As any inept shut-in who has ever tried to flirt with someone by making them a “mix” will know, there is no act more revealing than curating a playlist. It should be a compulsory exercise in therapy; so quickly does it expose your ego. And so, when the writers of Succession had Kendall Roy meticulously assemble a playlist of “all bangers all the time” to be played at his 40th birthday party, which he attended dressed like Drake at a sex party, the selections were always going to be calculated.
Whether he’s rapping along to Beastie Boys in the back of a chauffeured car or pounding the office treadmill to LCD Soundsystem, being “into music” is one of Kendall’s more endearing character traits. He’s the only member of the Roy family who seems to engage with pop culture on an individual, emotional level (flashback to Logan agreeing in the flattest, most indifferent terms that The Beatles are a “great band”). But, as with most aspects of Kendall Roy’s personality, there’s something ill-fitting about it.
Maybe it’s because he so often does it while wearing a baseball cap with a suit, but the way this man engages with music puts me in the horrors. Much like Elon Musk releasing an EDM track called “Don’t Doubt Ur Vibe”, Kendall’s enthusiasm stems from a place resembling sincerity, but absolutely nobody else can relate to where he’s coming from. It really does beg the question: Can the ultra-wealthy relate to music the rest of us do? Like, on a fundamental human level?
Who knows. But, for whatever reason, Kendall seems to identify with 90s hip-hop, Pitchfork “Best Of” electronica, and the kind of big beat music favoured by dads who are young enough to think weed should be legal but too old to trust Jeremy Corbyn. So let’s get into his playlist.
“Honesty” – Billy Joel
Sadly we never got to see Kendall do his passive aggressive cover of Billy Joel’s “Honesty” to a room of coked-up indifference while strapped to a crucifix in mid-air – for a laugh!! – but the mental image would have been hard to beat. As we gleaned from this episode’s cold open, this performance was meant to be an inside joke. “Honesty is hardly ever heard / And mostly what I need from you”, Kendall croons at soundcheck for the approval of his uncomfortable girlfriend, before insisting that it is definitely really funny.
Indeed, what could be more side-splitting than interrupting the sesh to sing a tender piano ballad bemoaning the lack of shame in society for an audience of A-list celebrities, business magnates, and an absent father, to whom these lyrics would definitely not have been directed?
Vibe rating: 1/5. While there is a time and place for Billy Joel on a night out (dive bars at 3AM, for example), in this context it’s about as vibey as wake for a Bank of America executive.
“White Lines (Don’t Do It)” – Grandmaster Flash
A series of cautionary tales about cocaine abuse dressed up as a disco banger, often deployed at office parties on account of the room-uniting dance potential of the bit that goes “Freeze!” and then “Rock!” A little basic for Kendall, to be honest. It feels more like something Frank or Hugo would pick because it reminds them of blowing off steam in their mid-80s heyday.
Vibe rating: 3/5. A decent warmer-upper. Bonus points for being the entrance music for siblings Shiv, Roman and Connor as they passed into the main party area through a tunnel designed to resemble their mother’s vagina.
“Man Of The Year” – ScHoolboy Q
There are two kinds of people who love this song: people whose life resembles the one being described, and people who listen to it on the bus while imagining a crazy night that might happen to them someday.
Considering he quite literally cannot have fun at a party on account of his genuine struggle with addiction and lack of real friends, “Man Of The Year” does not speak Kendall’s truth – but it is how he likes to think of himself. When ScHoolboy Q said “Bruh I see, girls everywhere / Titties, ass, hands in the air / It's a party over here / Shake it for the man of the year”, you know that’s how Kendall pictured this event playing out the entire time he was planning it.
Vibe rating: 4/5. Amazing song describing a party happening somewhere else.
"NY Lipps (Kawazaki Dub)" – Soulwax, Nancy Whang
A monster of a tune to drop ecstasy to in the year 2005. Has the power to get a crowd going like Mussolini during WWII, because it’s literally a tempo-boosted “Funkytown”, commonly known as one of the greatest disco classics of all time, invigorated by shitloads of cowbells and two Europeans having an argument. It never misses.
Sadly, its potential was ignored by the Roy siblings, because Roman and Shiv were too busy trying to fight their way inside Kendall’s “mental disorder” (enormous recreation of his childhood treehouse).
Vibe rating: 5/5. Sorry to these rich idiots for being too self-involved to hear a transformative banger when it smacks them round the ears!
“MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know” – KRS–One
Every time I start to consider this, I can’t get past the mental image of Kendall playing it for his girlfriend Naomi – turning up the volume to an uncomfortable level, bopping his head along to the beat, pushing his face really close to hers to yell “there’s this bit… wait for it – this!!! Holy shit!!”; trying to force a moment of bonding even though she is obviously, painfully disinterested – and describing it as “fresh”.
Vibe rating: 0/5 for Kendall Roy, 5/5 for the rest of us.
“Radio Babylon” – Meat Beat Manifesto
It’s fitting that this was playing as Kendall started to unravel, frustrated that the night of fun he planned in desperate and bratty detail felt “like an asshole’s birthday party”. It’s a piece of music you can really sink into, like memory foam for your brain – but one that means absolutely nothing when it’s not interacting with the people who make up the culture around it.
The “bangers” selected were clearly intended to do one of three things: reflect positively on Kendall’s taste, communicate some deeply felt emotions that he cannot vocalise directly, or influence how he wants people to see him. Unfortunately, they were being blasted into a soulless room filled with people who don’t really care – about the music, or about Kendall – and so the vibe was less “communal rave for the ages” and more “gap between speakers at a gaming expo”.
Vibe rating: 0/5. A banger, to be sure, but here has all the energy of a HR meeting at Printworks.
“Big City (Everybody I Know Can Be Found Here)” – Spacemen 3
Over the right scene – Shiv gazing out of the window while being driven around Manhattan, ignoring her husband – this could have made for a stunning little Sophia Coppola moment. But this is Succession, so instead you hardly notice it because Roman is watching a tech bro piss on his phone.
Vibe rating: 3/5, I guess?
“New York, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down” – LCD Soundsystem
Objectively the most depressing LCD Soundsystem song you could play in the middle of a party. However, considering it coincided with Kendall ditching his plans to perform because he felt foolish and alone on his birthday, it would have been far more devastating to hear “All My Friends”.
Vibe rating: 2/5. Not a bad choice in and of itself. It can offer a pleasant moment of pause – for reflection, introspection, a little main character moment while waiting solo at the bar perhaps – at an event where people actually like each other.
“Don’t Gas Me” – Dizzee Rascal
An undeniable floor-filler for members of senior management who only get drunk twice a year, but go absolutely mental when they do – taking to the middle of the room to sweat through an expensive blouse and do gun fingers incorrectly to any song that makes use of the phrase “dutty rhythm”.
This is the song that compels Shiv to kick off her heels and “get her demons out” like the Elaine Benes of corporate media, and in that moment she is more human than any other character at any other point in the series.
Vibe rating: 5/5. Huge tune that, for better or worse, knows absolutely no bounds.
“Hey Boy, Hey Girl” – The Chemical Brothers
A deeply stressful song to be playing while you’re tossing boxes of unknown value across a room, trying to find the present your children made for you, because it got lost in the bedlam of your self-celebration somewhere between the room of smashed iPads and the tunnel of compliments.
Vibe rating: -10/5. I once watched a girl snort a line of ketamine off a compact mirror at 6AM while locked outside Bristol Temple Meads on a comedown, and it distressed my nerves so badly I almost called an ambulance. Not really the same thing, but I imagine The Chemical Brothers providing the soundtrack to your psychological reckoning might feel somewhat similar.
“Lost Dimension” – Magic Castles
A pleasant bit of psych-rock that seems like it would work in pretty much any setting. No strong thoughts.
Vibe rating: 2/5 – Nice song, but categorically not a banger. A more sensual reprobate would have chosen Brian Jonestown Massacre to soundtrack Greg and Tom’s sojourn through the compliments tunnel.
“Anything” – Alison Wonderland and Valentino Khan
Lowkey aggressive piece of music, ideal for doing gear and screaming at your siblings before you get tripped over and fall on your face in front of the whole party.
Vibe rating: 4/5. A beat designed to rattle drinks off the shelf of a toilet cubicle in which three people are gossiping about work, i.e. a perfect party song. But I’m knocking a point off because Kendall probably discovered it on TikTok and I hate to think of him being on there.
Kendall’s last minute change of heart meant that we didn’t get to see this lot do their thing. As cursed as it would have been to see a bunch of children do “Bring da Ruckus” at a 40-year-old man’s party, it once again reinforces the fact that, in this soulless vacuum of power grabs, music is only really relevant when it’s in service of something else.
Vibe rating: Literally non-existent.