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‘The Playlist’ Review: A Real Look into Spotify’s Climb to Fame

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Netflix’s new docudrama “The Playlist” opens with a scene of Daniel Ek (Edvin Endre), founder of Spotify, running up onto a stage as a crowd cheers for him in the background. But this is not always how Ek was perceived by the public.

“The Playlist” not only focuses on the creation of Spotify but also dives into the nuances of Daniel Ek’s childhood that led him to reinvent the music industry to be accessible for everyone.

As viewers get a front row seat to Ek’s childhood, we learn that he could barely afford to buy music growing up and he never wanted anyone else to feel that embarrassment and pain. At the time, there was a music pirating website but it wasn’t very fast, and there was no way to organize the music you enjoyed listening to. Ek decided he would create the most efficient and user-friendly music streaming platform he could think of.

At the start of the series, Ek is painted as a Robin Hood-like character in the music industry. However, this image is quickly ruined due to one crucial flaw in Ek’s plan: Although Spotify allows consumers to access music for free, it pays artists close to nothing. Thus despite his initially altruistic vision, the founder of Spotify quickly turned into a money-hungry titan.

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However, this switch is portrayed quite abruptly within the context of the show, leaving viewers questioning not only Ek’s intentions, but also the show’s writing. Did Ek really care about music accessibility? Or was this angle just a ploy to boost his public image? It is unclear whether the lack of clarity surrounding these questions is an intentional choice by the writers or simply a hole in the storyline.

Nevertheless, the docuseries succeeds in illustrating the complexities of this situation, showing both Ek’s success and others’ sorrows due to Spotify’s growth. This two-sided narrative viewpoint makes it difficult for audiences to pick a side: Who should be prioritized, the consumers or the creators? Is there a way to balance these interests without going bankrupt?

Something unique about this series was the raw emotion seen throughout the story displayed by Edvin Endre’s performance as Ek: His stress levels can be felt through the screen. Viewers will surely feel Ek’s anxiety in the show’s tense moments, such as when his musician friend calls him out for stealing her money and ruining the music industry.

Furthermore, the series is captivating because its subject matter — Spotify — is familiar and personal to the audience. Ek worked his team insanely hard to build the app that was so fast that it was theoretically supposed to break the Internet; however, it was for the benefit of the user experience.

Despite its strengths, “The Playlist” feels a bit too dense at times. In addition to the main plotline, there is a continuous lawsuit going on due to Spotify's business model of distributing artists’ music to consumers for free and aspects of this chaos become quite confusing at times in combination with the moral dilemma presented to the audience.

Indeed, there are almost too many things going on in Daniel Ek’s life for viewers to follow. Creating some sort of flowchart or taking notes is majorly helpful if you truly want to analyze this intriguing storyline.

Regardless of the information overload compiled in this series, “The Playlist” is nevertheless an exciting watch that provides fascinating insight into the hidden secrets of Spotify’s creation. Viewers will be reminded of this wild story every time they open the Spotify app, and it’s definitely an amazing conversation starter.

—Staff Writer Hailey E. Krasnikov can be reached at hailey.krasnikov@thecrimson.com.

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