In Praise of Barack Obama, Music Critic

President Obama and the first lady, Michelle Obama, center, with performers at the White House in 2015. (Credit...Amanda Lucidon/White House)

The New York Times

The former president’s annual year-end playlist never fails to delight.

In recent years, one unlikely [music] critic has emerged whose year-end list I find myself coveting: Barack Obama, who every December issues deliriously geeky inventories that catalog his favorite pop songs, books and films from the year. (His 2019 list is due any day now. He also issues “summer playlists” that include older songs.) His erudite book choices fall under his professional purview, and his movie picks seem fine enough. But Mr. Obama’s music lists — unruly, spiked with surprises and a tad quirky — can truly sing.

As it turns out, the former president’s ears really do protrude outward, swooping up a generous hodgepodge of genres and styles: hip-hop, rock (“dad” and otherwise), R&B and more. My favorite entry comes in his 2017 list, delivered as a nerdy asterisked addendum: “Bonus,” he writes. “‘Born in the U.S.A.’ by Bruce Springsteen (not out yet, but the blues version in his Broadway show is the best!).”

Regardless of any feelings about the recent leader of the free world transitioning into a Nick Hornby protagonist, Mr. Obama makes a knockout music critic. Putting together these year-end lists is no picnic. When staff positions compelled me to assemble them, the task reliably bedeviled me. Year after year, I would cavalierly shun entire musical movements, turn my nose up at anything hinting of trendiness and punish personal favorites if they fell short of masterpieces.

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