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The Marketplaylist, or: how I learned to stop worrying and love pop

<p>The Marketplace playlist has gathered its fair share of fans who appreciate the wide variety of music it provides.</p>

The Marketplace playlist has gathered its fair share of fans who appreciate the wide variety of music it provides.

In my four weeks at Duke, I’ve sometimes been asked what has surprised me about the place, what I didn’t expect to experience. This exercise in soul-searching typically comes once the perfunctory which dorm and what major questions have been exhausted, when a short pause and a cursory glance around the bus reveal that, yes, there are still three more stops left in this conversation. 

When I hear this question, I think first of the usual candidates for the unexpected at Duke: all the newfound free time to manage, the hellscape that is the 10:05 a.m. rush at the East bus stop and the epiphanic horror of noticing sweat gradually condensate against the walls of a certain local hotspot.  

But above all these, I think of quiet mornings when, still clinging to a night of sleep gone too soon, I drag myself to Marketplace for a peaceful meal, only to be pummeled into submission by the strains of Meghan Trainor’s “NO” as I grab a plate and head toward the pancake bar, leaving the words “NAH to the AH to the NO NO NO” stamped in my head for the rest of the day. The power of Marketplace’s music was certainly unexpected, sometimes in bizarre ways—nothing says dry campus like pouring juice to the tune of Justin Timberlake’s “Drink You Away”— even as its song choices are so very expected and predictable. 

I decided to investigate the mystery of Marketplace’s music, expecting to hear gripes about the East Campus dining hall’s ambience that would echo my own. 

But I stand corrected. It turns out there are many fans of the playlist.

“I honestly really like it,” first-year Jessica Chen said. “I feel like it’s really in tune with what students like, what’s currently in and popular.” 

Teig Hennessy shared a similar sentiment. “You come into Marketplace and you’re immediately in a good mood because Fifth Harmony is on—and who doesn’t love Fifth Harmony?” he said. “If you’re having a tough day, you’re feeling stressed out about classes, you walk in and you’re greeted by Hailee Steinfeld, and all the stress just melts away.” 

Alex Adams agreed as well. “When I walk into Marketplace in the morning and I hear Silentó, I always feel a little more hype,” he said. 

For the uninitiated, Fifth Harmony is an X-Factor-born girl group with the hit “Worth It,” Hailee Steinfeld is a young actress-turned-singer known for “Love Myself” and Silentó is a rapper who distilled a generation’s worth of dance memes into “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae).” All of these artists make frequent appearances on Marketplace’s music lineup. 

Students’ reactions make it apparent that the mix may have an uplifting effect, both combating breakfast’s drudgery and complementing the dinner rush. Psychological studies have pointed to music’s effect on everything from meal enjoyment to eating speed. Chipotle is well-known for capitalizing on music’s effect on meals, even hiring a professional DJ to curate their mix and spurring the creation of a Facebook page called “The Music Played at Chipotle” for curious customers.  

Regardless of arguable differences in the quality of their respective food (or music), Duke Dining and Chipotle have this in common: both are clients of Mood Media, a company that provides in-store music for businesses and retailers. In 2011, Mood Media acquired Muzak—a name synonymous with dreaded “elevator music”—and, according to its website, the company now reaches over 150 million customers daily at more than 500,000 locations, which include those of Nike, McDonald’s and T.J. Maxx. 

Barbara Stokes, director of residential dining services at Duke, revealed that the playlist first-years hear when they walk into Marketplace is titled “College Hits,” one of many channels catered by Mood Media. The mix features popular singles from the last couple years, reflecting the current EDM and hip hop-inflected pop scene with artists like Major Lazer (“Lean On”), Rihanna (“Work”) and The Chainsmokers (“Closer”). 

According to Stokes, Marketplace occasionally changes the mix for themed meals. For the most part, though, you’re hearing “College Hits”—the same mix that streams at Cafe Edens, Dame’s Express and parts of the Bryan Center. 

The Marketplace mix is not without its detractors, however. Some students complained of the lack of variety in the playlist, hearing the same songs repeatedly. Others, like first-year Michael Witte, suggested Marketplace could take notes from another campus eatery: West Union. 

“In my opinion, it’s not my favorite,”  said Witte, who describes himself as “more of an indie rock guy. If they played the same stuff [at Marketplace] that they do in West Union, I would like it a lot better.” 

Customers at the West Campus eatery find themselves in a soundscape decorated by classic rock tunes and even the chance Radiohead cut. West Union falls outside of the Mood Media umbrella at Duke, which may explain its comparatively eclectic playlist. 

The soundtrack to a meal at Marketplace is a testament to the simple currency of pop music: it’s accessible, comfortable, familiar. Yet the playlist also raises a question surrounding music’s role in public settings. Should a playlist offer the immediate ease of Top 40 singles, or should it try to challenge and educate listeners, opening their ears to new sounds? Students in Marketplace may hum along as they snatch a slice of pizza, but never will they tilt their phones to the speakers in an attempt to Shazam the current song. They may experience the pleasure of saying, “I know this one,” but rarely will they enjoy the thrill of asking, “What was that one?”  

Students can give feedback to Marketplace through an online form located under the dining hall’s page on the Student Affairs website. Depending on suggestions, perhaps the playlist will expand its musical palate— or not. Until then, I’ll embrace starting off each day with a dose of Shawn Mendes and scrambled eggs. The Marketplaylist is here to stay. 

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