Was it really only three years ago that we had a president who worked out to DaBaby, Rosalía and Kaytranada? Or maybe cracked a beer and played Sharon Van Etten and Big Thief while cooking dinner?
Barack Obama’s annual culture-favorites list has been a small point of light in recent darkening holiday seasons. His tasteful yet populist picks in 2019 books and film had a few fun surprises (Jia Tolentino’s “Trick Mirror,” “Ash Is Purest White”), but his music list always evinces a serious and curious fan, with a range of undisputed cool-dad jams and some genuine cutting-edge tracks.
Typical for a guy committed to a big-tent coalition, there’s something for everyone — country, rap, R&B, indie rock, Afrobeat. Ozuna’s “Baila Baila Baila” corralled almost all of urbano onto a huge remix; Snoh Aalegra’s throwback soul “I Want You Around,” Frank Ocean’s “In My Room” and Summer Walker’s “Playing Games” are likely date-night staples. Happily, Obama also can be trusted with the aux cord at an afterparty — Young Thug, Mustard and Burna Boy all show up with undeniable smashes.
Of course, as a guy with Kansas roots, there’s Springsteen and Joe Henry and the Highwomen (the country supergroup with Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris and Amanda Shires). Underground indie-rock balladeer Prateek Kuhad and North Carolina MC LesTheGenius probably will get a real lift from Obama’s vouch here.
While many on the left probably would rather see Obama speaking out more forcefully than curating stellar playlists, there’s virtue in remembering that caring about art can say something about your moral center. And from a guy who convincingly sings Al Green and “Amazing Grace” when the time comes, Mavis Staples’ barnburner “Change” might be the message he wants everyone to take into the 2020 election: “Gotta change around here / Can’t go on this way ... Say it loud say it clear / Things gonna change around here.”