The Rise of Niche Spotify Playlists
Creative, weirdly specific playlists show the unique ways that Gen Z interacts with music — and the Internet as a whole.
It used to be that when you wanted to listen to music, you could turn on the radio and listen to the Top 40 pop hits. Or country, or oldies, or rap. Or in more recent years, you could even open up Spotify and listen to one of their playlists, like “Songs to Sing in the Car” or “Modern Soft Pop,” or even “Calming Acoustic.”
But now the music-listening game has completely changed, in that you can now listen to virtually any collection of music you want, no matter how specific. There is now a playlist for when you’re “walking out of a movie theatre and feeling like you’re on top of the world.” Or for “eating cereal on a couch outside in the moonlight.” Or for when you need to “discover your life motto AND WRITE UR ESSAY.” Or for when “[you’re] sitting in a shopping cart in an empty parking lot.” Or for when “the teacher said we could hav [a cooler way of saying “have”] headphones in.”
In fact, young people are now making playlists for seemingly every person, place, thing, mood, aesthetic, situation, and setting they can think of. Here’s a popular example of one these overly specific playlists, created by Kendall Moore and with over 75,000 followers:
I imagine this playlist is so popular because of coming-of-age films such as Little Women, Lady Bird, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Call Me by Your Name, and Eighth Grade, which have become incredibly popular and oft-discussed among today’s teens, inspiring their music tastes and personal aesthetics and styles.
Other extremely niche playlists include “floating around in the ocean like a green sea turtle” by Keely McLean. Or “when the new car has aux,” captioned “i’m abby lee miller and the pyramid is for who gets the aux when i’m driving.” (If you need an explanation on this, Abby Lee Miller was the dance instructor from the extremely popular show Dance Moms, who would rate her dancers through a pyramid each week). Or “living on my own in a cinderblock shoebox,” captioned “so this is college?”
Many times, these playlists will have unique and visually striking covers, which are often from Pinterest (known for having a wealth of aesthetically appealing photos).
People will also have a specific theme to their playlist covers and titles, much like an Instagram feed. Here are some examples:
These niche, aesthetic playlist feeds signal that teens are starting to treat Spotify kind of like another social media platform. It’s like an interactive Instagram or Pinterest feed where instead of photos being the main focus, it’s audio. Spotify enables people to upload a collection of moments from their lives and all the music they were listening to during those moments.
They also reveal how Gen Z thinks about and interacts with music. Unlike previous generations, which had to turn on a radio station, or make a mixtape, or buy a record, or use a Walkman to listen to music, Gen Z has all the music in the world at their fingertips. They can use Spotify, SoundCloud, YouTube, Apple Music, and even TikTok (Dhruv Sondhi wrote a great piece about TikTok’s effect on the music industry here) to easily share and discover new songs.
Today’s teens are thus almost always listening to music, whether they are hanging out with their friends, studying, on vacation, or just relaxing — it’s an almost 24/7 soundtrack to their lives. And there are different playlists for every situation, whether it be walking in nature or staying up late to finish an essay that one (i.e., me) has procrastinated for weeks on, in which a playlist titled “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA” may be appropriate.
Music is also how we as teens deal with uncertainty, through playlists called “coronacation” or “IDK what happening in the world but like I’m driving at midnight on graduation,” or “ok yeah maybe the world is ending.”
It’s how we relate to the digital media we consume and blend our virtual and physical worlds, with playlists such as “the tunnel scene feeling in perks of being a wallflower” or “these make me feel like im in the walking dead” (captioned “the cover is a pic of negan [a TWD character] holding a giant piece of celery”).
It’s what we use to create alternate realities, imagine our futures, or remember our pasts, with playlists such as “time travel is fucking real” or “sometimes i imagine working for an art museum and going to art galas” or “POV: it’s snack time in grade school.”
In a report on Gen Z, Spotify stated “Gen Z craves discovery. Finding new things, ideas, music, podcasts, hobbies, and experiences makes them feel good.” A lot of times, these discoveries are curated and collected online, through Spotify playlists or even oddly specific compilations of TikToks, such as “tiktoks that got me kicked out of my ZOOM class,” and “tik toks that will prepare you for the area 51 raid,” and
“tik toks that know the CEO of milk before the cereal.”
Teens have shaped the internet to function as part digital time capsule, part art gallery — where you can collect and assemble all your thoughts, favorite things, and photos through different mediums, as well as tour and explore the collections of others. As journalist Virginia Heffernan writes in her book Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art, “The Web represents a grand emotional, sensory, and intellectual adventure for anyone willing to explore it actively.” And Gen Z, armed with whatever the digital equivalent of tents, CLIF bars, and hiking boots may be, is heading down the trails of the Internet at an incredible speed.