Photo by Jody Rogac
By Gil Kaufman
When you think of what's on David Byrne's playlist (if you're the type who does such things), chances are you expect it to be filled with rare Brazilian funk from the 1970s, electronic esoterica and Talking Heads deep cuts. But click on the rock icon's "Pop" playlist for May and you're likely to find a lot of songs that are in your personal rotation as well.
"In my world, certain people look down their noses at pop music. I believe they consider it inauthentic, pandering, manufactured and lacking any intention other than being a 'hit.' Much of that is true, but of course there are many exceptions—great songs that speak to their times and also become hits," he writes on his site in an essay setting up a 31-track list that includes pop nuggets from Post Malone ("I Fall Apart"), Sam Smith ("Stay With Me"), Skrillex and Diplo (feat. Justin Bieber) ("Where Are Ü Now"), Britney Spears ("How I Roll"), Drake ("Hotline Bling"), Sia ("Chandelier"), Carly Rae Jepsen ("Call Me Maybe"), Halsey ("Bad at Love"), Camila Cabello ("Havana"), Rihanna ("FourFiveSeconds") and Selena Gomez ("Hands to Myself"), among others.
"Many of the songs here were made by committee. There are often multiple writers, producers and mixers who collaborate to shape the final product," writes Bryne, who recently earned his highest charting album ever on the Billboard 200 with American Utopia. "They’re very complicated collaborations. Does the singer, the artist, have a hand in it too? I’m not privy to this process. John Seabrook’s recent book, The Song Machine, gives more details, but I believe the artist and their managers do get to vet what is pitched to them. But they for sure get leaned on by the record and production companies that are part of the creative process. The artist and their reps have an idea of what seems right for themselves at that moment—it might be something fun, something provocative or something that signals a change in direction. The choice of song and producer tells a story."
Here's the thing, most of the songs on Byrne's list are "total earworms" for him, and while they're not all current and are in different styles, they have one thing in common: "one has to admire the skill and craft involved in the creation of these hooks, the incremental dribbling out of little surprises and the production that holds your attention."
Check out Bryne's playlist below.