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Why do I still have Shazam on my phone, and what the hell are these songs?

Why do I still have Shazam on my phone, and what the hell are these songs?


The saddest music in the world

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I would describe myself as a casual Shazam user. Not that anyone outside of a marketing department would ask, "What sort of Shazam user would you say you are?" but you get the idea. The app is one of the oldest on my iPhone, and it comes in handy every now and then. Though it's never warranted regular or even semi-regular use like Facebook or Gmail. Shazam's like the needle-nose pliers of mobile apps; I don't need it often, but when I do, I'm glad I have it buried underneath everything else.

I was Shazaming Wayne Wonder

Like pliers, I don't think much about Shazam. Or at least I didn't until a recent morning cab ride to JFK. The sun was cresting over New York City, I Shazamed a song on the radio (Wayne Wonder, naturally), and then I did what I always do: I closed the app.

Am I the only person stuck in this pattern? I discover the artist and title of whatever song's playing in my vicinity; I exit Shazam; and I forget everything I just learned, because I'm in a cab — or a trendy cafe or swimwear boutique or pinball arcade or wherever else music I'm unfamiliar with is played. You can almost hear the sound of my interest whooshing away as the next song begins.

The sound of my interest whooshing away

Shazam has been tracking each of these forgotten songs of mine, presumably because its owners hope I'll return and purchase the songs on iTunes. Promotional buttons float alongside each song title, but of course I won't buy the songs. I'm a millennial, raised to believe a subscription to Spotify signals a luxurious music budget, above the plebes and philistines who suffer through commercials. If I really love something, I will buy a vinyl or a t-shirt or an art book from the band, because this is the way I engage with music these days. I digress. The point is, for the past few weeks I've known this list exists, but didn't bother to do anything with it.

Then Wayne Wonder came on my Spotify shuffle, and I did something unusual: I opened Shazam without needing to learn the name of some obscure indie song. I encourage everyone to give this a try; see what you find.

Today, I manually imported every song from my Shazam into a single Spotify playlist. There are 57 tracks in total, I've embedded them below. If I'm reading the list correctly, and it's very possible I'm not because the app lists dates without years, as if time is just some meaningless construct that binds my searches for forgotten pop rock and radio-friendly remixes, then the playlist runs in reverse chronological order, beginning last weekend and ending June 24th, 2012, the day I Shazamed "No Sex for Ben" from The Rapture. I've had the app since 2008, so I'm guessing this list ends around the last time I lost all my iPhone data.

Shazam has been tracking my forgotten songs

A couple tracks sifted loose unexpected memories, like when I Shazamed the music that preceded the recent FCC Net Neutrality meeting ("The Contender" by Menahan Street Band). On one Austin October evening, I Shazamed the twangy tune that accompanied a plate of ribs ("Southern Nights" by Allen Toussaint). Honestly though, I'm shocked by how few songs I remember Shazaming or why I Shazamed them at all. I know Best Coast, Marvin Gaye, and Crystal Castles — what are they doing here? And what was going on in my life when I searched The Psychedelic Furs and Mumford & Sons on the same day?

I want this stupid Shazam playlist to tell me something. Music is the emotional medium that so much of my life is tied to: what got me through long walks across Manhattan in my sophomore year of college, what passed my first plane trip out of the country, what played on my wedding day. At one point in the last few years, I wanted to know the name of each of these songs — enough that I'd fish the phone from my pocket and hold it as close as possible to a nearby speaker — but seeing this playlist is like reading that brilliant idea I jotted down in the middle of the night, only to find it indecipherable. I know this means something, but what?

Every few months, I notice this kind of data molding in the corners of my life. Unfinished Twitter drafts, Facebook photos tagged with people I only vaguely remember. My internet is littered with outdated post-it notes. I should probably delete Shazam. I have these apps in my life that tell me what I want to know, and they do nothing for me.