Entrepreneurial drama has become a popular genre, and “The Playlist” is about the genesis of the Swedish music streaming service Spotify that unfolds on the Netflix screen.
The script is based on real events but plays with fictional elements and mixes in fictional characters to talk about Spotify‘s development from the perspective of artists, developers, the record industry, lawyers, investors, and founders.
That makes the six episodes a fresh playlist that varies in tempo and tone and argues a bit about what really happened. Each chapter has its own main character and delves into a new aspect of the massive challenges that lay in creating a legal and free streaming service at a time when pirated downloads damaged traditional record companies.
A Nifty Stylistic Miniseries on Spotify
Director Per-Olav Sørensen cultivates the episodes with a distinctive character. With several nifty stylistic touches, episode three in particular is a well-crafted highlight where excellent acting and the theater’s toolbox are used to build a stylish and elegant journey through Spotify’s legal opposite slopes.
But this is an uneven miniseries that is clearly best in the first half. Wear and tear develop in that episode after episode is its own “against all odds” story that largely repeats the same Spotify creation.
And even if the music plays a central role, the musicians become the series’ weakest plot thread. “The Playlist” also fails to focus on Spotify’s inflamed relationship with the artists in an unresolved finale episode.
Among Record Pumps and Pirates
In 2004, at a time when the website Pirate Bay and the record industry were at open war in Sweden, the young and nouveau riche entrepreneur Daniel Ek (Edvin Endre) hatches an idea. He wants to reconcile the new habits of young consumers, where all their favorite songs are freely available online, with the record industry’s need to make money and pay its artists. He wants to create an advertising-funded music player that does not annoy with slow playback.
But in the music industry’s traditional landscape, which was built for radio play and CD sales, there are many obstacles on the way to launching a digital, lightning-fast, and legal streaming service that can offer all the world’s music with a few keystrokes.
The obstacle solutions themselves are most interesting and well structured, but a couple of the episodes are also filled with large doses of personal drama, and here the series is at its flattest.
The Playlist and the Home Business Perspectives
“The Playlist” hammers home the business perspectives. There is an opportunity in the market which means that Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon end up in the music business. And initially, it is the industry, and the threats to the industry, that get most of the screen time.
But the series also manages to take care of the ideological differences that drive several of the central forces around Spotify. This was a time when old power structures were challenged for various reasons. And the series includes the span from those who lose their jobs at Sony, via passionate entrepreneurs, to the rebellious coders who put their souls into building a new streaming player because they want to overthrow the record companies.
I like that the series offers these important nuances, and it makes it interesting to travel back to a time when there were so many changes, so many opportunities and so much chaos in the extended media industry.
But the fact that the major conflicts are constantly being saved to be used as a narrative engine for each underdog story – as a motivating force for the investor, for the lawyer, for the record director, and for the coder. The series loses the opportunity to let interesting conflicts of opinion really play out in front of the camera, and to allow different attitudes to being pitted against each other.
And then the repetitive “just wait until you hear my version” formula becomes somewhat tame. The success story of Spotify is not so exciting.