Playlists are the sixth love language


Josh Ilano, Staff Writer

If I go into my Spotify library, past the pristinely curated monthly compilations, Midwest emo’s greatest hits and various high school time capsules, there is one folder that is sacrosanct, labeled “For Her.” It’s the holy folder (yes, you can make folders of playlists on Spotify) containing all of the playlists I’ve made for my partner. 

A playlist of thoughtfully sequenced and curated music is one of the most elegant things a person can make for a loved one. To find a song holding an emblematic title that describes a moment you shared. To find a song with the title of their name precisely how they spell it. To mention a song you enjoy in passing and find it as the first song billed on their playlist. I’ve always found making these playlists as a pure way to express how I feel, talking to her through people far more talented and well-written than I ever will be. Sharing music is an intimacy like no other. Perhaps closely propped against your iPhone’s speaker or sharing a pair of headphones, holding each other tighter at the mutual recognition of a lyric that rings true. 

We have always been creatures who’ve found music to be one of the most intimate forms of flattery, like the art of the serenade—the romantic, baroque, public proclamation of love below the windowsill. In Filipino culture, this is called Harana, wherein serenading is seen as a courtship courtesy and standard. In the contemporary geist, it informally evolved into the cassette and CD mixtape. Serenading could be imitated out of a boombox, “Say Anything”-style at your lover’s doorstep. Yet, with the modern playlist, gone is the need to learn an instrument or to record over a tape or burn a CD. Rather, it’s been democratized into a streaming login. This era of serenading is the perfect cocktail of the replayability of a mixtape and the personalization of a sung song. We’ve been bestowed a boundless music library across time and the world. 

What’s beautiful about the accumulation of these playlists is how they present themselves as little letters. Just as you could read back old letters, you can look at these playlists as an unfolding story of your relationship. When you didn’t want to come off too strong, so the first one is the shortest of them all, with not much to read into. Then, when comfort and infatuation have grown, you begin to tiptoe into songs of the sweeter Faye Webster-adjacent variety. But when you know it but are too afraid to say it, you exclusively skirt around songs that explicitly say, “I love you,” a task that is actually much more difficult than one would expect. There are the special times when you find yourselves apart, wherein sending a playlist is like shooting up a flare of “I love you, I miss you.”

With each playlist, your tastes develop and homogenize; the abundance begs for at least a few songs to be repeated. Just like a letter, you can open up the first ones and have your brain hug the words of whoever your tastes were at the time. Have Jeff Buckley, Alex Turner or Frankie Vallie serenade you through a lustful time machine. It’s the indirect puzzles that are made for future versions of you to see—presented by the lovely puzzle of remembering what prompted you to put the songs that you did. When these playlists are made, it’s seeing you and your partner more than just when they’re beside you, but instead, seeing them in all that is life. In their ears when they walk to class or at the gym. They disrupt their rotation to fit yours in as well. These songs carry your wishes and whisper across the city. 

As the relationship grows and becomes ever more defined, so will the beauty of it all.  Your first mixes will evolve from throwbacks to retro to vintage. These playlists are reminders of the spark that inspired you to keep replying to their texts and obsess over your hair in the mirror. They’re more than just songs, they’re proclamations of love.