Updated 9:45 AM, May 4, 2022.
The other day, during the roar of the 7 p.m. Foco rush, we sat around a coveted Light Side circle booth with nothing but black bean soup in our bowls and joy in our hearts. We were, for the moment, totally content.
Suddenly, we felt a peculiar feeling of loss that we couldn’t quite put our fingers on. We turned to look at one another and suddenly realized what was missing: We couldn’t hear the Foco music. It was nowhere to be found over the din of silverware on plates and the echo of voices on walls.
Foco’s music seems to be a cultural touchstone for many members of the Dartmouth community, and we are no exception. Each morning of winter term, we spent a cherished half hour in Foco for our breakfast ritual. In the quiet of sparsely-populated light side, we sipped on warm coffee and took in the even warmer sounds of the eclectic Foco playlist.
As we sat, we heard everything from “Bubbly” by Colbie Caillat to “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz to “Kiss Me More” by Doja Cat to an unrecognizable electronic dance music beat — an eclectic mix to be sure.
The Dartmouth has already investigated the mysterious origins of the Foco playlist, but we wanted to know something arguably more important: What does the Foco playlist actually mean — if anything — to the students of Dartmouth?
Jamison Poate ’25 described his recent experience hearing Jack Harlow’s new song “Nail Tech” blare through the Foco speakers. According to Poate, who called Harlow’s song “very self-loving,” it changed his mood for the better. When we asked Poate what his ideal Foco music experience would be, he told us that this Harlow moment had taken the cake.
One lyric in particular resonated with Poate that day: When Jack Harlow rapped, “I’m healthy,” Poate said he recalled thinking to himself, “You know what? I am healthy.” For Poate, “Nail Tech” was a confidence booster and exactly what he had needed to hear.
Drawing from our own Foco experiences, we are inclined to agree with him. Our dining hall always seems to have an uncanny knack for playing the songs students need to hear most, and if you told us Foco’s music queue has extra-sensory perception, we would not be entirely surprised.
Earlier this week, I (Mariel) sat in Foco, talking to my friend. I was having a moment, if you will, and inadvertently, I began to cry. In that instant, Foco knew just what to do. Almost immediately after my tears started falling, Fergie herself began to croon over the loudspeakers, “Big Girls Don’t Cry.”
At first, I felt offended, both at Foco and Fergie. Why were they telling me how to feel? As I listened, however, I began to internalize Fergie’s message. Big girls don’t cry. I was having a momentary crisis, and it would pass. The world would keep on turning, I would be okay and I had Foco to thank for that realization.
Other times, the song that comes over Foco’s speakers is, at first listen, completely out of place, but somehow just works.
Caroline Mallory ’25 described a recent early morning Foco music surprise.
“One time I heard ‘No Hands’ by [Waka Flocka Flame] in the morning, at breakfast, in Foco,” she said. “I’m pretty sure it was actually during the week, too. It wasn’t even a weekend breakfast. It was maybe 9 a.m. on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. That was… crazy.”
Waka Flocka’s fan favorite anthem — often relegated to frat basements — rarely gets a chance to see the light of day. Thus, hearing it in Foco gave Mallory a feeling she equated to a caffeine rush.
Just last Sunday afternoon, we experienced something similar while heading towards the dish drop. As we trudged, exhausted, through dark side, we heard the animated beat of an EDM song start to echo through the hall. Did it match our current moods? No, it did not. However, we won’t lie, it put some pep back in our sloth-like step. On a day when everything felt particularly gray and sour — to quote Foco favorite Rihanna — “we found love in a hopeless place.”
Alex Clarke ’25 said that he also generally enjoys the music Foco plays, especially given the dining hall’s tendency to play 80s music. Clarke said that his parents are big fans of 80s music, so it’s been nice for him to hear songs that he “heard quite a lot back at home.”
A highlight of Clarke’s Foco music-listening career was one evening during the beginning of fall term, when “Come on Eileen” graced the ears of all in Foco. Clarke reported that he’s “not ashamed to admit” that he began “kind of dancing in line while it was playing.”
Feeding over 4,000 college students is a monumental task, and if we’re being honest, it’s one that Foco doesn’t always complete seamlessly. However, even when the scrambled eggs are dry or the line for lemongrass chicken is long, moments like these bring joy back into the sometimes soulless experience of large-scale college dining.
We hope that you, too, have been lucky enough to hear a song that fills you with an uncontrollable urge to dance in the dining hall. If not, the next time you’re in Foco during an hour when the chatter of students isn’t deafening, listen closely. Maybe — just maybe — your favorite tune will be floating through the air.