For the purpose of writing this, I listened to a Spotify playlist I hadn’t revisited in more than four years. At fourteen, I didn’t know of another way to confess to the first crush I ever had. I now look back half nostalgic, half embarrassed, but I still stand by the CDs I used to burn to play in my dad’s car. I did make a CD out of my love declaration, but I never gave it to my crush – sending him the link to my Spotify was easier, more spontaneous. This, for a 2014 story, says a lot about the evolution of mixtapes throughout the years.
Something that was crucial to my experience of playlists in my early teenage years was a site called 8tracks. 8tracks was a cross between streaming services like Spotify and the old-fashioned cassettes. It allowed users to upload at least eight songs to an “online mixtape”, and then upload it to the community. There was a limited number of tracks you could skip, making it more similar to a cassette, but for a contemporary audience. 8tracks playlists were more carefully-curated than their Spotify counterparts, and with more interesting concepts. The service fizzled out in 2016 after 8tracks stopped offering streaming outside of the United States and Canada. To this day, I haven’t found anything that comes close.
I think there’s something really powerful in a collection of songs that tell a narrative arc or convey a specific emotion
I think there’s something really powerful in a collection of songs that tell a narrative arc or convey a specific emotion. It’s a more ambiguous way of saying things, and yet playlists have the power to say way more than a single song or album will ever say. They pull words from other artists to say brand new words from the author of the playlist; they demand time and care. For someone that is not very good with words like me, playlists can be way more intimate and say much more than I could ever say. Quite a big deal.
They aren’t as common anymore, but they didn’t disappear when cassettes did: they just transformed, similar to the vinyl revival. Vinyl is not that niche anymore, and while mixtapes and playlists might have disappeared while we transitioned from analogue to digital technology, they’re back as more than just a nostalgic throwback. There will always be people to put together a bunch of songs to send to their loved ones, or to cheer themselves up before an exam. Spotify and Apple Music are what most people turn to nowadays, but there are other services, like Stayed Up All Night. Platforms to create playlists might be evolving, but the sentiment is the same.
We turn to mixtapes to invoke feelings that are beyond ourselves
The feeling of being in a movie of your own life, of having your heart explode as you hear a crescendo, of being gigantic yet tiny in a world that never sleeps… all these feelings can be heightened by a good playlist that acts as soundtrack. The actress and singer Evan Rachel Wood discussed this in one of my favourite articles ever, The Art of the Playlist (https://nylon.com/articles/the-art-of-the-playlist), but it really is true. We turn to mixtapes to invoke feelings that are beyond ourselves, to take us back to a certain evening, to help us get through obstacles… and that’s something that, independently of what form it’s presented in, I don’t see changing any time soon.