One unequivocal force for good in our modern dystopia: Spotify Wrapped.
For the few uninitiated, Spotify Wrapped is the annual, year-end summation of each individual user’s data that gets delivered to them by Spotify, usually in early December . Each Spotify user gets told their most listened to songs of the year, most listened to artists, their favorite podcasts and fun facts about their listening habits, all in the form of animated infographics. Apple Music has this too, it’s called Replay.
It’s become popular to share your Wrapped on social media. For about two days each December, it feels as though every Instagram story and about half of all tweets are people sharing their accumulated data. It’s become so ubiquitous that there is now a trend on TikTok where people just share their fear that they will be embarrassed by weird or cringey music that they listened to incessantly over the past year, whether it be by Bo Burnham or the Glee Cast.
Yet, potential for embarrassment is a positive in our current social media climate. It’s been said over and over, but it continues to be true that Instagram and Twitter are unhealthy because they only show snapshots of an idealized life. As Jia Tolentino wrote in her essay “The I in Internet,” “because the internet’s central platforms are built around personal profiles, it can seem—first at a mechanical level, and later on as an encoded instinct—like the main purpose of this communication is to make yourself look good...his is why everyone tries to look so hot and well-traveled on Instagram.”
Nevertheless, with Spotify Wrapped, the difficulty setting is much higher for that sort of self-cultivation. While people may listen to music that they think is cool, they don’t typically listen to music with the goal of optimizing their social media presence. Music is, for many, part of our daily lives, and it’s virtually impossible to spend an entire year listening to music solely with one social media post in mind. This is especially true because Spotify doesn’t allow you to check in on your Wrapped throughout the year. You’re in the dark until the list comes out.
There’s something valuable in that: it’s a social rule that you should post your Wrapped, yet it’s too unruly to cultivate it. When someone posts a Wrapped, you see what their most listened to song of the year is, whether that be “Savage Good Boy” by Japanese Breakfast or “5500 Degrees” by EST Gee, or even something as seemingly universal as “Good 4 U” by Olivia Rodrigo. This post is an opportunity for users to see what their online peers spent the year hearing. Your Spotify Wrapped says a lot about you, but you don’t have a lot of control over what it says. That’s about as uncultivated as social media can get.
Perhaps the even more valuable role that something like Spotify Wrapped can play is as a tool for potential self-reflection. Each year, boys see lists of what they listen to and have the potential to notice that they don’t listen to any female artists. Each year, thousands of white people can self-evaluate upon learning that they spent very little time listening to any Black artists. Spotify Wrapped is presented as a celebration of your listening habits, but it doesn’t have to be taken that way. It is cultivated data about the perspectives you consume with regularity each day.
This matters! It’s been argued that pop music made us consumerist, that indie rock music represented salvation, and that rap music “transformed New York City.” If all that is true, it would be naïve to assume that the music we listen to, and the musicians who write it, don’t affect our everyday sensibilities and compassions. It’s not that every man who doesn’t have a woman in his top five most listened to artists of 2021 is a misogynist, but it does mean that this is an area of his life in which he is not substantively engaging with women’s perspectives. And again, because the data accumulates all year, Spotify Wrapped will not include a token listen to Mickey Guyton’s social justice-focused “Black Like Me.” Rather, it will include what you actually listened to on a daily basis.
When Spotify Wrapped 2021 rolls out, it might be worthwhile to refocus on what makes us embarrassed: don’t be ashamed by the fact that you listen to music that was ‘cringey’—instead use it as an opportunity to reflect on truths revealed by your listening habits.