Mix It Up

To Shuffle or Not To Shuffle?

If there’s one woman in the machinery of music to change the industry, it’s Adele. As someone who can only be described as the global superstar to end all global superstars, few hold the power and influence that she does – particularly in the golden age of streaming where the meaning of a superstar can be so fickle.

It was with the recent release of her fourth studio album, 30, however, that she decided to flex those muscles. Striking an agreement with leading music streaming service Spotify, Adele made a request that could change the way in which we listen to music, at a time where variety is so important for consumers.

In a tweet posted to her official account on the album’s release date last month, Adele made the revelation that Spotify has removed the default shuffle button when playing her album. She shared: “This was the only request I had in our ever-changing industry! We don’t create albums with so much care and thought into our track listing for no reason. Our art tells a story and our stories should be listened to as we intended. Thank you Spotify for listening“.

Lady Gaga previously encouraged fans to listen to her latest album in order so as to hear the “true story”, while Miley Cyrus reportedly said similar in regards to her 2013 release, “Bangerz.”

A spokesperson for Spotify soon after released a statement confirming the removal of the shuffle button at the “Easy on Me” songwriters’ request, revealing that they had indeed rolled out a premium feature that makes ‘play’ the default button; while they added that users are able to shuffle the music if they so wish, it would now play an album from beginning to end, in the way the artist had intended when they pieced the tracklist together. Ultimately, it now requires more fiddling to shuffle her, or any, album, as the feature has been rolled across the whole app.

Now, Adele isn’t the only one holding the belief that straightforward ‘play’ trumps ‘shuffle’: Lady Gaga previously encouraged fans to listen to her latest album, “Chromatica”, in the order the tracklist determined so as to hear the “true story”, while Miley Cyrus reportedly said similar in regards to her 2013 release, “Bangerz.” Neither of them managed to sway Spotify into removing the feature as default, however, meaning Adele’s appeal has had an unprecedented effect.

Such a move has prompted a myriad of highly-opinionated responses from fans and listeners, with a rather even split between those for and against the shuffle feature. One twitter user praised the decision, positively comparing the move to the sensory experience of listening to an album on vinyl, from start to finish in the order it was presented; but others across social media have criticized the recommendation as “controlling” and others “boring”, suggesting that it limits the album and artist. No matter which way you see it, the opinions are strong and divided.

Lyrical genius as seen in this narrative arc may be missed if it weren’t for the wonders of shuffle, who can place these tracks closer together and highlight the impressive, carefully-embellished connection between songs.

On one hand, nobody knows and understands their music like its creator: these artists have spent months, very often years, creating a dozen or so tracks that very often speak incredibly personally and honestly about their own lives, touching on their struggles and the journeys that have undertaken between eras. Particularly for an artist like Adele, renown for pouring so much of her own heartbreak and experiences into her work, it is abundantly clear just how much consideration goes into any album rollout – including the tracklist. Shouldn’t we pay her the respect of listening to the music in the way she wants us to?

But shuffle can perform wonderful feats, like highlighting storytelling parallels and unique artistic flourishes that may be lost in an always-standardized, never-changing placement. Immediately, Taylor Swift’s Grammy-nominated ninth album, “evermore,” springs to mind: track four (“‘tis the damn season”) and track eight (“dorothea”) are heavily theorized to be about the same pair of characters, each telling of the lost-to-time relationship from their own perspective. It wasn’t until shuffle placed these two tracks back-to-back that the magic of their shared universe became clear and so profoundly felt. 

Similarly, “evermore’s” sister album, “folklore,” weaves a “teenage love triangle”, formed by a trilogy of songs with overlapping characters and situations. Betty’s perspective comes through track two, cardigan; track eight and fan-favorite song, “august,” documents the experiences of ‘the other woman’, rumored to be self-titled; while James has his say on track fourteen, “betty.” Lyrical genius as seen in this narrative arc may be missed if it weren’t for the wonders of shuffle, who can place these tracks closer together and highlight the impressive, carefully-embellished connection between songs.

While it’s difficult to argue that an artists’ vision for their own work isn’t the one that matters most, on release day when their work is set out into the world, the audience takes on the responsibility of reacting to it however they see fit— whether that’s making a playlist bunching tracks together from the breadth of their discography, religiously listening to it in the order it is presented in, or shuffling to their heart’s content. Everyone’s preferred method of escape in the music they choose to listen to is unique to them and so long as multiple options are available, it’s business as normal.

From a personal standpoint, it will always be a shuffle for me – after first listening to the album in tracklist order. Shuffle’s randomized placement gives me a greater appreciation for individual tracks; sticking with Miss Swift’s folklore, my instant adoration of “mirrorball” and “august” meant that “seven”, the track sandwiched between them, went unappreciated at first. Now, it’s slowly becoming an album favorite, with the new contexts that shuffle places it in allowing for it to stand out for all the right reasons.

Plus, putting shuffle only also allows one of the all-time greatest feelings in the world: when the song you REALLY want to listen to comes on first without the hassle of finding it. What could be better?!♦

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