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Tina Wang / Staff Illustrator

I lied on my first day of Music Humanities class. Our ice breaker included sharing the music we’d been listening to lately or music that we enjoy.

I said what I hoped would escape judgement: Harry Styles, particularly, his album Fine Line. Why? He’s unarguably talented, versatile, and popular—and of course is one of my favorite artists. But, contrary to my answer, the majority of what I had actually been listening to that week were a few of John Williams’s different movie scores. I wasn’t about to say that in front of the whole class, though; I preferred to lie low, knowing my music taste isn’t memorable, like a pop radio station playing in the background at a pool party.

Lying behind my preference for music scores is the truth about my use of time. Seeing the blocks of movie and television scores under my “recently played” tab on Spotify—like those for The Crown, This Is Us, and Little Women—remind me of how much time I’ve been reading, writing, studying, or doing work. With a fair amount already on my plate this semester, my “On Repeat” Spotify playlist is full of songs from these soundtracks.

If I switch to my “Repeat Rewind,” which is now home to songs I listened to over the summer, the mood is much different. Music like Harry Styles’s Fine Line frequents the playlist, showing me just how much more free time I had.

The music I listen to in the summer tends to be more light-hearted and catchy than the mostly serious, gloomy songs that populate my fall and winter playlists, turning my My Spotify into an auditory calendar of the segments of “work” and “play” in my life. And in all honesty, I look at my computer with more satisfaction when there are more recently played songs that reflect my work mindset.

So why did I lie?

Perhaps because how we spend and prioritize our time says a lot about us. That’s what makes music-themed ice breakers so intimidating—talking about music taste is revealing and requires a degree of vulnerability. If I had said in Music Hum that I had been listening to a lot of John Williams recently, to me that would have also meant admitting I had been spending most of my time sitting in my room getting work done, and that I spent very long nights reading for classes and writing discussion board posts. To me, that would have meant sharing how strong instrumentals powered me through readings without the distracting (but amazing) lyrics of a Harry Styles song.

Playlists tell stories. And in this story, my pop music filled August was not as productive as my instrumental music filled September, and part of me liked it that way even if I can’t admit it to my Music Hum class.

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Music productivity Spotify soundtracks ice breaker