We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the Fun-Dip valentine cards we ordered strictly for the Fun-Dip is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, just in time for Valentine's Day, thoughts on platonic mixtapes.
Stephanie Marten-Ellis writes via Facebook: "How do you share good music with someone without giving the impression that you're 'trying to say something'? You just like the song and want someone to know about it! Can you separate your music suggestions from how you perceive/think of your share-ee?"
See, this is one of the reasons why so many people hate Valentine's Day: In addition to the pressure it places on couples to meet various romantic obligations, it also complicates the way signals are read by platonic acquaintances. If you're not interested in dating a romantically unattached friend, and you happen to belong to each other's preferred gender, you're often better off spending this Friday night at home than asking him or her out for drinks after work.
But mixtapes, like most things, are better than Valentine's Day: They're a wonderful way to share music, help your friends discover and cherish the things you love and, when you want, illustrate your romantic feelings more eloquently than you ever could. I'd never want to discourage anyone from making a mixtape.
But let's assume, in the spirit of Feb. 14, that there's at least the potential for your intentions to be misinterpreted; that you've just discovered The Jets' mid-'80s hit "Crush on You," for example, and wish to share it without its message being confused with your intentions. While there's something to be said for straightforward openness, sugarcoated with humor — titling your mix "I Like You, But Not In That Way" or "PlatoniMix 2014" or whatever — I recommend giving yourself cover by trying out a song share with a wider circle of friends.
This can be as simple as picking 10 of your music-liking pals and emailing them YouTube links to songs you love, leaving everyone's names visible in the "to" line so no one thinks he or she is being singled out. Or, if you're talking about a full, album-length mixtape — and, yes, people still make them, Spotify be damned — I recommend making a generalized mix of songs you like and openly circulating copies across your circle of friends. That way, signals aren't mixed, "Crush on You" is just one song among many, and everyone gets a nice, platonic valentine whether they asked for it or not.