What to Do When Your Streaming Service Acknowledges That You’re Total Trash: A Rundown and Review of Apple Music Customization

“So what’s your favorite band?” 

That’s it, the only question that can cold-clock me into a fugue state where my knees feel as if they’re composed entirely of off-brand Jell-O and sweat drips from my forehead so furiously that anyone standing beneath me may experience a sensation not entirely unlike straight waterboarding. The fact of the matter is, while I’d like to say I’m proud of my music taste, I am, in part, admittedly pop-punk trash who also dabbles in mid-nineties to early two-thousands novelty hip-hop. When I put my iPod on shuffle at a party, there’s a strong likelihood that the seminal classic “Ms. New Booty,” by legendary hit-maker Bubba Sparxxx may interrupt a steady stream of emo ballads from the earliest days of the new millenium.

It is what it is. This is my lot in life. The final step is acceptance.

So when Apple announced a free trial of their personalized streaming service (aptly, though perhaps not overly creatively, called Apple Music), I was equal parts ecstatic and apprehensive. Would Apple Music have the sentience to see through my self-inflated musical ego and judge me?

Upon first agreeing to the Terms of Service for the trial, which I obviously combed through and read with great intent, purpose, and understanding and most certainly did not blindly click through without so much as scanning a single word, Apple provided a series of hot pink cheery little circles, each inscribed with a genre of music. The site saucily (was that a pizza-centric pun? You betcha. #dailyslicesignature) begged me to tell an unseen “us” what I was into. (That’s a third date question, Apple.) But with reckless abandon, I began to select my favorites and remove the ones I don’t care for.

In this case, I “loved” (double-clicked for those of you following at home) rock, alternative, indie, oldies, and classic rock, while tossing country, gospel, and Latin, genres that I’m not really a fan of.

So at this point, if you’re anything like me, you may be asking yourself, “Self, how the h-e-double-hockey-stick is Apple going to make me cohesive playlists from my vague and scattered taste in music?” And that’s where the second part of Apple Music’s customization feature kicks in, with a fun round of musical speed-dating.

Essentially, based on the selections I made in genres, Apple suggested a bunch of bands and artists, asking me to choose my personal favorites.

Phish? Just *how* funky do you think I am, Apple?!?!

Initially, I was sort of disappointed. With the exception of Presley and the Kinks, I wouldn’t really call any of these groups “favorites.” Sure, I like a bunch of Jimi Hendrix and Sonic Youth tracks, but was I really willing to commit to calling them “favorites” based on these lukewarm Greatest Hits affections?!? Was I ready for that level of committment?!?! (At this point I should probably mention that I overthink absolutely everything and that this two-step process took me far longer than I will ever be willing to admit.)

After experiencing that wholly unnecessary bout of anxiety and uncertainty based on the declarative, decisive picking of favorites, I noticed a button to the left of the first batch of suggestions. I clicked on a few offerings (Elvis Presley and the Kinks, in case you’re curious) to keep ’em in the running as I circled through another round of artists. Eventually, after mounting trials and tribulations, I wound up with a solid group of artists that I felt adequately represented my taste in music.

Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 8.57.28 PM
The Smiths? Oh Apple. Be still my mopey, melancholy little heart, you know me so well.

I was proud of this well-adjusted group of very talented musicians. Was it possible that I flew under Apple’s radar? Were they impressed by my exquisite taste in classic rock, oldies, and alternative icons? (Essentially, the question I’m asking here is, “But will they find out about my terrible taste in music or am I a tech wizard that managed to out-smart the computer like teenage Matthew Broderick that time he saved the world from nuclear annihilation?” Wait a second..is it totally outdated to make a WarGames reference? That line would’ve killed in nineteen eighty-three!)

The answer is no. And therein lies the brilliance of Apple Music. When I first began to get suggestions for playlists, albums, and artists, I was slightly disappointed in the one-note lack of variety and overall skim-the-surface nature of the offerings. After all, if I’ve already told you Pink Floyd is one of my favorite bands, is it really that much a a stretch to provide Dark Side of the Moon as a suggested listen? It was all too repetitive, too obvious, and too likely that I already had that very album sitting in my iTunes library anyway.

Over the next few days, the unique stylings of Apple Music came together for me. Based on my selected genres and artists, coupled with my frequent listening habits, the service came through with some stellar recommendations alongside some reminders that, no matter how hard I tried to conceal it, I was still a tween scene queen at heart. “Intro To…” playlists allowed me a sampling of a suggested band’s hits while “Deep Cuts,” permitted me to delve a little further into the musical canon of artists I had previously proclaimed to be amongst my favorites. Playlists featured old favorites and new cuts alike from artists like Cage the Elephant, Modest Mouse, Elliot Smith, Sufjan Stevens, Talking Heads, Radiohead, The Front Bottoms, even oddball obscurities like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

And then I saw it, like a rough amongst the diamonds, Cobra Starship’s two-thousand-six release While the City Sleeps, We Rule the Streets. I looked both ways, my eyes shifting to see if I was alone. I hit shuffle, my ears filling with the beats and goofy lyrics that entirely shaped my adolescent days. It was one of the first albums of my very own, a record indicative of me forming my own tastes in lieu of those (admittedly very, very awesome) adopted affections for classic rock and eighties alternative my parents had instilled in me at a young age. I played the album in its entirety, surprised at my recollection of every single lyric and intonation. (Also, it turns out Church of Hot Addiction is still a very, very catchy song and I am not embarrassed in the least to admit that I am currently blaring it at top volume as I write this article.) Apple Music had managed to chart out my every evolution, every shift in taste, no matter how abrupt or ever so slightly mortifying. Essentially, it captured the music that made me…well…me. The music that understood me when times seemed dark and the tracks that pulled my lips up at their corners while friends cheered around me, a song for every milestone, my melodic growing pains.

Truly, it was a personalized streaming service.

And even if your personality is something along the lines of mine, which is most likely best described as, “part time angsty adolescent, part time mopey middle-aged sad-sack,” Apple Music has just the playlist for you.

I realize that a satirical, sarcastic, self-deprecating rundown of Apple Music does not do any justice to how useful, efficient, and absolutely enjoyable the service is. In addition to the customization options and apt suggestions, it’s worth noting that, with Apple Music, it’s possible to listen to nearly any song you could possibly dream up or remember. And if you should really dig that album? You can use iCloud to save those jams right onto your phone from offline listening so you don’t run up that data plan or exhaust your battery. A streamlined and more expansive version of Spotify, Apple Music is sleek and smart and although it’s still working out the kinks, it’s a staple for anyone who appreciates a new favorite, a throwback jam, and anything in between.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an entire playlist of Will Smith’s Greatest Hits to stream.

No shame.

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