The Definitive Overanalysis of Justin Trudeau’s Spotify Summer Playlist

Hey Justin, you OK?

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Jul 18 2017, 5:03pm

Photo illustration by Noel Ransome

Justin Trudeau is world-renowned for being a relentlessly upbeat guy. He is constantly marching in Pride Parades and flashing his extensive collection of novelty socks. He is so committed to the obnoxious optimism of #SunnyWays that he literally named his summer Spotify playlist #SunnyPlays.

"A mix of old and new favourites currently in heavy rotation on my iPad. Nice and mellow for the most part. Pairs well with sunshine and long days… enjoy," he admonishes us in the playlist's description. I have sat down and listened to it in its entirety. It's pretty mellow, but I'm hard pressed to find the summer in it. The predominant emotional gestalt of the whole thing is downright dour in places.

Don't get me wrong—a good summer playlist doesn't necessarily have to be balls-to-the-wall, 140 bpm sunshine pop. It should be crafted to reflect road trips in cottage country and beers by the lakeside and joints around the fire and there is a lot of room for the nostalgic wistfulness that our eternal and yet fleeting summers can create within us. There's definitely a fair bit of that in here, especially front-loaded to the top of the playlist.

Starting the list with "Braided Hair" is a bit of a fake-out; Trudeau's summer 2K17 feels are more clearly at home with Blue Rodeo slow jams, Drake's introspective streak, and the suffocating, operatic pretension in Of Monsters and Men's "Dirty Paws." (This is one of the more recent songs on the list but does anything feel further from us now than the twee kitsch of indie folk from the early 2010s? The male/female harmonies and the clapping and the backing choir and the painfully earnest crescendo—my God. It's like there is a yawning abyss between the present moment and five years ago even while the 1980s are bleeding into the cultural zeitgeist with a force that makes you feel like historical time is coming apart at the seams.)

There are a lot of sweet piano ballads with lovely soaring strings—Coeur De Pirate is standout here as one of only three francophone tracks. (The francophone tracks on the playlist punch above their weight and offer a roaring vindication of Quebec's preoccupation with cultural protectionism. Pierre Lapointe's "Dans La Forêt Des Mal-Aimés" in particular is so dark and so weird and so fucking fun that it speaks directly to my soul.)

Great Big Sea's "Rant and Roar" feels almost a bit tokenistic on the list (ditto Ontario country duo The Reklaws, who stick out like a sore thumb) but I can't even be mad because that tin whistle seals the deal. Strings might be the sound of the human soul but the tin whistle is a pure distillation of nostalgia. Is it any wonder that the Irish diaspora has elevated homesickness into an art form?

It's also a bit weird that given Canada's incredible range of Indigenous musical talent (A Tribe Called Red, Buffy Ste-Marie, Tanya Tagaq, Northern Cree, just off the top of my head) the closest the Prime Minister gets on his playlist is a Robbie Robertson track about peyote. You'd assume someone at the CBC would have hooked him up to something.

The highlight of the list is definitely k.d. lang's cover of Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush." You just stop everything you're doing and listen—you're both moved and arrested at once because this is the kind of music that shatters reason to pieces. The song was always a bit melancholy but the way lang sings is like getting punched in the gut by Jesus. Genuine musical transcendence is hard to come by but this track absolutely pulls it off.

The same can't be said of a lot of other songs on this list. The Hans Zimmer track from Gladiator (!) honestly feels ridiculous in its absurd melodrama, which is the same feeling I get from from Robbie Robertson's "Peyote Healing" and—God forgive me for what I am about to say—Peter Gabriel's "Book of Love." Look: I love Peter Gabriel. And I love this song. But, good Lord: my heartstrings are going to snap if they're loaded down with too much emotionally heavy stuff in succession and Trudeau is just relentless on this front. I don't know if that's a sign that he feels too much or feels too little, but it makes for a fucking weird summer playlist.

Trudeau's playlist grinds you down after awhile. By the midway point I started losing my power to be cynical about these tunes. Adam Cohen's "Matchbox" actually struck me as a sweet song, briefly. Is this some kind of plot? All this earnest romance is starting to warp my brain.

There's a lot of sensuality here too. Shawn Mendes and Charlotte Cardin have me feeling like I'm being plied with a big glass of wine and lots of unrelenting eye contact. Hedley has me headed to the club to get my woman back.

The emotional valence of this playlist occupies a limited range—it's either nostalgic, or outright melancholic, or sensual, but almost always looking backwards, and truly, painfully sincere. Like Fiona Apple is reminding me of the thrill and terror a man can feel in the face of pure, unabashed feminine appetite. I dated a girl once who was really into jazz. Sting, too—that tantric shit was something else. She was so cool—older, naturally—and I was just so desperate to impress her. Poetry and jazz on vinyl and pretending I knew how to pair different kinds of wine with food. I was like a little boy and she was just a fiery, fierce woman. It ended as well as it could have and God knows neither of us have any regrets about it but this is just what the goddamn Justin Trudeau playlist does to you, right? You're thinking about failed flings and how your old high school was torn down a few months ago and the way the whistle from the mill in your hometown used to mark the rhythm of the day all over the valley but now it just stands silently across the river like a funerary obelisk.

See? This is what the Trudeau summer playlist does to you. It makes you gaze so deeply into your navel that you don't even notice your head slipping into your ass.

And then he'll just drop the hammer, man. One minute you are jamming out to k-os and then BAM it's "Everybody Hurts" and you're ready to curl up on the bathroom floor and just bawl. Sad piano ballad after sad piano ballad and oh shit the Gary Jules cover of "Mad World" is here too? Well pull up to the bar boys and just let me pour a stiff drink and stare longingly into the Void. Jesus Christ. Why is this in heavy rotation on the prime minister's iPad in the middle of the summer? Is Justin Trudeau OK?

"Despacito" comes as a welcome respite before we tumble into the abyss, even if playing it right after "Mad World" is giving me emotional whiplash.

Otherwise it's more acoustic melancholy and wistful piano ballads. I don't want to disparage the man's taste in music because "for everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven" but it's hard to stress how emphatically not-summery it is. Like, he's got Sarah McLachlan's "Song for a Winter's Night" and Hawksley Workman's "Autumn's Here."

It's July, my dude—play "Striptease" instead.

It's just so earnest. So profoundly, cloyingly earnest. Justin Trudeau is a painfully sensitive guy and he really wants you to know it. (This is the sense in which "Scars To Your Beautiful" is maybe the most symptomatic track on the list—as the heavy-handed yet trite anthem of Pop Feminism 2017, it is the Justin Trudeau of top 40 radio.) It is an emotional gravitas that no mere mortal can look upon and live.

Which is ironic, given how much Justin Trudeau the Sensitive Person contrasts with Justin Trudeau the Ruthlessly Cynical Political Operative. But maybe this is how the disavowal works—he spends another day at the office breaking a campaign promise and subverting our expectations of Real Change and then he goes home and throws on some R.E.M. and drives another sonic nail through his contrite and bleeding heart.

It's so emotionally exhausting to listen to this playlist. Fuck. If these are Trudeau's summer jams, I can't even imagine how he beats the February blues.

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