Mariam Abdel-Razek

If I have retained one addiction from my teens going into my twenties, it’s my strange obsession with playlists. Currently, my number of Spotify playlists stands at an almost depressing 132, because honestly, I can’t seem to stop: I can make a playlist for a tube journey, a run, a study session, a wedding, four weddings, a funeral... you name it – I’ve probably made it.

The thing is, playlists are wonderful. Like photos, those strange things that can prompt a myriad of memories with one snapshot, playlists are, nowadays, how we memorialise ourselves. I’ve made playlists for journeys and events, but also people and places, and often I’ve found myself listening to them over to try and recapture something of how I felt the summer after I finished my GCSEs, or tasted my first beer. With that in mind, I’ve come to look at the playlists that I made this summer with a keenness to think about why I put together the songs I did.

“The sound of my summer ended up being far more joyful and varied than I had expected because it wasn’t just my summer or my sound.”

This summer, for all of July and even most of June, I listened to music, mostly, alone – in my room or through headphones or in the shower. Then, in August, I moved to Edinburgh for the month to live in a flat with seven of my friends, and suddenly I didn’t know a moment’s rest. I barely had time alone at all, let alone a second to plug in my headphones. When I listened to music, it wasn’t for my ears only: it was through a speaker, shaking the walls and the high ceiling of our flat’s living room.

Mariam Abdel-Razek

I became anxious. Like most people, I had playlists that were for me, and playlists that were for public consumption (though there was a good amount of crossover – I don’t believe in guilty pleasures), but sometimes neither of them seemed to hit the spot. “I’m not really in the mood for this song,” a friend would say over the sound of Chet Baker’s voice. But what if I was, and I was here first? Besides, I thought Chet Baker was cool, kind of. Wasn’t jazz back in now, or was that last summer? Or, “I can’t concentrate with that in the background.” But this is my concentration playlist. How can you not concentrate to a concentration playlist?

As my (very, very fun, for the record) summer wore on, it started to highlight a couple of things to me: firstly, that there was actually no such thing as a people-pleasing song (one person will always hate it), and secondly that, when it came to music, I was probably a bit of a wanker. I was used to controlling the AUX cord and using my speaker at a house party, and to be honest I’d gotten kind of weird about it. Instead, my playlist began to look a little more eclectic. Eventual favourites included:

“Subside”, Eloise

The week before I left for Edinburgh was the hottest London summer on record, and Eloise got me through it. Off the back of her spot supporting indie-star-turned-Spotify-darling Bruno Major on his innumerable tours, the singer-songwriter has developed a niche but strong following, and rounds off her first E.P. with this effortlessly cool expression of a very big crush (if there’s such a thing). Guitar layerings, subtle harmonies and a sexy bassline make for perfect poolside listening.

“Happiness”, The Pointer Sisters

My knowledge of The Pointer Sisters is about as extensive as anyone’s (i.e. not very), but their exhilarating brand of soul is undeniable. I heard this track used in an Edinburgh show that I fell in love with, and I fell in love with the song too. Bonus points for the first 45 seconds – just vocals and a piano – before the beat kicks in.


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“Shake It Off”, Mariah Carey

Is there any noughties comeback more crucial than that of Mariah Carey? It’s forgotten in favour of (a) the similarly-named but far inferior hit by Taylor Swift, and (b) the show-stealing “We Belong Together”, found on the same excellent album (2005’s The Emancipation of Mimi), but this minimalist post-breakup track — production made up almost entirely by sparse chords and seductive backing vocals – was snuck into almost every pres queue by a Mariah Carey super-fan friend of mine, and honestly, I wasn’t mad about it.

“boyfriend”, Ariana Grande with Social House

Maybe the way Ariana Grande is taking over our lives is a little bit terrifying – I struggle to remember one day this summer where I didn’t hear her playing over some kind of public speakers – but hats off to this pitch-perfect pop, with an almost addictive bridge leading into a simple and insanely catchy hook.

“Lingerie”, Lizzo

Lizzo just took a DNA test and she’s 100% THAT overplayed bitch. She might be every white person’s wet dream to play in a trashy club, but she’s also really very good, and this saucy, stripped back number proves it.

“Physical”, Olivia Newton-John

I counted this song featuring in at least three sketches I saw at the Fringe, and while I remember them all quite vividly, what I tend to think about when listening to this song is that it’s 80s pop at its best: sex, horns, and guitar solos. I also struggle to move past my discovery this summer of the fact that my friend is her third cousin once removed (a distant but crucial relation).

“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”, Elton John and Kiki Dee

After watching a friend do an excellent impression of a robot singing it, this triumph of a duet now never fails to put a smile on my face. Not that it wasn’t insanely upbeat in the first place – the major key and surprisingly fast BPM make for a song that breaks the scales on happiness and danceability.

“Love Is a Beautiful Thing”, Vulfpeck featuring Theo Katzmann and Monica Martin

The ever underrated Vulfpeck, who have attained cult status with funk fans around the globe, deliver a perfectly tender meditation on heartbreak, complete with sorrowful alto sax solo and tinkling Wurlitzer chords. Putting on this song whilst making dinner in the kitchen was like getting under a blanket on a cold day, and sometimes it was all anyone needed.

Mariam Abdel-Razek

Aside from those seven highlights, my eventual Edinburgh playlist (aptly titled “omg!!!!! brexit is real and i drink oat milk now”) had only twenty-odd more songs on it, surprisingly short for a playlist of mine. But even so, what it lacked in length it made up for in diversity. The sound of my summer ended up being far more joyful and varied than I had expected because it wasn’t just my summer or my sound. Instead, like the voices of my friends when they stumbled into our flat at three in the morning after a silly night out in Bristo Square, different sounds overlapped and mixed over each other. My favourite songs shifted over to make space for more than my usual choices – songs we listened to at pres, songs I heard in shows, songs people asked me to put on, songs my friends sang in the shower. Maybe it made for more eclectic fare, but it fused memory with sound in a way I knew was exactly what playlists are for.