him while he was president, the haters who said he'd never pass the ACA and wanted to see his birth certificate — right?
It's easy to imagine him identifying with Kendrick Lamar's "Humble," maybe even making it the song he started his days with for a time. But Frank Ocean's "Chanel" could be that song too, depending on the state of the world and what's in the headlines on any given day. Jay Z's "Family Feud," with a video that just set the tone for inclusiveness in America for 2018, has to be his theme song right now, don't you think?
The truth is, now that he's not in the public eye, now that he's left office, our view of Obama's day-to-day life is more limited. That makes it easy to imagine we see his relationship to any of these tracks clearly because it feels like he's someone we know well. But realistically, there is no way to take his music picks, but on their face, simply as songs he liked.
One thing we can say with certainty: Obama is the only living former president who would have this much hip hop, rap, and music by POC on his radar. I guarantee you that both Bushes, Clinton, and Carter haven't even heard of half the people on this list, let alone listened to these songs. If they did, it's doubtful they'd be able to connect with them. That is another thing about him that makes Obama feel like ours; like someone who understands our generation, our values, and our way of speaking. Music is a great connector, not appreciating the poetry of Kendrick (or Chance, or Rihanna) is one of those things about the current administration that makes them feel even further away from where we are. Music is a language that matters, and Obama's playlist hammers that point home for everyone who looked at it and thought, That's my president.
See Obama's whole playlist below and, yes, it does make a great Spotify/YouTube playlist as it is listed out — it's already well sequenced, no need to tweak it.
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