Apple Music’s Classical Playlists Reinforce Stereotypes

One can argue that classical music listeners, the 1% of music fans, don’t really care for streaming services. The song/playlist model doesn’t work with this type of music. Nevertheless, I hear from lots of readers who are classical music fans and who do appreciate streaming services, and I find them useful to check out new releases, or to find an album or recording of a piece I want to hear that I’m not familiar with.

But since streaming music services focus on songs and playlists, they have to make playlists of classical music. And those playlists simply feed on tropes about classical music being good for your brain, or good to help you or babies relax. Many of the playlists on streaming services are little more than muzak, rather than an attempt to either help new listeners discover classical music, or interest classical music fans in checking out some new music.

Here’s what Apple Music shows as this week’s featured classical playlists (the screenshot is from the “new” Apple Music in the beta version of iTunes 12.5:

Featured classical playlists

You’ll note the obligatory “Classical for Study” and “Brain Work” playlists, because classical music is, well, good for studying and for working your brain. There’s a “Best of Classical Lullabies” (the title is truncated above), because classical music relaxes babies, and a “Chilled-Out Piano” because, well, it relaxes old people too. (Though I’m not sure that the Chopin mazurkas or Shostakovich preludes in the playlist are really “chilled out.”) And “Addictive Piano Melodies” is a halfway house between relaxation and actual music; it features works by a variety of composers, and many well-known tunes that you’re likely to hear in elevators.

On the plus side, there’s a “Beginner’s Guide to Classical” playlist, which has a wide range of well-known tunes that you’re likely to hear in elevators. And there’s a playlist focusing on Herbert von Karajan; interestingly, almost all of its tracks are on albums from Deutsche Gramophone, which is one of the labels on which he recorded, but far from the only one (he recorded scads of albums for EMI). So this is clearly a sponsored playlist.

Finally, there’s the “A-List: Classical” playlist; as with all genres, there is an “A-List” playlist with new releases. This would be nice if you could stream all the tracks; two of them are “unavailable.” While this sort of playlist isn’t the best way to listen to classical music – it features random movements from new albums – it does let you know what new albums have been recently released. For example, you can listen to the new Liszt album by the sad pianist:

Sad pianist

It’s really only classical music that suffers from these stereotypes. There’s no “Death Metal for Studying” playlist, though I’d wager that a lot of students do listen to that type of music when studying. There’s no “Jazz for Babies,” “Country Chill-Out,” or “Reggae for Brain Work,” though I’d argue that the latter would be totally rad.