It’s that time of the year again. December 1st. You open Instagram, as you probably do every morning, just to browse around. See what your friends have been up to, or maybe celebrities you admire, or brands you like to keep up with. However, today is not a normal day in the wonderful universe that is Instagram. No, today is the day the absolute grip Spotify Wrapped collectively has on us, is being broadcasted into the world.
For those unaware, Spotify Wrapped is a personalized playlist of 100 songs, that everyone with a Spotify account can access on December 1st. It also allows users to view a compilation of data about their activity on the platform; most notably the five musicians, songs and genres the user listened to most frequently. Ever since its first release in 2016, Spotify Wrapped has been a hit on social media, with most people posting screenshots of theirs to Instagram and other platforms. Because it invites its users to share this data on social media, and people seem to very much enjoy doing so, Spotify Wrapped acts as a free viral marketing campaign every year, with Spotify seeing a boost in the app store ranking every early December.
Just like any successful marketing campaign, Spotify Wrapped tends to get on peoples nerves, since we are so excessively exposed to it in a short amount of time. However, Tweets and posts proclaiming to ‘not care about your Spotify Wrapped’ are almost as abundant as the posts they are criticizing. On some level it is understandable that people would feel this way, weeding through the Spotify Wrapped content flooding their timelines. Maybe you don’t care that some guy you went to primary school with is boasting that his number one artist is Radiohead for the third year in a row, which he undoubtedly thinks is something that makes him very edgy and cool. At face value, it does seem to be useless info that is being thrown at you every December. You might enjoy looking at your own Spotify Wrapped, but why would you be interested in that of others?
Why you should care
Well, isn’t that ultimately what social media is about? Why would you be so bothered by the people you choose to engage with on social media posting about aspects of their life? While it might be annoying that every other Instagram story is a screenshot of a list of musical artists that might or might not mean something to you, the practice of posting these things does touch on one of the cornerstones of social media: sharing parts of your life and personality with the people who choose to follow you. Is it much different than other types of posts we see so often on social media, aside from the seasonal influx? We scroll past thousands of beautifully laid out lunches and carefully curated outfits, but don’t seem so bothered by their repetitiveness.
Spotify Wrapped posts seem to have an even more positive social impact than other posts that are common on social media, since somebody’s music taste is a very personal thing, and can tell you a lot about one’s character. Seeing somebody abundantly listened to the music from Bo Burnham’s special ‘Inside’ this year, might provoke a deeper connection and understanding of who they are as a person, much more than, for example, seeing a picture of their dog for the umpteenth time.
What you should also definitely care about
However, there are some things you might want to consider before sharing your Spotify Wrapped. Spotify is a dominant force in the music streaming space, which has found out a clever way to garner a lot of free advertising during the December month. In 2021 several articles came out, outlining Spotify’s questionable impact on not only the music industry, but also the influence it has on the way we consume music. Spotify profits massively of off this free advertising campaign every year, but pays musicians that use the platform about $0.0003 to $0.0084 per stream. This means that in order for an artist to make one dollar, a song needs to be streamed 229 times. If a song is streamed one million times, the artist would only receive $4,366. This makes Spotify the second lowest paying streaming service (just after Amazon music), which we all collectively give free advertising every December.
The abundant sharing of our Spotify Wrapped on social media also demonstrates our desensitisation to the collection and storage of data. In a 2019 article in The Guardian, it is stated that the popularity of the Spotify Wrapped campaign “shows that some people not only accept their data being used and stored but embrace their intimate listening habits being put on public display”. The ease with which we accept and share this carefully mined and preserved data, definitely puts our attitude towards the collection of data in the name of convenience into perspective.
Free Your Music, ‘How much does Spotify pay per stream?’ (01-06-2021)
The Globe and Mail, “Spotify Wrapped says more about an algorithm and less about music.” (01-12-2021)
The Guardian, “Spotify Wrapped is free advertising that says nothing about the joy of music.” (06-12-2019)
The Guardian, “Spotify Wrapped users alarmed by their own listening habits.” (01-12-2021)
I think this is a very interesting blog because I also wrote one about Spotify Wrapped but contrary to yours I discussed how much fun I think it is, new features and similar websites and AI’s that analyse your streaming activity.
