Barack Obama has always been a slow, patient politician, sometimes infuriating allies and adversaries alike with his deliberate decision-making process. It’s that sort of mindset that leads to the president releasing his summer playlist only now, with August halfway over and back-to-school sales in full swing.
Nonetheless, the first family is off to Martha’s Vineyard, and so this is the time for Obama to share what he’s listening to—or perhaps more likely, what he’s “listening” to. Politicians’ playlists, as I’ve written before, may in some way reflect the tastes of their candidate, but they’re also fundamentally signaling mechanisms, intended to send a message. His 2012 campaign playlist, for example, was a carefully selected range of genres and ages, but it notably omitted any rap. The political playlist serves the same function as making a mixtape for a crush: You’re going to choose things you like, of course, but you’re also trying to impress the person you’re giving it to, and convey a certain image of yourself.
Last year’s playlist was, with all due respect, a tremendous snooze. Obama larded up his list with great but familiar artists (the Temptations, Sly and the Family Stone, the Isley Brothers, Stevie Wonder), often choosing the most obvious cuts (“Tombstone Blues” for Dylan, “Gimme Shelter” for the Stones. Lay off the Scorsese, Mr. President). There was an obligatory Chicago blues number, Howlin’ Wolf’s “Wang Dang Doodle.” There was some boring newer music (Coldplay, John Legend) and some more interesting but not especially edgy newer music (Okkervil River, Florence and the Machine). An evening list was full of other solid but uncreative choices, from Van Morrison to Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles to Al Green. The presence of the Lumineers was worth several demerits.