The Irony of Spin Class Music Playlists: Misogyny and Racial Epithets in a Room Full of White Women

Yes, I understand that the title of this post could be jarring…or at least attention-grabbing.

Yes, I understand what I’m about to write is from my, and only my, perspective: a 35-year old white male born in America.

But here it goes…

If anyone reading this has read or followed my blog before, you may remember that I’ve written about cycling/spin classes before. I described how Lexi Young is my and my wife’s favorite instructor at CycleBar NoMa and how I really despised SoulCycle. I was going to write about our favorite instructor Arnie who taught at Flywheel Dupont, until he quit to start his own gym, so writing a post encouraging you to attend his Flywheel classes would do no good.

I enjoy spin classes most of the time, though my excitement about them has waned in the last year or so (I’ve been much more into yoga). The classes are like attending a concert, dance party, and fitness class all at the same time. They’re fun and most people have great energy. But there’s a particular demographic that attends these classes: I estimate that about 80 percent of each class is female, and most of the attendees are of European descent; only a small number are of African descent. Basically, the classes are filled up with white girls from about 25 – 40 years of age.

And that was why I was thinking about this recently. While attending some classes, particularly recently, I noticed a trend, which I find quite disturbing, and it’s a trend that spans instructors, studios, and locations:

The playlists.

Each instructor curates their own playlists, and the music they play is entirely their choice. Of course, it behooves them to play music that the attendees like, and some even develop “theme rides” with particular subgenres of music: 80s pop, 90s mix, or even “battles” like “The Two Justins: Timberlake vs. Bieber” or “Battle of the Boy Bands: N’Sync vs. Backstreet Boys,” in which all of the songs in the class would be from those artists/groups.

However, most of the music, outside of these theme rides, tends to be from the Top 40. I don’t listen to pop music, so I’m unfamiliar with the songs, but because I wear ear plugs (it gets quite loud and I encourage everyone who attends a class to wear them), I can usually comprehend at least some of the lyrics of the songs.

And that’s when my brow furrows, my neck pulls my head back, and I look around the room puzzled.

I hear lyrics about “hos” and “bitches” and the n-word.

What?

And it’s not just one song. It’s several of them. Then another song comes up, and I’ll hear the instructor say over the microphone, “Oh my god, I love this new song! It’s so good!” and I’ll hear more of the same lyrics.

Because I usually grab a bike in the back, I can see most of the class. The 80 percent–the young, white females–are still bouncing along to the beat as if everything is fine and normal. The artist is rapping about bitches and hos, and these girls are pedaling at 120 beats per minute.

After I noticed this several times in several different classes and locations, I decided to ask the instructors about their choices. Some brushed off my question entirely, while others fall back to the line of “Well, this is what the Top 40 is and that’s what people like.”

“Have you ever considered clean versions of songs?” I asked in response.

“That’s not really possible because Spotify doesn’t really have those,” one said.

So I asked another question: “Have you ever thought about incorporating something like vocal or non-vocal electronic dance music?” It seemed like a good idea to me; the music has a good beat, has built-in intervals, and doesn’t have vocalists calling women hos and bitches and black people the n-word.

“Not really,” one instructor said to me. “But if you have some ideas, send me some songs you know!”

While I’m sure this instructor would accept my suggestions, I highly doubt that anything I propose would make it into a playlist, let alone one I would hear at a class I show up to.

I’ve thought about this for several weeks and I fear that I am in no better place to offer suggestions or solutions to fix what I perceive as a problem than before I wrote it. I just feel it is necessary to address the irony of a situation: hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young, urban professional white women in Washington DC, a.k.a. Chocolate City, paying $30 per class to ride a stationary bicycle and sweat profusely while hearing a rapper call women hos and bitches and hearing the n-word.

I wish there was a better way. I wish I could go to a class with my wife and not have to hear misogyny and racial epithets. But as Bart says to Marge in a Simpsons episode, “Sorry, Mom, the mob has spoken!”

As long as it’s what people want (or don’t say anything), I’m sure the instructors will continue playing the same stuff.

Maybe Chris Rock was right. In one of his famous stand-up acts, he described women who danced in clubs to misogynistic rap music, as he called it. Rock’s assessment of the situation?

“If the beat’s alright, they’ll dance all night.”

And they kept on dancing…or in this case, cycling.

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