I agree that Spotify is absolutely rotten for paying artists so little when they are making tons of money. This is rather disproportionate in relation to how much they make.
You write that Spotify is enjoying free advertisement in that time of the year and I agree but you have to admit that it is a genius marketing strategy. They play into FOMO and use and cool visuals and statistics to lure people into downloading the app as well as them using it longer just to have a Wrapped at the end of the year.
Just like you I raised the question about all the data we grant Spotify and the public when we post our Wrapped, but I wonder what people can do with data telling them what I’m listening and how much time I stream music or podcasts.
I like that you mention FOMO, because that’s one of my reasons for downloading Spotify in the first place; it’s a much more powerful driving force than we tend to give it credit for! Also the userbase is definitely at fault for allowing Spotify for getting away with their monetary practices, because there are plenty of other platforms out there which treat artists with much more respect (Bandcamp anyone??) but there’s a vicious cycle of more artists moving to Spotify because it gives them more exposure and in turn more listeners moving to Spotify because their catalogue is the strongest and so on ad absurdum. I’m not sure how to go about breaking that cycle unless everyone moves back to purchasing/pirating individual albums instead of paying for streaming services and I don’t see that happening any time soon for reasons of accessibility and convenience…
Oops, I’m guilty of posting my Spotify wrapped! I love seeing what people have listened to and many friends even dm me asking to share my Spotify wrapped with them (maybe it’s my great music taste).
I think your last point is interesting though, but I guess I personally don’t see any problem with this. Instagram has access to your photo files, which I imagine to be much more sensitive data than my listening habits. I guess I love music so much, and Spotify has made my life so much more enjoyable that I don’t mind the ‘free advertising’. I think most of my friends have an account already anyway so I don’t think I’ll necessarily contribute to any new customers. Still, it’s not something I think of before posting it and it’s a good point you make!
Cool post! I absolutely agree with your last paragraph, but I think that this data is going to be collected anyways, so I guess it’s at least nice that we get to see it as well. In our Digital Discoverers workgroup a few weeks ago, we had a similar conversation relating to how much data is collected on you and how we have no idea what is actually being collected. We advocated for more transparency between corporate entities and consumers re: data collection. This is a trend that has been more widely adopted, I guess, because Reddit rolled out a new ‘Reddit wrapped’ feature, and now Thuisbezorgd is also telling me to take a look at my ‘year of ordering’. Whether or not this is really transparency is to be debated, but my point is I think this is better than our data silently being harvested.
Wow, I had no clue this trend spread so far! I suppose it also fits with all kinds of platforms adopting a ‘stories’ feature after TikTok blew up… It makes me question how long it’ll be before all the major social media platforms coalesce into some kind of homogenous blob, because it does appear like they’re heading in that direction. When there’s no more room for individualized expression based on your choice of platform will we see everyone’s cultural frame of reference align (I mean cross-posting is already huge), and will this signal the end of platform-specific subcultures?
Cool Post!! This topic has been super present on the news recently, as it is every year, but I think an interesting extra piece of information to add to what you have is: apparently Spotify never gave credit to the original creator of Spotify wrapped. Here is a link to an interview that she did: https://thegrio.com/2021/12/06/intern-ham-created-spotify-wrapped-feature/
I’m also not a huge fan of the posting of the results on social media, but I think its nice that you also included a section on why people do it, and why people do care about it.
I think it is funny how some people are so annoyed by all the people who are posting about their Spotify wrapped. I myself think that it is quite interesting to see what other people have been listening to over the last year, and it might reveal things you did not know about them. The negtive side of it is rather what you described in the last section, although I had never really looked at it that way, and I think that goes for many people. So thank you for pointing that out!