“Show me your playlist and I tell you who you are” : An investigation of the social psychological foundation of musical playlists
In the age of social networking and music streaming, playlists are a common tool for organizing,sharing or exchanging music in the digital realm. Most research, however, emphasizes mainlypolitical, legal, and ethical constraints of music sharing practices yet, neglects their social impact.Thus, this paper investigates the social-psychological foundation of the playlist and analyses itsfunctionality in establishing social relations and communication. Following the theories of Cooley,Mead, Simmel and Solomon, I conducted and analysed interviews with young Swedish men andwomen, in which they talked about their experiences and attitudes towards playlists. Moreover, allparticipants compiled their own personal playlist, based on certain personality traits, which wereaimed to be recognized by the others during the focus group discussion. The analysis of the datayields the following conclusions: The playlist is a social object, facilitating new forms ofcommunication. The social nature of the playlist is based on the transformation from objective- intosubjective culture. By internalizing new technologies, such as the playlist, objects gain social value,thus mere musical content becomes a social form. It is through sharing and exchanging musicalcompilations that the playlist, as a social form, serves as a vehicle or medium, facilitating newforms of sociation and communication. The communicative function of the playlist is due to itsconstruction through emotions as uniquely subjective judgements, based on the “I” as an emotionalself-feeling. Thus, musical compilations take part in the self-construction process, and can serve asa tool for the symbolic expression of the self.Moreover, the analysis points out that there are differences in how well certain parts of the self canbe communicated by a playlist. Emotional expressions of the self are translated into particularuniversal music patterns most successfully. Furthermore, the analysis shows that some people liketo browse through the playlists of others and judge them thereupon, which results in some type ofmusical voyeurism, termed “playlistism.” In conclusion, I argue that the musical playlist is both,socially implicated and socially implicating, and facilitates communication not only betweenSwedish youth but across cultural boarders.
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