Barack Obama Likes All Kinds of Music Too

Pop Culture

The Barack Obama year-end list extravaganza continued (ended?) on Monday, as the former president tweeted his favorite songs of the year. In the previous two days, he’d posted his favorite books and movies, and we’re probably not getting a standalone TV list, since he already added a few shows to his movie list that he said he “considered as powerful as movies.” By now the annual tradition is expected, and in the replies to Obama’s tweets any number of expressions of longing for the return of his cool-guy tastes to the White House can be found. Last week the New York Times published an op-ed titled “In Praise of Barack Obama, Music Critic.”

This year Obama seemed to signal his attunement to the diffuse state of popular music, where genre-agnosticism is often a virtue, by noting that his picks ranged “from hip-hop to country to The Boss.” He included American breakouts Lizzo and DaBaby, Nigerian artists Burna Boy and Rema, and Rosalía and J Balvin’s “Con Altura,” although he omitted Balvin’s credit on the song. He said he was listening to this year’s folk rock darling Big Thief. He was well aware of “Old Town Road,” a song at the center of all sorts of playlists, streaming records, and conversations this year but not quite as ubiquitous in the flurry of year-end lists. And he even waited until Kaytranada released a new album on December 13 to solidify his choices.

As ever, there’s the sourcing question. What Spotify playlists, and which music advisers are involved here? Obama’s book list raised some eyebrows, with its inclusion of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff, which, as the reporter and researcher Avi Ascher-Schapiro pointed out on Twitter, “argues that the ‘revolving door of personnel who migrated between Google & the Obama admin’…helped ‘fortify’ the surveillance capitalism business model.”

Or is it more of a family matter? Back in Obama’s second term, it didn’t escape notice that his daughter Malia wore a Pro Era T-shirt.

Whatever the case, there are some relatively under-the-radar picks and opportunities for discovery here. Angelica Garcia put on a quiet, wonderful show in New York a few months ago in a 250-capacity room. On Monday she tweeted, “I am tearing up right now. My grandma has kept your picture on her piano for 5 years. Thank you for listening @BarackObama.”

Here’s his full list:

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