The random spoken–word tracks that come on when you’re shuffling an album on Spotify. The 30–second conversational interjections in the middle or at the end of a song. Pure instrumental tone setters, small snatches of songs, uplifting sermons, or even comedic skits. Interludes are (usually) short tracks that aren’t standalone pieces, and their forms are as varied as the artists who choose to include them. A tradition stretching backing decades, interludes are found in all genres of music, yet are often a staple of R&B and hip–hop albums.
But in a world of smash–hit singles, viral dances, headline–grabbing statements, and lighting–fast music streaming, these subtler musical concepts that create narratives, tie albums together, and personalize the artists are often dismissed. And this translates to numbers, too. Take Kanye West’s a one–minute orchestral soundscape. While most songs on the album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy reached anywhere between 50 and 200 million plays on Spotify (including the interlude’s much more famous counterpart at 195 million streams), the interlude currently stands at the relatively light 24,839,070 plays. This discrepancy is more extreme for other artists. Janet Jackson’s single from her 2006 album 20 Y.O. was downloaded more than after its release and currently has more than 5 million plays on Spotify. The interlude Less than , and less than 1,000 Spotify plays. Customers who buy albums have called them and as comments state in response to Justin Timberlake’s In a digital age, where skipping songs is easy and listening to an album straight through is less often the way we consume music, interludes are becoming less profitable for labels and less captivating to listeners.
But I urge you to buck this trend. As Billboard puts it, we’re in So many of our favorite popular artists—SZA, Rihanna, Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, Calvin Harris, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, and Kendrick Lamar, to name a few—have incorporated interludes into their albums. And when they’re done right, interludes can transform an album from a collection of songs to a narrative; if they’re done mid–song, it can turn a track from a piece of music to a story. They’re opportunities for musicians to switch up styles and transition between vibes.
They show that the artist you’re listening to isn’t just a song–making machine, but a human, with emotions and backstories driving their music. Take one of my favorite interludes, from by Alicia Keys (the interlude is from about 3:10 to 4:45). Around the middle of the track, Alicia picks up the phone to call Michael, the man she had been pining for. The resulting conversation, which we hear from Alicia’s side, is exuberant and uplifting, and the two plan to go out on a date together. It’s hard not to memorize the entire monologue, and the song wouldn’t be as vivid, relatable, or heartwarming without it. Furthermore, the album—The Diary of Alicia Keys—benefits immensely from these little glimpses into real life. Although it might’ve been staged, the interlude personalizes the song and album, and quite simply, The Diary of Alicia Keys wouldn’t be a diary without it.
Interludes everywhere serve different purposes. For the artist crafting the album, they’re a work of art as valuable as their singles. And they can enhance the listener’s experience, too. Because even if singles are the meat and bones of your Spotify history, interludes can and should be the connective tissue that holds them all together.