Even as a Zane Lowe fan, I was a tad sceptical of Apple doing a 24-hour radio station. The DJs hired to run the Beats 1 program are top notch, but there’s still a lot that could go wrong.
After listening to Apple Music’s Beats 1 for for several hours on launch day, I can say that I’m genuinely impressed. I think it’s one of the music service’s main draws.
Beats 1 isn’t anything like a random radio station you get in Spotify or Pandora. It’s a live broadcast with real DJs and guest artists picking songs from all genres.
The result is a quite eclectic listening experience. The first track played on Beats 1 was “City” by Manchester’s Spring King, which I’d never heard before. Zane Lowe then played an upbeat Beck single, Jamie xx’s “Gosh,” and AC/DC in the same set.
Lowe’s energy is infectious. I haven’t listened to a real radio station in years, and it was cool to hear the way he excitedly set up songs.
I saw some people bothered by his little interjections between songs, like “always on!” and “coming to you worldwide,” but I still thought it was fun. It made me feel like I was part of something human instead of just getting music algorithmically spit at me. It felt old school and cutting edge at the same time.
“Our genre is great” …I can get behind that
Apple wants to make us feel like everything it does is revolutionary, but Lowe’s opening set made me actually feel like I was listening to something historic. “Our genre is great,” he said at one point. I can get behind that.
Another moment that sold me on Beats 1 happened during Ebro Darden’s evening program from New York City. After playing Kanye West and Jay Z’s rap anthem “Otis,” Darden played “Try a Little Tenderness” by legendary soul singer Otis Redding. Why? Because it was the song Kanye and Jay Z heavily sampled for “Otis.”
Spotify probably wouldn’t have recommended Redding’s song next because it’s a different genre, but Darden was in charge of this mix, and he wanted to give a mini history lesson in music.
It was an incredibly human moment, and it made me finally get what Apple’s Jimmy Iovine meant when he recently said, “Algorithms alone cannot do curation. You need a human touch.”
There’s also something magical about listening to the same song as millions of people in over 100 countries. I can be listening to the same song as someone on their work commute in Tokyo, which hasn’t been possible before.
Sure, Beats 1 isn’t perfect. It went down for a little while Tuesday night and had some issues with rewinding parts of songs, but hiccups are to be expected for its early days.
It’s very Apple-like in that it only plays censored tracks, which I understand is annoying for some people when you’re trying to jam to Dr. Dre.
I also wasn’t a fan of how it played the same Pharrell song something like five times in a span of a few hours, but traditional radio is still way worse at repeating the same songs over and over. Beats 1 has sponsorships that occasionally get thrown in, like “brought you by American Express,” and they’re way less invasive than the terrible ads other radio stations constantly play.
There’s never been anything like Beats 1, and I think it’s going to get a lot of people hooked on Apple Music.