An eight-hour road trip I recently took with a friend quickly turned into a musical deep dive. As we flew through conversations about bachata, gospel, R&B, soul, house, and more, my friend mentioned that ’90s music made up a significant portion of his palate. “You know, there’s a lot of anime and video game music that’s influenced by black American music,” I casually mentioned, barely concealing the same air of conspiracy as someone planning to play you no less than several dozen “hilarious” YouTube videos. My friend, a non-nerd who trusts my sense of his taste (wise) and who is very patient with me (unwise), humored me and handed me the audio cord for the car’s stereo (anarchy).
“Walking in the crowd in a faceless town, I need to feel the touch of a friend,” I crooned, Milly Rocking emphatically. “Smile Bomb,” the opening them from Yuyu Hakusho, is widely considered a classic among anime openings, and I wanted to put my friend on.
“YASSS high notes! She must be a soprano,” my friend cooed in approval, which I took as a sign to keep going. As a card-carrying Sonic R apologist, this was clearly my chance to get someone else in my corner. I played “Work It Out,” one of several songs from the game that I’m convinced could have been on a CeCe Peniston B-side.
My friend liked this one, too, but after a while, he reasonably wanted to hear something he knew the lyrics to. I set a smaller section of my 6,000-song collection on shuffle, but then I felt a familiar anxiety building. It’s one thing to curate these songs for someone but another thing entirely to randomly shuffle through thousands of unorganized songs. I kept my finger on the skip button so that I could keep us within the parameters of the R&B and soul that had sent us down the rabbit hole in the first place, dodging cringey options. I also resisted the temptation to play more Bust a Groove music, even though it actually would fit the vibe we were going for.
I have way too many unpleasant memories of shuffle snafus directly caused by game and anime music. It’s embarrassing to be creating a relaxing mood and suddenly have a weird nasal voice start warbling, “Where’s that place that comes in pairs whenever I’m aware? Casino here, casino in my hair!” Once, I was playing a bunch of relaxing alternative R&B when “Devils Never Cry” suddenly came in with its mildly horrifying church organ music. It’s one thing to explain away, say, a Korn phase, but it’s a little harder to make a case for occult-sounding pretty-boy devil music. If my friend thought I was a murderer after hearing that on my playlist, I kind of couldn’t blame them?
Then there are the jarring moments where I’m not paying close enough attention to that skip button and I ruin my own mood by letting a song play when it should have been skipped within the first millisecond. I love Louisiana bounce music and dance to it a lot. What I don’t love dancing to is “Go K.K. Rider,” yet there it is on my playlist, confidently following Big Freedia like it’s just supposed to be there!
I often find myself skipping songs I otherwise like because they are notorious mood killers, popping up just like that one super weird episode of a show you were otherwise excited to brag about. “Otherworld,” the theme that plays in the big fancy cutscene at the beginning of Final Fantasy X, does this often. “DON’T. YOU. GIIIIVE UP ON IT,” it growls at me, before I quietly give up on it and try the next track. I headbang a few times to the riffs of “Fright Flight!!” from Um Jammer Lammy, but I skip to the next track before the traumatized pilot can scream at me to “LOOKUPINTHESKY, GIMMEALLYOUGOT, NEVAGIVEITUP, SOLDIER!”
Still, sometimes, I hit lyrics that truly capture the essence of the soul, and in those moments, the cringe of it doesn’t really matter: now me ohhh me now, kway kway me nah oh, me oh me oh me oh me oh!
Now me oh is right, Totakeke. Now me oh is right.