My little brother and I used to share a Spotify account — I paid for a premium Spotify account, and when I would go to listen to music, I would discover that a little boy up in a tree somewhere was currently listening to “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz.
I remember the day he asked me if we could share an account. He discovered the limitations of a free account, pushing his stubby fingertips against the deactivated replay button, wanting to listen to “Stressed Out” for the sixth time. He didn’t ask to use my account directly. Instead, he wandered around the house, dragging the bottoms of his “Star Wars” pajamas across itchy brown carpet, moaning about the limits of a free account.
I caved. Yes, I gave in partially to quiet him. But mostly, I loved that he wanted to listen to music this bad. I loved that, like me, all he wanted to do was sit in his room, oversized headphones cupping his tiny ears, and be totally consumed by the smooth beats and catchy lyrics that laced his favorite songs. I took his phone, opened the app and logged into my account.
Henry and I struck up a deal. Guidelines were set for him to use my account… and immediately ignored.
He was not allowed to be on my Spotify when I was driving home from school. This was when I needed music the most. The long, smoggy drive in my Fiat, electricity running low, traffic bumper to bumper, was only tolerable if Devendra Banhart, Ice Cube or Ms. Lauryn Hill were blasting into the stale car air. Yet, almost every day like clockwork, I would get in my car, plug the aux cord into my phone, turn the volume up and be confronted by “You’re Welcome” from “Moana” or “Goofy Goober Rock” from “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” screaming out of my speakers.
He was not allowed to save songs to my library. I wanted my library to be a pure collection of my favorites, something I could calmly listen to without having to move a finger to skip a song. Yet, while shuffling through it, I found myself having to skip at least three Imagine Dragons songs to get to the Otis Redding ballad I wanted to play.
Driving late at night, a friend would pass the aux cord to me. Opening my Spotify, “Instant Crush” by Daft Punk would blare through the speakers, shocking all of us and earning me hours’ worth of ridicule. My “Your Top Songs of 2017” playlist was a frantic assortment of alt-J, Elliott Smith, Twenty One Pilots, Noname and Kidz Bop.
For Christmas, my dad bought Spotify’s family plan and thus, Henry got his own Spotify account. Now, the only thing that reminds me of him — that he was once pausing my music from his phone and filling my most recent searches with bad pop songs — is a playlist titled “Rock Songs for Henry,” which I cannot bring myself to delete.
Looking through this playlist, I find his classic anthems. “Get Lucky,” “Party in the U.S.A.,” “Take Me to Church” and “Heathens” were some of the songs that Henry played on repeat, making up breakdance moves to them and memorizing all the lyrics.
What surprises me, what makes me smile and wish he was still sharing an account with me are the other songs I find in this mix. Hidden between the titles of top chart songs that he loved are songs that I shared with him. I played “Tu vuò fà l’americano” by Renato Carosone for him after picking him up from a playdate. He energetically recounted everything he and his friend did to the beat of the saxophone. My mom and I would dance full-out to “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra in our living room, acting out the dramatic lines and drumming in the air as he watched us. When it was my turn to play a song on the road trip to Joshua Tree, playing Russian roulette with the aux, “Buttered Popcorn” by Diana Ross and the Supremes was the song I elected to blast through the speakers.
All these songs found their way to his playlist. While he was taunting and frustrating me, he was learning from my music taste and developing his own. I may have taught him a few things about music. But his eccentric taste has influenced me, too. I realized that just because Kidz Bop is ridiculous doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to listen to. I realized that folk music is not necessarily better than pop. There’s plenty of music out there. Why limit yourself to just some of it?
Now, when I listen to my library on shuffle and a song like “Wonderful Life (Mi Oh My)” from the “Angry Birds” soundtrack comes on, I don’t skip it. I let it play.
Maisy Menzies writes the Thursday arts & entertainment column on milestone moments experienced through art. Contact her at [email protected].