When Adele released her newest album it was announced that she had asked streaming music giant Spotify to remove the option to listen to her album on shuffle play. Spotify complied with her request, much to my shock some people seemed to be angry at the idea of not being able to shuffle play the album. I understood why she made the request. Albums are put together and designed to play in a certain sequence to create moods and emotional impact. Just letting an album play on shuffle removes that and takes away from the artist’s intention.
The negative reaction of some to Adele’s request made me think about a conversation I had with my friend Jordan not too long ago. I’m going to paraphrase a good bit here, so if I get the facts of this muddle up a bit, I apologize. However, the gist of the conversation is what’s important here. Jordan was telling me about “thingness” which is, in essence, about the physical representation of something. We were discussing it as it pertains to art. Movies, music, TV shows. Things that for most people no longer exist in physical realms, but just as ones and zeroes floating through the ether.
I realize before I go any deeper that I risk getting into “old man yells at cloud” territory here. I don’t wish to, but I can’t help but feel that something is very much lost in how we devalue art as a whole today. I use streaming, I don’t want you to think of me as a hypocrite. I enjoy it, but nine times out of ten, if I discover something streaming that I love, I go out and buy it in some format—typically vinyl because that’s me.
I have a music collection that I’ve been curating for my entire life. Anyone who knows me or has read this column knows how much I love music. It’s extremely central to whom I am a person. I have the very first CD I ever owned still—Paul Abdul’s “Forever Your Girl” if you’re curious. I can’t imagine making digital copies of it all, and just dumping it all in some thrift store or other shop and leaving behind things that represent such a huge part of my life.
I take comfort in it. If I woke up at four in the morning and wanted to listen to the soundtrack album to the 1994 Jim Carey film “The Mask” I can. I have it. I own it. No one can take that away from me. And that album? It’s not streaming. Less than half of the songs on that album are streaming in one form or another. Streaming isn’t a miracle cure. Not every TV show, movie, or album will be there without fail.
The other side of this, especially with music, is that if you buy the album if you own it—you are supporting the artist whose music you love far more than if you just stream it. At what point will people want to make music as a living if we continue to take the living aspect out of it? We will lose a lot. More than maybe we realize now. Adele made her album to be experienced in a certain way. If you love her and are mad she took away the option to shuffle the album, destroying the experience she has intended for you, do you love her as much as you say you do?
I’m sure are laughing at my thoughts, scoffing at it all. That’s fine, that’s like the people who deride my record and movie collection with snide comments like “You’re never going to listen to all that!” No. I’m not going to sit down one day and go through it all from A to Z. But that’s not the point. I own it. It’s mine. It’s there when I need it. It makes me happy. “Thingness” to me is not a fetishization of the physical object, but a celebration of the music that the object holds.
It’s a whole package deal that was put together with thought and care. It’s meaningful. It has depth. I feel like we could use more of that now. The tangible connection. It’s a bonus to the artist experience you’ll have listening to the music or watching the TV show or watching the movie. I hope we never lose that, but I fear we will. Think about it. See how “thingness” applies to your life. I bet it does in ways you don’t realize. See you next week.