I spent a week playing with Spotify's AI playlist curator, and things got a little strange

Spotify AI Playlist logo
(Image credit: Spotify)

Here’s a statement that I normally have to keep close to my chest as a What Hi-Fi? staffer: I like Spotify. I know that’s as basic as having The Weeknd as your favourite ever artist, or plastering the inside of your teenage bedroom with posters of Théophile Steinlen’s Le Chat Noir and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon in a bid to be considered artistic, but that’s just the way it is. Spotify and I are enjoying a stable union and see no reason to part ways just yet. Sure, I use (and appreciate) Tidal for professional purposes thanks to its better-sounding catalogue of high-res music, but that’s more of a work relationship. In the end, I always come home to Spotify.

In fairness to my long-term streaming spouse, it currently offers numerous incentives for me to continue doing so. If anything, Spotify’s increasing diversification of friendly features only makes me admire and appreciate the service more, and while I’m not happy about the recent price hikes, I’m pleased and impressed with the introduction of audiobooks (great!), music videos (meh) and, most recently, AI curated playlists to the platform, the latter of which I’ve been gamely playing around with despite my misgivings about artificial intelligence’s ever-increasing encroachment into our daily lives. It’s been akin to using the Terminator as a novelty tin opener: useful, but with a nagging sense of jeopardy.

Spotify AI Playlist

(Image credit: Spotify)

Anyway, I was feeling brave and in the mood for something new, so I was all for trying it out. What this new tool does, essentially, is to curate playlists via artificial intelligence using written prompts to come up with a bespoke list of tunes its clever virtual brain thinks you’ll enjoy based on the criteria you pick. It’s essentially playlist curation, only this time you can tinker with and tailor your criteria in minutiae to get the best results possible, like Chat GPT for your music library. That’s the theory, anyway. It's currently only in the Beta phase (there's no official release date yet), and you'll need the paid Spotify Premium tier to use it, but I just couldn't wait to get some recommendations and compilations from my own personal Steve AI-oki. 

Head to the Spotify mobile app, select "Your Library", tap the "plus" sign in the top right corner of the app and then select "AI Playlist" to uncover the new tool. Ask Spotify’s AI to “Find me 20 songs about love” and it will happily oblige, initially using my tastes and preferences as a jumping-off point for such a general request to latch onto. If you then type in “30?”, it will merrily offer 10 more tunes, and then adjust the playlist with further refinements. I added in the caveat “That looks great, but can you swap out the John Lennon track for something sadder?” and Spotify’s AI whizz happily dropped Lennon’s Beautiful Boy for Laufey’s Valentine. Not exactly perfect, but a good effort nonetheless.

It’s also pretty good at finding the nuances in your requests, reading somewhere between the lines in much the same way an overly keen record store owner would, although if you’d asked any proud shop owner some of my more esoteric questions in person, they’d have had every right to eject you from the premises after a quick call to the local constabulary. Faced with the prompt “Find songs for when you’re staring into the abyss and realise, with a creeping dread, that the abyss stares keenly back”, the naively cheerful reply of “Here’s your playlist for moments of existential reflection” was accompanied by offerings from Agnes Obel, Elliott Smith, Max Richter, Portishead and, of course, Radiohead. Sounds about right.

Spotify AI Playlist screenshot

If AI is on an inexorable road to consciousness, it'll need to be familiar with Nietzschean existentialism.  (Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Let’s go even more idiosyncratic. I rather facetiously requested my new AI "friend" (it’s a frosty union) to “compile songs for when you’re browsing the soft furnishings department at John Lewis on a Sunday”, and the resultant playlists, filled with “soothing and uplifting tunes” really delivered. Karl Jenkins’ Adiemus sat next to Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up and Jason Mraz’s I’m Yours, alongside a rather pleasing collection of lo-fi beats to accompany my imagined journey around a hypothetical haberdashery department. Ah, those faux-Persian rugs…

Okay, there are some blind spots. Spotify’s AI had no problem with seeking out tunes for “a fourteen-year-old who refuses to tidy his room or call his mother’s new boyfriend ‘dad’”, but was utterly stumped by a plea to “seek out 50 songs about cheese”. It couldn’t even find 20. Even I can think of about 10 off the top of my head. 

The underlying engine is also still slightly hamstrung by Spotify’s overarching need to suggest the same songs and artists ad infinitum when it latches onto a particular aspect of your listening habits. I can count the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times I’ve been recommended No One Knows by Queens of the Stone Age, and once again it rears its unwelcome head even when suggested by a seemingly more adept, pseudo-conscious curator. 

Things were redeemed, somewhat, when I asked for a playlist "for a newly hatched chick, scared, alone and coming to know consciousness for the first time, but desperate to hear some banging 2010s dubstep". The subsequent compilation bore the finest title I've yet seen from any playlist on any medium: "Startled Chick's Dubstep Journey".

Spotify AI Playlist screenshot

"Startled Chick's Dubstep Journey' will be the title of my autobiography. (Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

In truth, it’s a fun and novel search tool that I genuinely did have a good time using, albeit somewhat ironically at first. The real selling point of Spotify’s AI is how potentially malleable it is, and while many of the site’s playlists can tend to either be too generic or repeat the same recommended songs based on your listening profile, being able to simply dismiss certain artists, genres or tracks heightens the ceiling for true personalisation. The fun isn’t in compiling the playlist, it’s in tinkering with it, something that you’ll do often if you don’t want those pesky perennials to keep popping up time and time again.

Will it become a vital weapon in the listener's arsenal? It’s hard to say. There’s a fine line between gimmick and the next big thing, and while Spotify has pushed hard to diversify its content over the past few months, this doesn’t feel like a hashed-out service or a quick bid to cash in on the ever-hurtling AI train. 

My personal reservation is that, like any form of virtual or digital suggestion service, tools such as these can never truly replace the joy of finding music yourself, because while it’s fun to have a mechanism that compiles playlists on your behalf, nothing has ever really beaten the satisfaction and in-depth nuance that comes with compiling one to your very specific tastes, needs and preferences. I’d recommend everyone to try it, play with it and enjoy it, but I imagine that in a few months’ time, we’ll still be keener to do the legwork ourselves rather than outsource it to Spotify’s handy AI helper.


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Harry McKerrell
Staff writer

Harry McKerrell is a staff writer at What Hi-Fi?. He studied law and history at university before working as a freelance journalist covering TV and gaming for numerous platforms both online and in print. When not at work he can be found playing hockey, practising the piano or forcing himself to go long-distance running.