In 2016, Spotify launched its Wrapped feature as an evolution of its Year in Music summary report. To generate FOMO (fear of missing out) in those that weren’t users, Spotify gifted its customers a personalized recap of their listening habits over the year, including preferred genres, favorite artists, and top songs, all neatly packaged in eye-catching graphics. As someone who anxiously awaits their Spotify Wrapped each year, I became curious as to why this marketing campaign has become a pillar in the lives of music lovers and what it implies about the human experience.
Last week, I got an email from Spotify saying my Wrapped was here. Cue the excited screeches and hurried thumbs. I immediately flew to my Spotify app to watch my brightly colored, a witty-one-liner-filled video describing my listening tendencies over the past year. Some elements I found surprising, while others were essentially inevitable. Taylor Swift will likely never fall from her #1 pedestal but having a Queen ballad above one of Phoebe Bridger’s signature melancholic serenades was unexpected. I had a Bohemian Rhapsody phase. What sane human doesn’t at some point in their development?
Aside from the evident joy of seeing my music taste summarized and categorized, I love opening my Spotify Wrapped because it tells the story of my year. When I see a heavy presence of Phoebe Bridgers and Taylor Swift’s imaginative albums Folklore and Evermore, I know there were times when I wasn’t feeling my strongest emotionally, and music became a sonic coping mechanism. Then I spot Megan Thee Stallion and Doja Cat, and I know I spent a healthy amount of time running on the treadmill and lifting weights while lip-syncing and mimicking drum sequences. Fergie and other 2000s titans told me I tirelessly danced with my friends while getting ready and trying not to poke my eye out with mascara. New artists like Noah Kahan show I mixed some new with the old and can’t pass up satirical, self-deprecating lyrics even on my best days.
Spotify Wrapped also includes minutes spent listening to a particular song or artist, which allowed me to discover my poor car has seen its fair share of jam-outs to Tom Petty’s “Don’t Do Me Like That,” complete with air guitar and hair-flipping. Nestled next to Petty’s hit was a beautiful ballad about coping with lackluster romantic experiences courtesy of Lizzy McAlpine.
While Spotify may occasionally use this opportunity to expose me for being insufferably introspective and painfully bare, it feels like it’s celebrating my music taste all the same. I listened to music that made me want to perform in my bedroom, run a marathon efficiently, and cry into my pillow. All in the same year. Versatile if you ask me.
One thing I love more than analyzing my own Spotify Wrapped: going over my friends’ with a fine-toothed comb. About five minutes after watching my own Wrapped, I quickly requested my friends’ at their earliest convenience, as I find seeing their summary reports equally, if not more, fascinating.
If no one entertains me on astrology, then at least concede that music taste is very indicative of a person’s personality.
Based on Spotify’s findings, I discern if my friends teeter towards country, pop, or rock and if we have anything in common. My friend McLean gravitates toward older rock and folk music, but we share a top artist in Rainbow Kitten Surprise. Mary Anna is an avid Harry Styles fan, but we share a whole song in Hozier’s Would That I. It’s cool to know that even though I live a completely different life from my friends and bear the result of a million different experiences, we find comfort in the same things and seek solace in the same places. Every time I put my headphones in to walk to class, there’s a chance I click play on the same track as Ellen, my friend with a similar penchant for the Hamilton soundtrack. Laugh all you want, I’ve connected to my friends from miles and miles away, and I get to see evidence of it every December.
Besides the obvious fun of seeing your music consumption in a snapshot and comparing it with your friends, I believe Spotify Wrapped is a treat for users because of the human propensity to be engrossed with oneself. Before I elaborate, I want to clarify that I’m not accusing people of being selfish or narcissistic. At least, not everyone.
We love to see inside our psyche and understand our emotions at different times. Why was I sad in April? Why was I feeling nostalgic in May? Whom was I trying to impress in June? It’s human to want to reminisce and explore what aided our transformation into who we are today. Therapy is a luxury most can’t afford, so we turn to our Spotify Wrapped instead to try to make sense of our phases.
In the age of social media and pesky self-comparison, people tend to grasp at whatever they can to define themselves and fashion a sense of identity. Once that identity is securely established, comparison to anyone and everyone traipsing through your feed ensues. Why do we see everyone’s Spotify Wrapped on social media? Because it’s one more thing, we feel compelled to compare and contrast with others. If you believed your music taste was safe from being subjected to the same negative thoughts that result from constantly seeing body checks and designer clothes hauls, think again.
But if there’s one thing that you steadfastly guard against the sharp nails of self-comparison, let it be music. Not everyone seeks shelter from their day-to-day life in music, but those that do will swear by its ability to be a reasonable force for whatever you need. Music is truly personal and listening to it is one of the many privileges of this life. Dare I say we are what we listen to?
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