Spotify Wrapped and the Impending Damnation of Music

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Words: Felix McIntyre (He/Him)

It’s that time of the year again. The nights are drawing in. A biting cold is seeping through the cracks of the city of Glasgow, ready to hang against the perpetual, black-grey sky throughout the slow winter months. Many have taken the annual precautions: ensuring they have coal for the fireplace, hats and scarves for the streets, and plenty of Heinz tomato soup. Make of it what you will, but there are undeniable joys that accompany the arrival of Scotland’s most abhorred season. Not least, that fateful day in December upon which young people all over the world arise, far earlier than they usually would, in frantic anticipation of what surprises and wonders may be awaiting them this year, eager to compare their winnings and good fortune with that of their friends. You guessed it folks, I’m on about the morning of ol’ Spotify Wrapped. 

Arguably the internet’s most revered international holiday, Wrapped began as a simple marketing campaign in 2016. The app presents you with your listening statistics and habits throughout the year, prettily packaged up for your Instagram story. It has since spiralled into a viral, obsessive colossus of online personality, aiming us towards the ever-unreachable pedestal of  individuality. Quite frankly, I eat it up every time. There’s no denying it – it’s fun! Despite the fact that a vast array of third-party websites and apps exist that can, at any point throughout the year, provide you with the very same statistics that Wrapped does, many will choose to turn a blind eye to these, awaiting the real deal at the end of the year. So, what about Spotify’s glorified statistical PowerPoint presentation has enamoured our generation so feverishly across the globe? The answer is fairly straightforward – it talks to you. Over the years, Spotify has learnt to feed the listener’s individualism. They provide this not only through Wrapped (which flirtatiously informed last year’s users that only they would be so unique and unpredictable as to listen to Fleet Foxes immediately followed by Charli XCX), but also through little ego-boosting pop-ups that inform users that they’re in the top 0.1% of listeners to a certain artist and ‘badges’ to praise them if they were one of the first to stream an artist’s song. Spotify insists users build a one-way relationship with celebrities. Essentially, they know how to make you feel special, and it works. 

One cannot help but ask how this encouragement towards performative music consumption through individualistic praise and an insistence on sharing your corporate-approved uniqueness has affected the way we listen to music on a regular basis. I will wholeheartedly admit that I have, in the past, entered a new year full of aspirations with my next year’s Wrapped in mind. Granted, such thoughts may quickly be pushed aside as singles are teased, albums are released and a year of new music, personal tastes, and emotional connections naturally change my music consumption throughout the year. Yet, the thought of an algorithm influencing aspects of our lives as personal and human as music, the lifeblood and pride of so much of our  history, is a little blood-curdling. 

At the end of the day,  I personally do not care how other people listen to music – and nor should you. From the age in which music could only be listened to in person; through to the tape age; the vinyl age; the cassette age and the CD age, people listen to music with different motivations. Some to entertain themselves, some to entertain others, to impress others, to learn and to be inspired. Little has changed. The issue at hand here: the algorithmic, all-seeing, post-human entity worming its way into our ever-blurring virtual and true personalities. It stems from Spotify’s corporate greed and haunting awareness of how it is affecting us. It is not the fault of the consumer that we are trapped within this spiral of self-gratification and hyper-individualism. Corporations have endlessly tried, and sadly largely succeeded, in gaslighting the masses into feeling guilt on their behalf. Spotify has been working hard to alter an entire industry and creative process to capitalise upon the way in which music is produced. Last summer, the company’s CEO announced it is simply ‘not enough’ for artists to release albums every 3-4 years (NME). Now, it attempts to do the same to the listener, pressuring Spotify users to prove they listen to ‘enough’ hours of music, making people doubt their very own personality and credibility.In short, while Spotify indeed poses a threat to our own self-perception and fuels insecurity about how ‘individual’ we are (or seem), this is nothing new. Social media (a category of platforms Spotify now undoubtedly falls under) has been doing this for years. The true battle here is one for music itself. Spotify’s destruction of our autonomy over our music choices, its creativity, and its unyielding humanness threaten to jeopardise an artform in a way that has never been so immediately daunting.


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