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If Playlists Won Elections, Kamala Harris Would Be an Easy Frontrunner

Joe Biden may be up in the early polls, but Kamala Harris has taken a commanding lead in the all-important presidential playlist primary

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This past Friday, Kamala Harris, the Senator from California and a Democratic presidential hopeful, released her summer playlist, a collection of songs she’s “listening to while traveling around country.” Said Harris, “I’m a firm believer that we all need to find the time to dance, to sing and to bop our heads a little, so I’m sharing the songs I’m listening to in the car out on the campaign trail this summer. Whether we’re driving from Sacramento to Reno or Dubuque to Chicago, this playlist always lifts me up.”

Related: RS Politics 2020 Democratic Primary Policy Guide

If Spotify has a Progressive-Presidential-Candidate-Core algorithm, the Harris team is on it. Indeed, her 46-song collection of favorites is full of upbeat, uplifting summer jams with an affirming message of personal and communal optimism and big-tent positivity. It’s got recent R&B hits like Ella Mai’s “Boo’ed Up” and Khalid’s “Talk,” old-school funk classics by Prince, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, and Funkadelic. It also contains two Bob Marley tunes, Latin pop from Ozuna and Bad Bunny, and loads of feminist spirit from Ariana Grande, Beyonce, India.Arie, and Betty Who.

The list opens with “Work That” by Mary J. Blige, in which the hip-hop soul queen exhorts young female acolytes, future political candidates included, not to “worry bout who’s saying what” and “just be yourself,” then moves on to Lizzo’s gutsy “Like a Girl,” the first line of which is: “Woke up feeling like I just might run for president / Even if there ain’t no precedent.” (Harris/Lizzo 2020? Let’s do this!)

In 2017, Harris curated a playlist for African American Music Month. Recently, though, she backed into a meaningless micro-gaffe when she listed Tupac and the Notorious BIG as artists she listened to in college, despite having graduated from Howard University before either artist’s career took off. A more transparently thirsty politician (Marco Rubio, perhaps) might have used a “summer campaign trail playlist” to do a little image-reconstruction and prove how down you were with the Ultramagnetic MCs and Schoolly D. Harris’ list instead moves forward, doubling down on the lineage by including Chance the Rapper and Tyler, the Creator, as well as DJ Khaled’s moving “Higher,” which features John Legend and the late Los Angeles rapper-activist Nipsey Hussle, adventurous Washington, D.C., artist GoldLink’s “Dark Skinned Woman.” It’s actually relatively light on beloved classics, evoking happy memories of youthful partying (Salt-N-Peppa’s “Push It”) and political awareness (A Tribe Called Quest’s 1990 masterpiece, “Can I Kick It,” in which the legendary crew famously celebrated the ascendance of New York City’s first black mayor, David Dinkins.)

All these picks feel organic, part of a fun, wide-open and easygoing historical conversation where Phil Collins’ air-drum monument “In the Air” sidles up next to Fifties R&B growler LaVern Baker’s “Soul on Fire,” followed by Alice Coltrane’s spiritualist out-jazz exploration “Journey In Satchidananda” and Chance’s “Groceries,” a sweet, buoyant ode to chips, dips, Minute Maid, and other everyday pleasures. Not a bad run of tunes to kick back to as the campaign tour bus rolls from Chicago to Dubuque, and not a bad aspirational vision of America either. In a Democratic field with more than a couple pop-culture-aware candidates casting a wide net, there’s bound to be some overlap. To wit, both Harris’ playlist and the one Pete Buttigieg shared this spring feature retro-funk queen Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings.

Candidate playlists have been around a while now. In 2005, George W. Bush revealed the “contents of his iPod,” heavy on country and boomer rock. Bill Clinton revealed his jazz and Sixties-centric one in 2011, and the Hilary Clinton campaign put one out in 2016, full of predictably on-the-nose anthems like “Roar” by Katy Perry and that “Fight Song” song people seem to think is by Katy Perry.

Of course, the master of politician playlists was Barack Obama. The 44th president turned it into an art form, releasing several thoughtfully-compiled lists imbued with chill refinement and casual cross-cultural synthesis; his 2018 year-end hit list included Nashville singer-songwriter Ashley McBride, interplanetary R&B quester Janelle Monae, Cardi B’s “I Like It,” and longhaired indie rock guitar hero Kurt Vile’s “One Trick Ponies.” Obama’s playlists were almost too good: Did we really live in a world where the guy who had access to the nuclear codes also sat around kicking it to Courtney Barnett? Donald Trump has yet to release any kind of favorite songs list, perhaps because he lives in a barren world impervious to joy and music of any sort.

With her latest contribution, Harris has credibly posited herself as the frontrunner for DJ in Chief in 2020. America needs many of the policies she’s promoting: a Green New Deal, high teacher pay, Medicare for all, common sense gun laws. And if Donald Trump ends up going down to a Tame Impala fan, so much the better.

Kamala Harris’ full playlist is below:

“Work That” – Mary J. Blige

“Like A Girl” – Lizzo

“Make it Better” – Anderson .Paak ft. Smokey Robinson

“Sun Is Shining” – Bob Marley & the Wailers

“Before I Let Go (Live)” – Beyoncé

“Push It” – Salt-N-Pepa

“Girl” – Destiny’s Child

“What If” – India.Arie

“Day Dreaming” – Aretha Franklin

“How Long Do I Have To Wait For You?” – Sharon Jones & The Dap- Kings

“Kiss” – Prince

“Preach” – John Legend

“Night Drive” – Ari Lennox

“Girls Like You (feat Cardi B)” – Maroon 5, Cardi B.

“Can I Kick It?” – A Tribe Called Quest

“One Nation Under A Groove” – Funkadelic

“Somebody Loves You” – Betty Who

“NASA” – Ariana Grande

“Higher” – DJ Khaled feat. Nipsey Hussle and John Legend

“Cold Sweat” – James Brown

“Pastime Paradise” – Stevie Wonder

“Let Me Rock'” – Marc Bassy (Oakland)

“Dark Skin Women” – GoldLink (DC)

“Freedom (feat. Kendrick Lamar)” – Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar

“Reachin’ 2 Much ft. Lalah Hathaway” – Anderson.Paak

“In the Air Tonight” – Phil Collins

“My Soul on Fire” – Laverne Baker

“Journey In Satchidananda” – Alice Coltrane

“Groceries” – Chance the Rapper

“Booed Up” – Ella Mai

“Talk” – Khalid

“Be Careful (clean)” – Cardi B

“Boy with Luv” – BTS ft. Halsey

“Earfquake” – Tyler, the Creator

“Ride Natty Ride” – Bob Marley and the Wailers

“Patience” – Tame Impala

“Baila Baila Baila” – Ozuna

“MIA” – Bad Bunny

“Chan Chan” – Buena Vista Social Club

“Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now” – McFadden and Whitehead

“Everybody Loves the Sunshine” – Roy Ayers

“Zulu Screams” – GoldLink

“A Change is Gonna Come” – Sam Cooke

“Toast” – Koffee

“Got to be Real” – Cheryl Lynn

“Closer” – Goapele

 

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