Establishment hipsters Barack and Michelle Obama ply their trade. Is that a bad thing?
By Barack and Michelle Obama
  • INTRO: The Blurred Lines Between Politics, Entertainment and Celebrity
  • PLAYLIST: Michelle Obama (exclusively) on Spotify 
  • PLAYLIST: Barack Obama on Spotify and Youtube
  • VIDEO: Comedian Sarah Cooper does Trump
Michelle and Barack Obama each released Summer 2020 music playlists this month


Establishment hipsters Barack and Michelle Obama ply their trade. Is that a bad thing?

We live in an off balance era where politics, entertainment and celebrity commingle in curious ways. 

The last four years have seen some of the most pointed and informed commentary about US politics featured on late night talk show TV. Ostensible comedic hosts like Trevor Noah or Stephen Colbert deliver their opening spiels with searing attacks on the political status quo. President Donald Trump offers absurd stand-up comedy by simply giving an interview. You might see him in person or with hilarious comedian Sarah Cooper acting as his stand in.

The Obamas’ Role in the Media Universe

In this warped media universe, establishment hipsters Barack and Michelle Obama occupy a special niche. 

With grace and erudite articulation, the duo stand in contrast to current day mayhem offering a glimmer of hope that better minds may prevail. As stars of the US centre-right political and economic elite, the former White House residents have embraced new media alongside the traditional, lucrative speakers circuit to keep food on the table and pay university tuition for their two daughters. The couple have an estimated combined net worth of $70 million.

In 2018 the Obamas announced the formation of their production company, Higher Ground, and a multiyear deal with Netflix to produce “a wide range of fiction and non-fiction signature productions for all audiences including scripted, unscripted and documentary series, as well as full-length features and documentaries,” according to the streaming services’ release.

In July, Michelle Obama launched an exclusive nine-week podcast series on streaming service Spotify.

Boosting the Brand with a Spotify Playlist 

Both Obamas have chosen the music playlist as one extension of their brand. Former president Obama issued his first sets in 2015 when the White House joined Spotify. He’s put together lists – sometimes with his wife – each year since. Last week, on the eve of the US Democrat convention, he posted a 53-song Summer 2020 playlist on Spotify featuring a wide range of old and new artists, some of whom appeared during the four-day online party gathering.

Michelle Obama issued a 41-song set earlier this month to accompany her podcast. It’s a companion piece to her recent workout playlist. In a statement she said, “Excited to share with you a new Spotify playlist inspired by the first season of my new podcast. It’s filled with incredible new artists and a whole lot of #BlackGirlMagic. I hope you’ll give it a listen and follow some of these terrific musicians.”

Does this matter?

So, are their playlists worth listening to? And, do they matter?

With reservations, yes. And yes. Neither of these offerings stray much outside the mainstream. But each features music with an underlying social conscience by artists aiming to make a difference. Both lists introduce worthwhile new music many of us have never heard before.

No matter what you think of mainstream politicians and former White House residents doing business, efforts that help raise artist profiles are to be commended. Especially during the pandemic which has kneecapped too many livelihoods in the cultural world. And while Beyoncé or Frank Ocean probably don’t need the boost, lesser known artists like Saskatchewan’s Andy Shauf are grateful to be included.

“It’s cool to think that Obama, or the Obamas together, have listened to my music,” Shauf told Canadian Press this week. “It’s a really nice feeling to think my music has gone that far.”

Kurated is a music sharing project.
Stay tuned,
Kris Sig Plastic V3

22 August 2020


Illustration by Jack Dylan

Barack Obama’s Mix

The former president’s broad, 53-song compilation leans heavily towards contemporary R&B, hip-hop and funk by artists of colour with notable veterans including Common, Rihanna, Drake, John Legend and Jennifer Hudson. Relative newcomers like Billie Eilish, H.E.R., Maggie Rogers, HAIM and PARTYNEXTDOOR are also tagged.

The set also has political edge with the Chicks’ Gaslighter, Billy Porter’s cover of Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth, Common’s Forever Begins, Outkast’s Liberation and Jason Isbell’s Be Afraid.

He also adds a few legacy acts including Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, Otis Redding, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, Nina Simone and John Coltrane.

It’s a cool and engaging listen.

Michelle Obama’s Mix

The former first lady’s mix is focused on women artists of colour singing mostly R&B, hip-hop, funk, synth-pop. With the musical and gender focus, the set is less varied than that of her husband while it’s likely to appeal to her intended female audience. 

The playlist features music by established stars like Beyoncé and Erykah Badu as well as relative newcomers Sudan Archives and H.E.R. It also features a significant number of lesser known women artists.

It’s an easy listen.