I wait tables at a big, corporate, restaurant chain. It’s one of these places with a huge sound system installed throughout the entire space, speakers hidden, blended seamlessly into the ceilings. There’s a touchscreen on the side of the wall that gives you the illusion of there being some sort of a control to the whole system, but in reality, all of the songs are selected by some company VP far, far away. The playlist never changes entirely, it’s more like, once in a while they’ll take out one song, and maybe a couple of days later they’ll add in another.
I’m very conscious of this music because, well, I’m there every day, I’m in the restaurant seven to twelve hours at a time. Where the average restaurant guest won’t ever hear the same song twice, I’m stuck listening to each track three, four times a day. These weird new age jazz mixes combined with the occasional pop hit, I’m not even really aware how engrained these sounds are in my consciousness, not until one obscure song stops and in my head, I’m already starting up the beginning of the next weird synth hit, those first few seconds cycle through my head before it actually plays out loud.
The first few times this happened I was like, no way, did I just predict that? And now it happens and I’m like, come on, please don’t actually happen, please don’t really play the next song that I know is about to come up. I just feel like I’m being programmed, like my brain is being hardwired to memorize these songs that, had I never worked in this restaurant, I’d have never been exposed to in my life.
And while, yes, it’s mostly this kind of weird instrumental music, they do throw in the occasional pop hit every now and then. About a month or two ago, this popular new song by Drake was added to the playlist, it’s the one that’s like, “You act so different around me / Just hold on we’re going home.” I hear it everywhere, in addition to the four or five times it’s piped through the walls at work, it’s on in the taxi, it’s playing on some seemingly unattended boombox propped up outside of the entrance to the subway.
When it first started cycling through, everyone went nuts. You’d go into the kitchen and everyone would be singing along, the dishwasher harmonizing with the prep cook, the smooth sounds of contemporary R&B permeating every corner of the restaurant.
But I don’t care how good you think a song is. You start listening to that song every day, five or six times a day, certain things are going to happen. You’ll start hearing it in your head, and then your brain’s going to take it to another level, it’s going to deconstruct that song, every note, every background effect will be revealed. And once you commit that song entirely to memory, it’s inescapable, it’s the type of tune-stuck-in-your-head that almost sets itself on repeat in your mind, all day long, even when it’s not playing.
Then you might even ignore it the next time it comes on. You’ll hear that song and you’ll think, what the hell? What happened? Why didn’t I get anything out of it this time? And that’s when you fall down the other side of the mountain. Pretty soon you start to hate this song, that dumb drum machine intro, it’s just one drum, the most basic of beats, it’s virtually indistinguishable from any other drum intro, but you hear it, and you know it, just one beat on that drum machine and every fiber of your being absolutely knows that it’s going to be Drake.
“I’ve got my eye on you,” over and over and over again. But like I said, this song is a hit, it’s everywhere. And maybe everyone else in the world might eventually get tired of hearing it too often, but definitely not yet, your average music listener isn’t nearly as caught up as you are on this accelerated moment of Drake.
It’ll be close to midnight on a Friday night. I won’t have any energy left. All I’ll want is for my lingering customers to pay up and go home, but everyone’s taking their time. And then I hear that drum beat, and while a small part of me dies inside, I look out across the floor, the smiles are everywhere, guests are actually starting to dance, these weird I’m-sitting-in-a-booth-but-I’m-going-to-do-my-best-to-dance dances, singing along, having a great time.
The other night it came on as I was taking an order and this guy froze midsentence. He got that huge Drake smile and he said to me, “Man, I just love this song! Just hold on we’re going home! I love it! What a great song!” and what was I going to say? That I had become numb to all music? That this was already the ninth time I’d heard this song today? No, I wanted a good tip, so I flashed my own Drake smile, I was like, “Right? Drake! I love this song too! It’s awesome! I know exactly who you could be!” and we merged into the chorus in unison, a weird restaurant duet, “Just hold on we’re going home, it’s hard to do these thing alo-one.”
It worked. Twenty bucks cash on an eighty dollar check. But man, I can’t take it anymore, I can’t listen to that Drake song again, I need a Drake break, just a small one, please.