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Directors pick the soundtracks for NPR's shows. Here are their own 2023 playlists

Let us set the mood.
Ian Waldie
/
Getty Images
Let us set the mood.

Have you ever listened to NPR and wondered who chooses those songs you hear between stories and interviews?

It's our directors. They lovingly set the mood of the shows, gently guiding you from one story to the next, or delivering just the right beat to set up the next interview. And they've got good taste.

As we wind down 2023, we've asked four All Things Considered directors to curate a playlist based off the theme of their year, and what got them — and NPR listeners — moving.

And a warning — some of these songs contain explicit lyrics. That's life, baby.


Nostalgia

Curated by Brianna Scott

Can't see the playlist above? Check it out here.

I was — *gasp* — an emo kid.

Not in the traditional sense. I wasn't smearing black eyeliner all over my lids and wearing black 24/7 as if I was dressed for someone's neverending funeral. It's just that a lot of the music I listened to was in the realm of emo, pop-punk, hardcore, etc.

The Wonder Years' "Local Man Ruins Everything" was my freshman year anthem. "Flashlight" by the Front Bottoms was my summer jam. I'd ugly cry listening to "My Heart" by Paramore.

I tried to – somewhat successfully – get my chemistry teacher to listen to Title Fight. That same teacher blasted Nine Inch Nails and Deftones during one of our exams.

I vividly remember watching a girl on YouTube tease her hair to create that classic 2000s "scene" look as "Lemon Meringue Tie" by Dance Gavin Dance played in the background.

I moshed in my bedroom to "Psychosocial" by Slipknot – probably concerning my parents.

There's a very cringey video of me doing my best pop-punk boy impression and dancing to "Empty Space" by The Story So Far. NO – you won't find it anywhere on the internet (I hope?).

When I think about all those moments and more, I'm nostalgic. I miss my younger days.

But the thing about our pasts is that you can always revisit it. Music is something that can transport you back in time to exact moments you experienced or felt something.

So yeah, it's nostalgic, dude.


Dance party

Curated by Elena Burnett

Can't see the playlist above? Check it out here.

During the pandemic, I set myself a goal of having a daily dance party, and it's a habit I've continued even with lockdowns far behind us.

Dance parties have followed me throughout 2023 as I've gotten back into running, spent more time than ever traveling and connected with friends and family.

Letting a song move me has been the perfect way to check in and be a friend to myself. And this year, dancing among loved ones (and strangers!) has been the best way to share a smile with my world.

Elena Burnett.
/ Elena Burnett
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Elena Burnett
Elena Burnett.

The songs I had on repeat this year were Lake Street Dive's cover of The Pointer Sisters' "Automatic," The Head and the Heart's "Every Shade of Blue" and the live version of "Let's Throw a Party" from Sammy Rae & the Friends' concert album.

You'll find them plus some of my all-time favorite songs to blast and let loose in my playlist.


My kids have the aux

Curated by Jonas Adams

Can't see the playlist above? Check it out here.

I looked at my "most listened to" songs this year, and the majority of them were songs my kids wanted to hear over and over.

My two boys, Austin (17) and Jace (10) are both really into comic books, graphic novels and superheroes. Which means we are all really into Spider-Man.

Jonas Adams and his family.
/ Antonio Fant Jr.
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Antonio Fant Jr.
Jonas Adams and his family.

Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse was released into theaters this past June, and of course we all went to see it as a family. The soundtrack to it was amazing. The first song on it is called "Annihilate" and features Swae Lee from Rae Sremmurd, Lil Wayne and Offset and it's produced by Metro Boomin.

I played this song for my kids all the time (clean version, of course). My kids rap and sing along. I know I can put this on and it's an instant crowd pleaser in the vehicle.

Earlier in the year, my daughter Joi (4) used to request Gracie's Corner a lot. Gracie is an adorable little Black girl cartoon character that sings a lot of educational songs and nursery rhymes. But everything changed when we went to see the Super Mario Bros. movie in the theater. And then her top request became "Peaches" by Jack Black! My wife and I have played this song more times than we care to admit.

I have a video on my phone of my daughter singing this to me, in my face, nose to nose, at the top of her little lungs. And I'm sure parents everywhere can relate. My wife and I always try to play music in the truck that my kids like or want to hear. All three of them are funny, so we get a kick out of seeing them sing along.

It was somewhat intentional but more coincidental that the top songs come from movie soundtracks. I do love a soundtrack or score to a good movie. And I think that's why I love directing All Things Considered so much. I get to control the overall feeling of the show and help add a little more texture to it. I enjoy that a lot.


Video games

Curated by Vincent Acovino

Can't see the playlist above? Check it out here.

The video game industry often falls short at preserving its past. As borne out by a study published earlier this year by the Video Game History Foundation, very few old games remain in production.

Video game music is similarly challenging to find through legal means. Although it's beginning to change as publishers like SEGA and Square Enix move some of their music back catalogs to streaming services, much of musical video game history remains unavailable on official platforms.

Vincent Acovino.
/ Vincent Acovino
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Vincent Acovino
Vincent Acovino.

Instead, YouTube has become the central place where both older and new video game music is shared and discovered. Playlists with often humorous titles ("funky Nintendo video game music to fill your big, dumb, empty head") are curated by fans around specific moods or genres. Very little of this happens with official sanction from video game publishers themselves, but it remains the easiest and most accessible way to actually listen to music that publishers themselves have failed to make available to us.

For myself, nothing tops the songs and melodies that defined a childhood of playing games: the perfect simplicity of Koji Kondo's Ocarina of Time soundtrack. The spooky melancholy of the Resident Evil save music. The orchestral ambition of Shadow of the Colossus.

This collection is an assemblage of legally available songs that hit many of those same notes. Hopefully one day it'll be easier to share all the songs I love — legally.

Listen to All Things Considered each day here or on your local member station to hear these songs — and our stories and interviews.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brianna Scott
Brianna Scott is currently a producer at the Consider This podcast.
Elena Burnett
Jonas Adams
Jonas Adams is the director of All Things Considered.
Vincent Acovino