Barack Obama’s Summer Playlist

In keeping with his annual tradition, Barack Obama has posted his 2023 summer playlist, which is to say the collection of songs he claims to have on his portable listening device at the moment. Amusingly, one musician, someone called Lucy Dacus, objected to being included, using the opportunity to accuse Obama of being a war criminal. Good for her, I say! After all, somebody had to say it, and by gosh why shouldn’t that somebody be a nobody?

Obviously, that minor celebrity attack from the left of the left is of no consequence to anything. But what is consequential is that Barack Obama, a two-term president of the United States, actually makes a point of publically announcing his supposed summer playlist every single year. As if ex-presidents ought to be promoting themselves as lifetime social media “influencers.” As if being the center of a fawning, girlish cult of personality that would be embarrassing as hell to any semi-mature man (calling Jordan Peterson) were not something from which a person with an ounce of moral responsibility and democratic decency ought to be quietly and quickly skulking away. As if it ought to matter one tick to anyone, let alone to the universe, what a man who used to be president listens to while he’s jogging, eating lunch, or just daydreaming about all the war crimes he left uncommitted.

Now having said that, if Obama, or any other mature person in a position of influence over younger people in his community, actually thought there might be any good reason to “announce” a list of music titles he is favoring these days, surely that reason would have to be that he believed his list might be a positive influence on his young admirers, that it might give them an elevating alternative to the latest fads and most insidious excesses of today’s popular music, or that it might simply draw people’s attention to some higher-quality but less well-known, less commercially-calculated iterations of the sort of music that those admirers are normally inundated with, and from which list they might be gently prodded toward a wider horizon of taste by having a man they admire and respect recommending something a little less obvious and more challenging.

But, well, that’s what a responsible man of influence might do. But this is Barack Obama, a perennial overgrown fake and crowd-pleaser, a cardboard cutout of the American Marxist dream just slightly more lifelike and believable than Hollywood’s new feminist Barbie. So he delivers exactly what one would expect from such an entity: Gross, pandering thuggishness and the latest popular vulgarity, lightly sprayed with the most transparent veneer of “old-fashioned style” to keep up the pretense that this President Barbie really represents “ordinary people.”

The first song on his summer playlist is called “Who Told You,” by J Hus, “featuring Drake,” as they say in the world of morons. Here is a representative, but relatively moderate, portion of the lyrics:

Your likkle bum-bum
Never seen you before, where you come from?
You got a fat pum-pum, I got a long Johnson
I know I never met you at random
This must be destiny, that’s why you’re next to me
You feel like ecstasy
This must be destiny, that’s why you’re next to me
You feel like ecstasy

Your standard “black entertainment” tropes du jour: Grotesque sexual aggressiveness and explicitness combined with the ever-popular hard drug reference. Thanks for that, Mr. President. Very thoughtful and original — not to mention a rhyme scheme and meter to make Cole Porter jealous.

Song number one being a bit of a disappointment, surely if we move onto number two…well, as it happens, number two, “Snooze” by SZA, is just a little too aptly designated as number two, so much so that I have to refrain from letting the stench of its lyrics — any of them — waft through Limbo. I will merely point out, along with a strong recommendation not to satisfy your curiosity by checking for yourself, that the main lyrical themes of this one are — wait for it — sex, violence, “that white b—-,” and some version of (to paraphrase in an English version) “how dare you talk about leaving me?”

The rest of the list, as far as my patience (or memory, in the case of the older songs) can detect, runs more or less along the same lines, although of course there are a few tamer lyrics, primarily in the songs from Obama’s younger days. But there is something for everyone here, if by everyone we mean everyone who wants to feel inclusive, multi-ethnic, and politically correct in all the various models suitable to the past two generations of pop-addled North Americans. There is the pro forma Leonard Cohen song/fantasia about sex and violence, and of course it is one of his most mainstream and popular. There are a few Motown-era classics, and of course they represent the most famous and over-played of that earlier and better age of “black entertainment” — from Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, The Righteous Brothers, Otis Redding, The Four Tops, Ike and Tina Turner — to remind us that Barack Obama is the first black president, and that he always identified primarily with the black side of American pop culture (and the black side of his own parentage, it seems).

There are, in addition, the obligatory nods to the white side of fake-rebel “youth culture” (The Rolling Stones, Pearl Jam), the white side of fake-people’s-poet pop stardom (Bob Dylan), and the very latest coolness in (apparently) acceptable white appropriation of black culture (Luke Combs’ country version of “Fast Car”). There is, naturally and essentially, a heavy representation of the most popular female artists, including a few Easter eggs for the feminist crowd’s Glass Ceiling Breakers of Pop History album (The Bangles, The Pretenders). 

But the dominant tone and representation, through the entire ridiculously long list, is the tone displayed in the first two items noted above: hip-hop or rap stars with laughable rapper stage names, performing nihilistic “songs” about random sex and street punk life.

And then, antithetically, in the midst of all this mélange of vulgar life-hating amorality, with its sprinkle of old-fashioned Top 40 representation for a hint of “acting his age” — which for Obama, like most people his age these days, means being an overgrown teenager with an occasional nostalgic streak — sits one glaring anomaly: John Coltrane’s “Blue Train.” Give me a break. Perhaps if Obama, in his early days, had followed that path, which is to say if he had traced his pop blackness back into the noblest and most elegant structures of its development, he might have actually matured into a man of some substance, or at least a hint of mature reality. Instead, his fake heart flowed, and continues to flow, in the direction of whatever looks cool right now, whatever the perpetual pubescent boys of today’s dregs of “black entertainment” are selling — whatever will keep him relevant in that way today’s stunted children all desire to be relevant, i.e., the way of the foam floating on the crest of whatever polluted wave happens to be washing ashore this week. If he had actually listened to Coltrane and heard him, and heard Monk, and heard Ellington, he would never have become a shill and sucker for the pimping punks of rap thuggery, and more importantly, would never have become what he, Barack Obama, ultimately is in American history, namely the man who wasn’t there.

by Hughes Mearns (who actually understood the concepts of rhyme and meter)

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there!
He wasn’t there again today,
Oh how I wish he’d go away!

When I came home last night at three
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall,
I couldn’t see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door…

Last night I saw upon the stair,
A little man who wasn’t there,
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away….


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