Beats 1 Is Pretty Cool

Frank Ocean’s radio show is a nice reintroduction for Beats 1.


Friday afternoon’s — or Friday morning’s, or evening’s depending where in the world you were — big music news was a two-hour block of radio called “Blonded Episode 001,” a Beats 1 radio show from Frank Ocean.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/station/episode-001/idra.1177818317

The episode featured tracks from Prince, an interview with Jay Z (an indication of a thaw between Tidal and Apple, which have fought over exclusives and have had stalled acquisition talks, or just Ocean doing his own thing?) and very few, if any, words from Ocean himself.

For many, this was the first time that many music listeners had decided to tune into Apple’s radio-station-cum-advertisement-for-Apple-Music perhaps since Drake dropped a new track called “4 PM in Calabasas.” It was fascinating to see music publications light up with the news, which tend to ignore major artists presenting shows. But Frank Ocean is elusive, so it’s big news when he pops up.

At two years old this June, Beats 1 has become a bit of a sleeper hit — in the way that the most famous company can have a sleeper hit. The station has led to a few of my obsessions of late (Christine and the Queens and Anderson .Paak to name two) and is always an entertaining listen when I tune in.

For the uninitiated, Beats 1 has about 8 hours of anchored programming to start Monday-Thursday (at 12 p.m. Eastern time), with Zane Lowe, Judie Adenuga and Ebro Darden. These three DJs really drive the network, premiering songs from up and coming artists. Their playlists are diverse, but tend to skew toward pop and hip hop that is generally adjacent from what’s played on terrestrial radio.

After that, there is a request hour, followed by artist-driven programming. Elton John has a show, St. Vincent had a show, Run the Jewels has a show, Ryan Adams has a show. Each show is mainly an hour of music, perhaps with a few interviews interspersed. You get the idea.

I find that the best way to listen, for me at least, is just to jump in on my commute. This means I usually hear the end of a playlist hour, followed by Ebro Darden’s show. Darden’s show is almost always upbeat and irreverent. But maybe you will find something else to love about Beats 1, like its quirky shows and other DJs.

It’s, of course, not perfect; like the rest of Apple Music, it suffers from faults. There are some things Beats 1 could improve on itself: even more live programming at around 8 a.m. Eastern would be a nice start. It’d be cool to have an East Coast drive time playlist, rather than a repeat of last night’s programs, which is what usually airs. It could also never play 21 Pilots’ songs ever again and it would be the greatest station on earth.

The Music app itself could be a lot better at promoting Beats 1, too. The radio tab does display what’s live and offers on-demand content (provided users have an Apple Music subscription). But maybe the app could notify users when a particular artist they “follow” or have played in the last year are appearing on the program? Setting up show-specific alerts would be cool, too. (Something like this has definitely been proposed before.)

Despite these minor complaints, Beats 1 is worth checking out. It’s zany and fun, and very of the moment. It might be a walking billboard for a music subscription (“You’re on Apple Music. This is Beats 1” is a very common bumper slogan on the network), but its original programming is unparalleled from other streaming services.

Listen to Beats 1, you might just find a song you love.