To demonstrate the art of niche Spotify playlists, an illustration depicts a hand holding a cellphone displaying a playlist titled "pov: falling in love with your comfort character."
POV: Falling in love with Spotify playlists. (Illustration by Olivia Luo, The Ohio State University)
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To demonstrate the art of niche Spotify playlists, an illustration depicts a hand holding a cellphone displaying a playlist titled "pov: falling in love with your comfort character."

From atmospheric soundscapes to carefully crafted storylines, playlists are becoming a new art form.

Pov: you’re a queer-coded sea monster in portorosso, italy.” It’s a reference to the recent Disney hit “Luca,” but it’s also a playlist that you can listen to right now on Spotify. With two and a half hours’ worth of songs and 975 likes, this playlist has taken a specific character (and one viewer’s interpretation of him) and attempted to recreate their essence through a compilation of music. Spotify is filled with hyper-specific ideas like this, and it’s indicative of larger patterns in the ways younger generations interact with media

Incredibly Niche 

Incredibly niche Spotify playlists are very popular right now. Many gain traction via TikTok, where users make videos to romanticize the mood of a particular playlist — like this one promoting a playlist called “the life i created in my head.” Other videos simply show off impressive collections with hundreds of carefully cultivated playlists.

@lizziezxcd

who wants it? #foryou #fyp #spotify #playlist #music #spotifyplaylist

♬ we are infinite – seanboy

There are playlists about being in a relationship with fictional characters, like “dating sirius black,” in reference to the beloved “Harry Potter” character. Others attempt to capture a unique moment; “running through an open field in a pretty dress” and “running through a castle in a soaking wet dress during war” both do this quite nicely.

Some create a narrative of their own. “Trapped in a horror movie but i can’t tell if i’m the victim or the killer” places listeners directly in a stereotypical fictional scenario. “Taylor Swift songs but in the order of a love story” adds structure to a particular artist’s discography.

The popular Twitter account “Weird Spotify Playlists” shines a light on especially strange titles like “songs for when im eating gemstones in the museum gift shop” and “How to Order a Pizza.” Needless to say, the sky’s the limit.

There are a few major steps in creating an incredibly niche Spotify playlist. One must first decide on a theme, which — as demonstrated by the array of playlists above — can be virtually anything. Then, compiling a list of songs (likely from a variety of artists) is key. Spotify users have the ability to change the description to something related, like a quote or other buzzwords, so interested parties can find the playlist via the app’s search function. Finally, the cover can be customized; Pinterest is a common source for many of these aesthetic images.

In this way, Spotify has come to function much like a social media site. Users design their feed, follow each other and dole out likes as they see fit. Whereas other platforms deal in words and photos, Spotify commodifies sound, and it does so in a way that gives listeners an active role in the creative process.

Generation Z

Music is consumed very differently today than it was in the past. Years ago, the radio was the major source of songs on demand. Buying records and CDs were also important ways of specializing your taste. Still, there was little room for choice. A listener could change radio stations if they didn’t like what was playing, but even those were limited.

Members of Generation Z are the major catalysts behind the niche Spotify playlist trend, and that’s no coincidence. They were the first generation raised with an interminable amount of choice. Children were given iPads and cell phones by the time they reached middle school, if not earlier. The entire internet was at their fingertips before they could even understand it. There’s no time for something you don’t want to do or a song you only somewhat want to hear; only the most desired stimulant can be accepted at any given time.

Now, not only are Spotify Premium listeners able to listen to any song at any time, but they no longer have to follow the rules of the traditional album. Many favor their own set of songs or even choose to reorder songs from how they originally appeared on an album. The power is entirely in their hands, and one can’t help but wonder if music will directly adapt in turn. After all, apps like TikTok have already changed the music industry. An Insider article explains how TikTok marketing can make or break current artists and how some even purposefully cater their songs toward TikTok audiences and trends. Thus, a widespread reaction is not unprecedented.

Gen Z’s lives are meticulously soundtracked. People organize such specific moods and feelings through playlists so that they can literally serve as the backing track to those moments. Or sometimes you’re not in that moment at all. Very few listeners are actually hatching evil plots, but “pov: you’re the villain” can still provide that boost of confidence with a dash of wickedness you’re looking for. Even my own playlist, “the ‘good for her’ cinematic universe,” is inspired by a degree of feminine rage that I myself have never matched, but which is still fun to emulate.

Perhaps most of all, Spotify playlists are about escape. There’s a reason so many are rooted in fictional characters and worlds. As a whole, Gen Z has lived through far too many periods of uncertainty and turmoil, the most recent being the COVID-19 pandemic. Sure enough, “pandemic party of one” followed. The entirety of 2020 can be found on Spotify, from the playlists attempting to accept a strenuous reality to the ones leaving it behind altogether.

Like other websites, Spotify works much like a snapshot of a particular time or mood — and of the person behind the username. It also allows for a deeper level of interaction between individuals and the music they love. As shown on TikTok, artists like Ricky Montgomery can explore all the playlists with his songs in them, many of which are character studies, POVs and the like.

Spotify playlists allow users to curate control in a world where the very concept often feels unattainable. Though the subjects may appear outlandish at times, they’re actually representative of a larger collective effort toward fulfillment. If Gen Z’s constant life soundtrack is any indication, the need for stimulation is at an all-time high. Then again, so is creativity, and there’s nothing wrong with a little imagination.

Writer Profile

Kelsi Karpinski

Michigan State University
English

Kelsi is pursuing an English major with a concentration in creative writing and minors in sociology and women’s and gender studies. She is a writer, a lover of movies and a passionate intersectional feminist.

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