This post is part of Hard Refresh, a soothing weekly column where we try to cleanse your brain of whatever terrible thing you just witnessed on Twitter.
Let me tell you a story. Imagine, for a moment, you’re lying on mossy forest floors, slowly transforming into a nymph. Your fingers are turning into flower vines. Your limbs are bleeding honey and growing thick skins of sepia bark, wings sprout in between your shoulder blades. Your breath sounds like the wind. Fireflies litter the air above you.
But that's not a story. It's the full name of an extraordinarily specific Spotify playlist. And if you're wondering what exactly becoming a nymph sounds like, according to the playlist, it's a lot like the music of Hozier, Daughter, and Twenty One Pilots.
Concept playlists, mood playlists, or atmosphere playlists — whatever you call them, these auditory aesthetic wonders are a prolific yet still relatively niche corner of music streaming sites.
The ability to make and share playlists with ease — frequently via Spotify — has inspired users to go beyond the typical "chill beats to study to" model. Combining music curation with whimsically long, poetic titles and #aesthetic cover art, users evoke some pretty unique ambiances.
Have you ever felt like "a tiny dancer living in a dusty music box"? How about "it’s the year 2077 & you’re at a nightclub in tokyo with your best friend, you’re both on the run from a group of rebels but you feel safe in this little neon corner of nowhere so when a robot waiter offers you a strawberry daiquiri you accept it?" No? Well, these playlists will succeed in enveloping you in new worlds and strange stories despite using familiar sounds.
The trend of using playlists to build a kind of "sound movie" around a concept isn't particularly new — 8tracks, the premiere location for fanmixes in the '00s through the early '10s, arguably pioneered the craft. The platform is 100% playlists; with the ability to add annotated lines, users could highlight specific lyrical snippets on the list that lent themselves to the mood. Some personal favorites from back in the day include "young witch in training," "welcome to the city of future funk," and "In The Hogwarts Library."
But if you want to be whisked away to another world, another time, a different realm, nowadays Spotify is your host. The playlists themselves might not even be that unique or fantastical, as some have joked (Hozier on a playlist about running wild in the forest? How groundbreaking!). Their success depends upon the tale that users weave in under 150 words to hook the listener.
Some experiences are more universal — driving in a car filled with friends, having a gay crush but not wanting to ruin your friendship, or curling up in bed as it pours outside. Others encapsulate completely new and uh, original emotions that you never knew existed, but at the same time will make you say "big mood." Like spilling Dracula's soda, and now he wants you dead, but somehow, he still goes with you to McDonald's every Tuesday night.
If you ever want to take a transformative sort of mental break, immerse yourself in the cinematic soundscapes of mood playlists. You may find yourself feeling nostalgic for places you've never been, times you've never experienced, and emotions you've never felt. Or maybe you just like imagining what it's like to get locked in a 7/11 at 2 a.m.