Starbucks reminds baristas they can change songs and debuts Ariana Grande playlist after backlash over the chain's repetitive music

  • Starbucks sent out a memo highlighting baristas’ freedom to pick in-store music this week.
  • Starbucks is rolling out two new playlists this week: one in celebration of International Women’s Day and one featuring Ariana Grande.
  • Recent reports that baristas were infuriated after hearing the “Hamilton” playlist on repeat sparked a discussion of how workers being forced to listen to the same songs over and over could be compared to torture.
  • Starbucks said that the memo was not linked to the backlash, but instead simply tied to the chain’s introduction of two new in-store playlists.

Starbucks is highlighting baristas’ musical freedom in the wake of reports about its repetitive in-store playlists.

This week, Starbucks sent an internal message to in-store workers highlighting their freedom to choose what music plays in the chain’s coffee shops.

“Music is an important part of the Starbucks Experience,” the memo, which was viewed by Business Insider, reads. “With more than 4,000 songs in rotation, our store playlists include a wide range of music – from pop to hip-hop, R&B to classical – for our customers and partners [Starbucks employees] to enjoy.”

Ariana GrandeGetty Images/Dave Hogan for One Love ManchesterAriana Grande.

Starbucks is sharing a new playlist in celebration of International Women’s Day on Friday, according to the memo. Starting Saturday, Starbucks will feature a playlist that includes songs by Ariana Grande, along with some of the singer’s favourite songs.


Read more:
Starbucks is launching a new drink with Ariana Grande

“Partners can choose from more than 20 playlists in stores and change the playlist any time to fit the mood and day part for their store!” the memo reads, noting that playlists are updated weekly.

Starbucks recently faced some backlash in the wake of reports about baristas’ frustration with the chain’s use of repetitive music.

In late January, New York magazine’s Grub Street reported that some baristas were infuriated by the “Hamilton Takeover” playlist, which the chain debuted in early 2019. Baristas told Grub Street that the featured playlist would often override baristas’ preferences, forcing them to listen to music from the Broadway hit over and over again.

In late February, Canadian broadcasting stationCBC aired a story that highlighted the use of repetitive songs at chains like Starbucks as a workers’ rights issue.

“[It’s] the same system that’s used to … flood people out of, you know, the Branch Davidian in Waco or was used on terror suspects in Guantanamo – they use the repetition of music,” Adam Johnson, a writer and podcaster, said on The Current.

“I’m not suggesting that working at Applebee’s is the same as being at Guantanamo, but the principle’s the same,” he continued.

A Starbucks representative said there was not a connection between the update and the recent backlash and coverage.

“New options are routinely added featuring Guest DJs or to acknowledge and celebrate artists or particular moments in time, and we share these details with partners (baristas) through a variety of regular internal updates,” Starbucks representative Maggie Jantzen said in an email to Business Insider.

“Our baristas always have the ability to choose from any of the multiple playlists available for their stores,” Jantzen continued. “They know their stores best and are able to help customise the overhead programming playlist, depending on what best fits their customer audience or particular time of day.”

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