Hey, The Kids Like It

The Texas Lottery Needs to Step Up Its Spotify Game

Did you know the Texas Lottery has its own Spotify profile? Neither did I, until I wanted to listen to some old Love & Rockets albums last week and discovered that the Lottery is also a Spotify advertiser. That part at least makes sense. But the state agency has also created four playlists keyed after the Lottery’s “Pick 3” game, each one named after a different time of day (morning, noon, evening, night), and each about 75 minutes long. The first songs were added this past February, with two more updates coming a few days apart back in June. These lists could constitute either some stillborn promotional stunt or just what the Lottery’s staff listens to at the office; the heavy slant toward Top 40 and all things indie suggests the latter. At any rate, it seemed like a wise idea to take these lists out for a spin.

The Lottery’s day begins with a wakeup from the would-be 21st-century Van Morrison, Hozier, saluting one of his R&B heroes on “Jackie and Wilson,” a sly nod to Van the Man’s “Jackie Wilson Said” (maybe). From there it proceeds past Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” and American Authors’ “Best Day of My Life,” but it’s still unclear whether the Lottery is doing anything besides auditioning songs for its next round of TV spots. (Although some of these seem like they might be kinda expensive.) The rest of the list is dominated by apple-cheeked Nordic electronica (Kygo & Kodaline’s “Raging”; Zara Larsson’s “Lush Life”) and the mellow millennial folk-pop of the Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men and Ed Sheeran. The grittiest thing here is easily “Dearly Departed,” Shakey Graves’s haunted-house duet with fellow Austinite Esme Patterson from his 2014 album And the War Came. And apart from its inspirational theme, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb but is welcome all the same.

According to the Lottery, the advent of lunchtime apparently means it’s time for an impromptu cubicle dance party, commencing with Matt & Kim’s gratingly cutesy “Daylight.” Here you’ll also find the previously inescapable “Uptown Funk,” previously even more inescapable “Happy” and Jason Mraz’s inescapable-in-2002 “Remedy (I Won’t Worry).” Foo Fighters’ “Learning to Fly” sounds positively classic rock compared to Fall Out Boy’s “Irresistible” and Death Cab For Cutie’s “You Are a Tourist.” Halsey sounds pretty progressive singing about legal marijuana on “New Americana,” especially in the face of Meghan Trainor’s “Better When I’m Dancin’ ” and Hailee Steinfeld’s “Love Myself,” while Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Run Away With Me” sounds misplaced from one of the after-hours playlists. Nothing else here – Coldplay, One Direction, Major Lazer feat. M.O. & DJ Snake, Neon Trees, Chvrches – is particularly likely to cause bad indigestion, save perhaps Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” We’ve been over that one before.

Now we’re talking. The Lottery’s evening playlist begins with Drake in search of hot love and emotion on “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” and the segue into Incubus’s late-’90s bro-rock staple “Drive” isn’t really that much of a jolt. Morning faves like Florence + the Machine, Hozier and Of Monsters & Men all resurface, as does noonday pick Chvrches, sliding right in alongside de rigueur modern dinner music like the Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” Mumford & Sons’ “The Cave” and Edward Sharpe et al.’s “Home.” MisterWives’ “Our Own House” takes care of the after-dinner dancing, but this list needs more mood music like Banks’s sultry “Beggin’ For Thread” and alt-J’s “Dissolve Me.” We already heard plenty from overly earnest sadboys like Vance Joy, James Bay and George Ezra earlier in the day.

The Lottery’s late-night playlist is more of a mixed bag than the other three, but in a good way. True, a few artists repeat (Vance Joy, alt-J, James Bay), but the plus side features some real star power with Beyoncé’s cherubic “Halo” and Adele’s “When We Were Young,” and even the Smiths’ “Asleep,” which is awesome. Many songs have a distinct between-the-sheets R&B flavor — Passion Pit’s “Constant Conversation,” The Weeknd’s “Earned It,” Nick Jonas & Tove Lo’s “Close” — to go with John Legend’s cuddle-worthy “All of Me.” Kacey Musgraves’s “Apologize,” the Shins’ “New Slang” and Norah Jones’s “Come Away With Me” also pricked up my ears. On the other hand, Family of the Year’s “Hero” (a.k.a. the Boyhood song) may not be the last thing you want to hear before going to bed unless you plan on crying yourself to sleep.

Clearly the Lottery is onto something here. Streaming is the name of the game nowadays, and these Spotify lists could be just the ticket (pardon the pun) to help convince Texas’s younger gamblers-in-waiting to spend their time and money on something besides Pokémon Go. But it’s not quite there yet. The Lottery’s profile has just under 100 followers, which seems awfully low — the Vans Warped Tour, for example, has more than 27,000 — nor is there any kind of promotion of these playlists anywhere on the Lottery’s website. As they stand, the lists show whoever is at the programming controls has a pretty firm grasp of contemporary alternative-leaning pop music. But there’s hardly any country, soul or rap, and no harder rock than Foo Fighters, all of which surely must be very popular with Lottery players too. At the very least, they ought to beef up the number of Texas artists on there. Right now they're simply leaving too much to chance.
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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray