Protagonist Playlists Vol. 1: Winston Smith From 1984

Here at the Adroit Blog, we ask the hard-hitting questions – what would a classic novel look like through the lens of the protagonist’s iPod? Which characters would have perfectly organized playlists and album art for every song, and which characters download all their music from low quality YouTube-to-mp3 converters? Do they go to small punk shows in bicycle repair shop basements, or do they have front row tickets to One Direction’s arena concert? Through complex calculations and computerized algorithms (or, our wild imaginations), Adroit has all of these answers ready for you. First, let’s take a look at what Winston Smith of George Orwell’s 1984 has been listening to lately.

1. “United States of Eurasia” by Muse
And these wars, they can’t be won/And do you want them to go on and on and on? [..]/And Must we do as we’re told?”

A true anti-heroic novel cannot be propelled forward by any band other than Muse, who are known for their grandiosity – they fought to record an album in space, only to be refused the funding from their record label. At the beginning of 1984, Winston begins to doubt that his government, the Party, has the population’s best interests in mind. He realizes, for one thing, that the Party lies about which nations they are at war with – is it Oceania? Eastasia? Eurasia?

2. “Fell In Love With A Girl” by The White Stripes
“She turns and says ‘are you alright?’/I said I must be fine ‘cause my heart’s still beating.”

When Winston meets Julia, a woman who shares his criminal sentiments against the government, it’s pretty obvious that he went home and listened to The White Stripes’s classic album White Blood Cells on repeat.

3. “I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor” by Arctic Monkeys    
“I don’t know if you’re looking for romance, or/I don’t know what you’re looking for […]/Dancing to electropop like a robot from 1984.”

Arctic Monkeys’s frontman Alex Turner has got it all wrong – there are no robots, nor is there electropop in George Orwell’s 1984. But either way, this hit single about teenage hormones resembles Winston’s first experience with lust, as he liberates himself from the mind-control of the Party.

4. “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2” by Pink Floyd
“We don’t need no thought control/All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.”

Pink Floyd’s The Wall was released in 1979 – shortly before the year 1984 – so it actually makes chronological sense that Winston Smith could have found a dusty double LP of The Wall in some illegal record store outside of London. And we can only hope that Roger Waters would’ve come to the rescue to free the Party’s subjects from tyranny. Alternate ending, anyone?

5. “Julia” by The Beatles
“Julia, morning moon, touch me/So I sing a song of love to Julia.”

And in that same illegal record store shopping spree that George Orwell just totally forgot to include in the novel, Winston Smith finds a copy of The White Album. He can’t wait to show Julia this politically and musically radical album with songs like “Revolution,” but more importantly, he needs to show her that there’s a song with her name in it. And maybe the store owner decides to give Winston an old acoustic guitar so that he can serenade her. It’s all plausible, right?

6. “I’m Afraid of Americans” by David Bowie & Nine Inch Nails
“I’m afraid of Americans/I’m afraid of the world/I’m afraid I can’t help it/I’m afraid I can’t.”

As Winston falls deeper and deeper into political rebellion, he fears being caught by the Thought Police. America doesn’t exist in 1984, but if you look really, really closely at the music video, you just might be able to see Winston dancing around with Bowie.

7. “Downer” by Nirvana
“Portray sincerity/Act out of loyalty/Defend every country/Wish away the pain/Hand out lobotomies/to save little families.”

Winston’s worst nightmare comes true – he is arrested for Thought Crime. O’Brien, a member of the Inner Parry who Winston believed to be a secret dissenter, proceeds to torture Winston until he learns to love Big Brother.

8. “Normal Person” by Arcade Fire
“I’m so confused, am I a normal person?/You can’t tell if I’m a normal person.”

Through a series of gruesome procedures, O’Brien tries to manipulate Winston into believing the propaganda of the Party – he wants to make him a normal person. No matter how much pain Winston endures, he still cries out Julia’s name at night, which only forces him to suffer more.

9. “Heart in a Cage” by The Strokes
“All of those you loved you mistrust/Help me, I’m just not quite myself/Look around there’s no one else left.”

The rambunctious, repetitive guitar riff in The Strokes’s “Heart in a Cage” sounds like the intersection of an action movie and garage rock – or, it sounds like the climax of 1984. In the final phase of Winston’s torture, O’Brien brings him into Room 101, where Winston must face his worst fear of having his face eaten off by a cage full of rats. His fear is strong enough that he betrays Julia and tells O’Brien to torture her instead. After months of brutality, O’Brien releases Winston.

10. “2 + 2 = 5” by Radiohead
“Are you such a dreamer/to put the world to rights?/I’ll stay home forever/Where two and two always makes a five.”

At the end of the novel, Winston comes to the bone-chilling conclusion that it’s too hard to rebel against the psychologically manipulative Party in all of its power. He accepts that he must learn to love Big Brother; he accepts what he believed to be untrue; he accepts that 2 + 2 = 5.


Amanda Silberling

Amanda Silberling is a student at the University of Pennsylvania from South Florida. Her poems, essays, and reviews appear in Crab Orchard Review, PANK, The Los Angeles Times, and The Rumpus, among others. She currently serves as the Blog Editor for The Adroit Journal and a writer/photographer for Rock On Philly. Find her on Twitter at @asilbwrites.

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