Why am I so obsessed with Spotify Wrapped?!?!?!

“Because no one listened exactly like you” :) <3



The following is based on my undergraduate thesis titled “Click, Skip, Share; How Streaming is Changing our Relationship with Music.” The full text can be found here.

Spotify Wrapped Day is my favorite holiday. It has fascinated and excited me every year since I made the switch to Spotify from iTunes 5 years ago. On the playlist that shows me my top 100 songs of the year, I’ll see songs that remind me of a trip I took, a song my sister showed me, a song I first heard live that year. It’s an auditory scrapbook of my year: the relationships I had, the friends I made, and the places I went. I immediately post it on Instagram.

But why am I obsessed with it? Why do I love sharing the curated, beautifully designed graphics on my Instagram Story? Narcissism? Approval? A little of both? Or could it be something more intimate, more human?

Since the rise in popularity of digital music consumption, the inability to see our music consumption physically has altered our relationship with music. In other words, you can stream a song 500 times and it still sounds and looks the same. The album cover on Spotify won’t have creased edges or scratches. It won’t fade because you hung it on your wall where the sunlight hit it for a few months. Enter: Spotify Wrapped, because according to the banner that accompanied the 2019 playlist, “no one listened exactly like you.”

It’s not that I am “proud” of what I listened to this year—rather, it reveals my “guilty pleasure” artists (a term I resent, as I don’t necessarily feel “guilty” that One Direction made it onto my top five artists for the year). It shows me where I found comfort this year (I won’t go into a soliloquy here about how music is an escape from the trials and tribulations of everyday life, of the daily battles and hardships and ups and downs—you know what I’m talking about) and it shows me what I turned to when I didn’t know what to listen to, when the paradox of choice that comes from having too many options of what to listen to is overwhelming. This year, like so many others, I was shown by Spotify Wrapped that I often turned to Taylor Swift.

Seeing our personal taste laid out in a carefully crafted, aesthetically pleasing, ready-for-Instagram graphic is satisfying. Haley Weiss said in her 2018 article on Spotify Wrapped, "We love the embarrassing revelation of a guilty pleasure, or the reinforcement of a cultivated musical identity when the bands at the top of the list match the T-shirt collection in our drawers." For Gen Z, many of whom saw the death of the CD or were born after, music has always been digital. For the small small price of a couple bucks a month (or nothing at all), we have access to more music at a younger age than any generation before us. Music has always been intangible, and thus our taste has been largely contained in our iPods, in the digital realm. Seeing and showing friends and strangers our Spotify Wrapped is our version of a record collection or a CD folder in the car. It’s no wonder that vinyl is making a comeback with the kids (Gen Z bought more vinyl records in 2021 than Millenials); they (we!) crave that physical representation of the music we love.

Streaming allows people to be as public or private as they’d like when it comes to what they listen to. On one hand, you can make every Spotify playlist public, promote them on all of your social profiles, make your listening activity public to your followers, and change your profile picture to one of your face. But on the other hand, you can also retreat into the privacy settings of Spotify by setting a gray outline of a nondescript human as your profile picture, keeping listening activity private, or guarding playlists behind a wall of “Remove Playlist From Public Profile.”

What we listen to when we’re alone in our apartments or in our headphones walking down the street is a view into our little worlds. Over the past few months, I have seen a ton of videos with the same format on TikTok: the cameraperson stops strangers on the street who have headphones in and asks them what they’re listening to. Some seem embarrassed to disclose their answer while some proudly show off their taste. I eat those videos up. It gives you a little glimpse into someone’s life and the soundtrack to their day. What you put on during your commute is one of the most private decisions you can make in a day. It’s something that affects no one around you but has the power to change your disposition completely.

On the day that Spotify Wrapped was released this year, I spent way too long swiping through Instagram Stories of people whose Stories I rarely look at. Every time I saw that someone had the same favorite artist as me, or had a same song in their top five, it (cliché, forgive me) made the world feel a little smaller. To know that someone else listened to “The Divine Chord” by the Avalanches to get them through the year connects us in a wholly new way. It bridges the digital gap between me and someone I studied abroad with three years ago who I haven’t spoken to in ages but still follow on Instagram. Maybe I am over-romanticizing it. Whatever.

Listen to whatever you want. Share it with the world or keep it to yourself. Having “good taste” is a construct meant to make people feel bad about what makes them happy. More on that another time.