The Playlist (Netflix) is the largely untold story of Spotify:
At the height of piracy, established heavy-hitters were fighting against where the turbulent music industry was heading. The series centers around young Swedish tech entrepreneur, Daniel Ek, and his partner Martin Lorentzon, who revolutionized a whole industry by offering free and legal streamed music around the world. It is a story about how hard convictions, unrelenting will, access and big dreams can help small players challenge the status quo by evolving the way we can all listen to music.
It’s that age-old tale of highs and lows within the tech – A Swedish coder rejected by Silicon Valley seeks to shake up the industry…
The Playlist kicks off with all the bombastic energy of a rockumentary but with a cynical nod to The Social Network that continues throughout each episode as an underlying theme.
The story is told from different perspectives, the different cogs in the machine and all from the unreliable narrator point of view.
There’s adequate commentary on Pirate Bay, its resulting legal battles and illegal torrenting as a backdrop to the story focusing on how it ultimately shaped the internets relationship with music.
The wardrobe department did a fine job and ensured Daniel consistently looks like he just woke up in a hedge.
Great performances all round which are illuminated by the episodic format. Ulf Stenberg channels Heisenberg for his part of the overall story.
The dialogue is a little on the nose and the storytelling is a bit clunky in places but it does what it has to to get the story told. The dubbing gets the job done and the voice acting is solid.
The camera work especially on episode 3 is ambitious given the modest nature of the project.
The sets look great with special focus on the corporate setting in particular, however it becomes a little too obvious and confusing when they are reused for different scenes. Unless all office corridors in Sweden look identical, (i have no frame of reference) in which case i retract my criticism.
The soundtrack is low key and for the most part lo fi and a good mix of styles, genres and emotive themes.
The message throughout is that Spotify, (specifically Daniel Ek) was uncompromising and unrelenting in its pursuit and vision of a free streaming service.
I feel like its taken a few years for the truth surrounding the platform to come to light, particularly where musician royalties are concerned. The Playlist doesn’t go far enough to illustrate how much of a cut the record companies take above the artist but it certainly opens the door to the conversation outside of “Spotify doesn’t pay the artist”.
“How is this playing? It’s supposed to download” seems to be the catchphrase of the series. Every character involved or needing convinced seems to have the same revelation. “Why is it not buffering?” This exchange happens at least once an episode and while it seems to be an important beat for the storytellers it becomes a repetitive trope a few episodes in, especially when it serves to introduce new music stings in the production.
What The Playlist does really well is that it treats the artists and the music with the reverence it deserves, while the rights and ownership are treated as business terms.
It’s important to remember that this (like most of its type) is a fictional retelling of a true story. Bearing that in mind and the unreliable narrator style it’s a very enjoyable mini series.
Essentially The Playlist is a stylish 6 part story telling the same tale from different perspectives in a format that feels like 6 short movies.
The most enjoyable thing about The Playlist is that it’s not doused in the typical brashness of American cinema. It’s not as slick or finely tuned as the Theranos story on Disney+ – The Dropout.
More than anything, it’s nice to see Winamp again.
The Playlist currently streaming on Netflix.
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