Spotify recently informed me that my favourite song of 2020 was Indina Menzel‘s Let it Go from the movie Frozen.
As powerful as Indina’s Tony-award winning belt may be (and as necessary a message in 2020 as ever before), I can reassure you this is most certainly not the case.
But it brought home the fact that, since becoming a parent, my relationship to music has fundamentally changed. Gone are the long hours spent curating the soundtrack to my own life. My child is in charge of the tunes these days, and her tastes are very specific and strongly centered around the Wiggles, Disney and unbelievably annoying versions of nursery rhymes. She will make exceptions for Lizzo and Rhianna, but only for a short time.
But even before my toddler took over the musical reins, I had been increasingly aware that, since stepping back from my role as a radio announcer at 4ZZZ (where I was keenly invested in music and particular new music from Australian, queer, First Nations and Asian Australian artists), I had pretty much failed to listen to an album in its entirety.
Gone was the long deep listen. In its place was the Spotify algorithm.
In some ways, this change to my listening patterns (and those of the greater music consuming public) can be considered neutral: this is simply the way we consume media now. I haven’t changed in any unique way, the world has simply changed around me. Consumption models have migrated to steaming platforms.
But is this the only way to enjoy music? To consume? What have I lost since I stopped listening to music that came in a physical container? That was limited by its own physical, tangible presence? Since it stopped being a “record of people playing music in a room” and became an on demand on tap online product?
I used to read lyric sheets. Now Genius tells me what I need to know. I used to explore cover art. Now a convenient, repeating clip accompanies my listening experience, should I ever deign to look down at the telephone while this is going on. I once invested in speakers. Now I listen on cheap in-ear headphones or on a smart speaker in another room.
Combined with the constraints of parental musical accompaniment, I recently found myself discussing the fact that I could no longer remember what music I actually liked. The algorithm knows, but I don’t.
Anyway, all this prompted me to compile a list of musicians I had missed/once loved in an effort to try and return to their work more fully, well, more thoughtfully at least. Artists that I enjoyed in the past that I felt deserved the respect of an hour of my time to listen beginning to end.
Not every piece of music ever released will be to my taste, nor will I be its intended audience. I don’t know if I’ll find many hours in my life. But so much music has come into my life after the delivery of work, energy, and passion of many many individuals — and through no fault of my own, I have begun to treat that like entirely dispensable content. Art is the free thing that comes to me in between the advertisements, or me offering my data point to giant corporations.
So where to begin?
How about with one of the greatest albums of all time? Or, as Rolling Stone believes – the greatest album of all time — Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On.
Righteous and political, powerful and soulful, the specific political hot points may have changed in the 40 something years since its release, but the depth of political feeling remains the same. Last night, while listening to the bass groove of “T” Stands for Time, feeding my newborn in the dark 3am hours, I felt deep loving gratitude for the complex life of Marvin Gaye. Shot dead by his father in a family violence dispute not much older than I am now after making Motown his own, we lost the Prince of Soul.
Listening again, it’s powerful to contextualise and remember this year’s BLM “moment” isn’t a moment, it’s a long game struggle for equality and humanity. Both song cycle and call to action, from the title track to the last note, this quiet storm of a voice, with all its silk and funk, reminds me again why I love music.