Secretary of State Antony Blinken is out with his 2021 Spotify playlist, in the spirit of other political figures (Barack Obama, for one) who’ve taken to releasing their end-of-year favorites.
Blinken’s choices actually are two lists — one an “at home” compilation of American artists, the other an “on the road” selection inspired by places he’s visited over the past year.
The “at home” list — which you can see here — includes 17 choices, including Olivia Rodrigo’s “Traitor,” Taylor Swift’s “State of Grace,” Jon Batiste’s “Freedom,” Chris Stapleton’s “You Should Probably Leave” and “Leave the Door Open” from Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak and Silk Sonic, as well as “Holy” from Justin Bieber, featuring Chance the Rapper.
The “on the road list” — available here — includes three dozen selections.
This is also a bit of a cultural and diplomatic exercise, as the selections highlight artists from different regions of the world, including those who have engaged with the State Department. For instance, Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd, singled out for “Save Your Tears,” donated $1 million to the World Relief Program to relief efforts in Ethiopia and met with U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power to discuss the humanitarian crisis there.
“Music brings people together – it transcends borders and everything else that might otherwise divide us,” Blinken wrote on Twitter. “As we close 2021, I’m sharing some of my favorite songs released this year (or recently), by artists around the world. Hope you enjoy as much as I have.”
The selections, with some background via Blinken’s office, is below:
The Weeknd, “Save Your Tears” (Canada)
The Weather Station, “Tried to Tell You” (Canada): The song is on the album Ignorance, which focuses on the climate crisis.
The Jerry Cans, “Northern Lights” (Canada): The band from Iqaluit, Nunavut, combine traditional Inuit throat singing with folk music and country rock. Blinken listened to a throat-singing performance during a virtual visit to Canada.
Carlos Vives, “La Mitad” (Columbia): The Colombian singer-songwriter-actor also contributed to the soundtrack about Colombia, Encanto.
Iza, “Brisa” (Brazil): The song takes inspiration from reggae, Afrobeats, Afro-jazz, and Nigerian and Jamaican music.
Koffee, “West Indies” (Jamaica): Koffee was the youngest person and only woman to win a Grammy for best reggae album.
Natalia Lafourcade, “Hasta la Raíz” (Mexico) The popular Latin American singer specializes in pop-rock and folk.
Minzy, “Teamo” (Republic of Korea): The song from the South Korean singer, songwriter and dancer includes Spanish, Korean and English lyrics. She met with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Seoul in July to discuss climate issues.
LiSA, “Homura” (Japan): Her songs have been featured in anime including Fate/Zero, Sword Art Online and Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba.
Six60, “Pepeha” (New Zealand): The title of the five-person band’s song is a way of introducing yourself in Māori.
Vance Joy, “Missing Piece” (Australia) The song reached platinum status in Australia.
Ben&Ben, “MAPA” (Philippines): The nine-person folk pop/pop rock band’s song, released between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, is a combination of the words “mama” and “papa.”
1da Banton, “No Wahla” (Nigeria): The song, from Godson Epelle, also known as 1Da Banton, is about always having fun despite life’s problems.
Tems, featuring Brent Faiyaz, “Found” (Nigeria): The Nigerian singer Temilade Openiyi, known as Tems, had two Top 40 entries on the Billboard Hot 100.
Bisa Kdei, “Yard” (Ghana): The music of Ronald Kwaku Dei Appiah, known as Bisa Kdei, was featured in a 2020 Netflix Christmas movie, Jingle Jangle.
Hadja Fanta Diabate, “Danger a Bamako Kabako” (Mali): Fanta, a participant in the State Department’s OneBeat Sahara program, has been dubbed the “Queen of Malian rock” by Malian press outlets.
Urban Village, “Ubaba” (South Africa): The indie folk group’s song tells the story of fathers separated from their families in the 1990s in Soweto, as part of am apartheid era regime strategy in which the men were forced to work in “the hostels,” or male-occupied working-class homes.
Fadhilee Itulya, “Aoko” (Kenya): The selection is from an album, Shindu Shi, focusing on “good time” music, a love for Africa and the African people, and inspired by the 1950s finger-picking guitar style of Omutibo.
Adele, “Hold On” (UK): The song, and the album, focuses on Adele’s divorce, motherhood and fame.
Paul Carrack, “Good and Ready” (UK) Carrack is a singer, songwriter, composer and instrumentalist.
Yola, “Barely Alive” (UK): The musician, singer and songwriter received four Grammy nominations last year.
Dua Lipa, “Levitating” (UK) Lipa was recognized as one of the 25 most influential British women of 2018 by British Vogue.
Feu! Chatteron, “Monde Nouveau” (France): The song from the French pop/rock band is the final track on their album, Palais d’argile.
Stromae, “Santé” (Belgium): The selection is one of the Belgian musician, rapper, singer and songwriter’s first songs since an extended break from the public eye.
Wincent Wiess, “Die guten Zeiten” (Germany): The song, from a signer who started on the German talent show Deutschland sucht den Superstar, ranked on the German charts.
Seinabo Sey, “Sweet Dreams” (Sweden) The artist from Stockholm was influenced by Alicia Keys and Beyoncé.
South and Central Asia
Camarob, “Safarmuhammed“ (Tajikistan) The Tajiki-language song is from one of the country’s most popular artists.
Arooj Aftab, “Mohabbat” (Pakistan): This is the lead single off of her album Vulture Prince, and it is her take on a famous ghazal, a poetry and song form that finds beauty in longing. In contrast to traditional versions, Aftab scales back the instrumentation and elongates her words.
Arijit Singh, “Eka Ekela Mon-Lofi” (India): Singh, who runs a non-governmental organization called Let There Be Light, is the most followed Asian soloist on Spotify.
Aryana Sayeed, “Nafasam” (Afghanistan): Sayeed was evacuated from Kabul in August and is now living in the United States. She was one of Afghanistan’s most famous artists, she has performed at the Embassy in Kabul and was named Voice of Afghanistan by the National Television and Radio Network.
Sevara Nazarkhan, “На паузу” (Uzbekistan): The singer, songwriter and musician incorporates Uzbek folk and contemporary music.
Yenlik, “Dop” (Kazakhstan): The artist, whose song is a hybrid of hip hop, performed at the QazForum, held by the U.S. embassy in Nur-Sultan.
Middle East and North Africa
Balti, “7elma” (Tunisia): The Tunisian singer, rapper and composer started via social media and now has 5.1 million subscribers on YouTube.
Keren Peles, “ימים אחרים” (Israel) Israeli radio stations twice selected Peles as singer of the year.
Imarhan, “Achkinhad” (Algeria): The rock quintet’s song is described as a catchy desert jam with traditional ululation throughout.
Meryem Adouloufa, “Evanouie” (Morocco): The singer-songwriter, who also participated in the State Department’s OneBeat Sahara program, draws influence in her atmospheric vocals from French pop, American rock, and Middle Eastern folk music.