We Turned the U.S. House of Representatives Into a Playlist

We Turned the U.S. House of Representatives Into a Playlist

I’ve never been proud to be an American.

 

Well, that’s only partly true. I, like many, grew up with the sense of patriotism that is imbued in the childhoods of those raised in the United States from the moment we’re taught the Pledge of Allegiance. And who could blame me? I was someone for whom the promise of American prosperity actually worked. The grandson of immigrants whose effort, coupled with that of my parents, put me in a position to achieve things my ancestors would have found unthinkable. It’s something that, despite my reservations about my country of birth, I am genuinely grateful for.

 

As I grew, however, those reservations grew with me. There exist certain truths about the United States of America that contradict the image of exceptionalism in the eyes of its patriots. And these truths played an important part in my disillusionment with my own country. It is true that the U.S., throughout its history, has been guilty of sins it has yet to answer for. We’ve massacred innocent civilians, both by man and by machine. We’ve deposed democratically elected heads of other sovereign states, and murdered opposition party leaders at home. And 100 years ago this month, a hate-fueled, state-sponsored militia burned down the most prosperous Black community in the country. These atrocities were committed regardless of the party in power, and are rarely taught about in schools–including my own. It took accepting my own ignorance, doing the research and educating myself for me to learn about them in the first place. But within that acceptance lay another uncomfortable truth: that the fact I felt empowered to do so is a byproduct of my privileged upbringing.

 

Growing up and living in Brooklyn, NY, not only am I statistically in one of the most liberal bubbles in the country, I’m also in one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. In my community, we were actively encouraged to understand the world from a globalist perspective, especially compared to more conservative communities where critical assessment of our country’s legacy isn’t the norm. That privilege, however, is a double-edged sword. Because while I enjoy being surrounded with people who share my opinions, that bubble can become so insular as to skew one’s perception of anyone outside it.

 

And I felt that insularity more than ever last November as I lay on my couch for the fourth straight day, watching an overworked John King furiously manipulate a touchscreen map of the United States whose red and blue swatches contrasted each other, both literally and ideologically.  I’d been listening to Donald Trump bleat his nationalistic “America First” platform for half a decade, and my echo chamber had prepared me with the cynicism to believe that half the country would go along with it. But to see it play out like this on a long, drawn-out, international scale, gave me pause.

 

How can 80 million Americans actually vote for someone like Donald Trump? I thought. How can someone so publicly bereft of both humanity and accountability that he’d resort to both racial epithets and the undermining of American democracy itself in an attempt to hold on to power speak to so many of my own countrypeople?

 

Those questions remained long after Joe Biden was declared the victor. Living in bubbles means our opinions of others are often based on generalizations and stereotypes informed by the media we consume, rather than on interactions with real individuals. Thus, I was already prepared to write off these 80 million as morally bankrupt individuals. But then again, how many of those 80 million are sitting in their homes right now wondering the same thing about me? 

 

It’s true that the vast majority of Americans are coming from a totally different place than I am. And just like me, they hold a certain set of values and beliefs largely influenced by the environment they grew up in. And I was tired of all our environments being simplified by dehumanizing platitudes like “fly-over states” and “coastal elitism.” Those red counties are not a basket of deplorables, no more than blue counties are filled with Satan-worshipping pedophiles. And while we could continue to throw misguided labels at each other, when it comes down to it, we’re better served trying to understand where the other half comes from.

 

That’s what I wanted to do, but I wasn’t sure where to start. How do you even begin to develop a context for people and places with whom you have only anecdotal experience? Especially when you’ve been so publicly at odds with each other? And all during a global pandemic, where packing up and visiting isn’t an option? I had to start somewhere. How could I use what I know to elucidate what I don’t? 

 

So I settled on what I know best: music.

 

I’ve based this site’s entire ethos on art’s ability to connect us. You want to get to know me? Then listen to the music that’s shaped me. The same logic applies to places: the best way to get to know a place is to listen to what it’s saying. It’s something I’ve been fortunate enough to experience firsthand, from learning about post-civil war punk in Northwestern Spain to the only dedicated South Australian radio station. Amidst all the chaos and uncertainty, that belief is the one thing I keep coming back to. It keeps me grounded and brings me joy. When I want to learn about a place, I’ll do a deep dive on their musical legacy. And I wanted to know my country of birth, all those patches of red and blue and the people who make them.

 

And so, House Party (Of Representatives) was born.

 

One playlist, 435 songs. One artist chosen to represent each and every geographically-drawn congressional district in the country. Basically the same system as the lower chamber of the United States congress, but with more MTV and less CSPAN.

 

The project took months of research, compilation and curation. Learning which artists came from which districts was a tough task in and of itself, and choosing the one whose music best represented that city’s contributions to the canon of American popular music was an even harder one. Some estimation was required in cases of cities split between districts, and decisions had to be made in cases of artists who moved around. But in the end, I’m proud of the finished product. It won’t fix anything, and the effort to make it was considerable, but so was the joy I gleaned from it. And if any other person can glean joy off it or feel like they learned something, then it’s all worth it. Because despite all valid criticisms, the U.S. has given the world a lot of good too. And that starts with music.

 

All artists/bands have at least some roots in the congressional district they represent. This playlist was made with genre diversity in mind and is based off the congressional map as of 2020, before census-driven redistricting. Your humble curator reserves the right to undo instances of heinous gerrymandering in some cases. A key to which artists represent which districts can be found here. All genres are a matter of interpretation and are listed for informational purposes only.  All disagreements can be sorted out in the comments. Special thanks to Jake Ramthun for helping on the spreadsheet. Happy listening!

 

 

 

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