Former U.S. President Barack Obama marked the end of 2017 by sharing his favorite books and songs of the year. Some conservatives took issue with Obama’s music taste, asserting that some of the songs he shared were misogynistic; conversely, some progressive outlets have praised his playlist for its social relevance.
On New Year’s Eve in 2017, Obama took to social media to share his annual literary and music preferences to followers. The former president noted that he enjoyed announcing his favorite pieces of media because it would provide a spotlight to artists.
“During my presidency, I started a tradition of sharing my reading lists and playlists,” Obama wrote on his official Facebook page. “It was a nice way to reflect on the works that resonated with me and lift up authors and artists from around the world. With some extra time on my hands this year to catch up, I wanted to share the books and music that I enjoyed the most … I hope you enjoy it and have a happy and healthy New Year.”
The former president’s reading favorites included “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles, “Sing, Unburied, Sing,” by Jesmyn Ward, and “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” by Matthew Desmond, among others. Meanwhile, his music playlist included the popular tracks “Havana” by Camila Cabello and Young Thug, “Ordinary Love (Extraordinary Mix)” by U2, and “Humble” by Kendrick Lamar.
Obama began sharing playlists of his favorite music on the streaming service Spotify in 2015. Upon leaving office, he joked that he would be interested in a career in curating music. In January 2017, Spotify cheekily issued a job vacancy tailored to the outgoing president, according to the BBC.
The advertisement did not name Obama but the job title was listed as “President of Playlists,” with the qualifications listed as “at least eight years’ experience running a highly-regard nation.”
Obama’s latest list of favorite books and music was swiftly scrutinized by culture writers. Vox writer Constance Grady asserted that the former president’s literary interests skewed towards the issues that he advanced while in office.
“Obama’s taste in books tends to run to to the award-winning and the safely literary; he rarely recommends genre titles or anything too edgy,” Grady wrote. “His selections also tend to focus on whatever he feels to be the most pressing issues in the world today, and the books he recommends for 2017 suggest that currently, those issues areclass, gender, and race in America.”
Meanwhile, Obama’s music selections drew criticism from Jared Sichel of The Daily Wire, who noted that several of the hip-hop songs in the playlist include graphic language and sexually explicit lyrics.
“Obama’s 2017 list is notable because 2017 was the year that launched the #MeToo movement. … It was the one year that maybe, just maybe, progressives would reconsider their admiration for music that will ‘wake you the f*** up,'” Sichel wrote. “After all, the things done to women in many rap lyrics … would certainly qualify them for #MeToo membership.”
Sichel added that he believed Obama’s music curation was not receiving broader criticism “because white progressives know that judging a black former president and his favorite black rappers would make for bad optics.”
Meanwhile, Refinery29 writer Courtney E. Smith praised Obama’s playlist for its diversity and accessibility to young Americans.
“One thing we can say with certainty: Obama is the only living former president who would have this much hip hop, rap, and music by POC on his radar,” Smith wrote.
Smith concluded that Obama’s media preferences gave him the appearance of “someone who understands our generation, our values, and our way of speaking.”