The Problem with Spotify Wrapped
In December, there are a multitude of festivities to round out the year, like Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s Eve. For avid music fans, there’s another event to look forward to — Spotify Wrapped.
For anyone who is unaware (or worse, a dreaded Apple Music user), Spotify Wrapped is the annual marketing campaign algorithmically produced by Spotify where “listeners get a deep dive into their most memorable listening moments of the year.” Essentially, it recaps the top tracks, artists, genres, and albums of any given user and encourages listeners to share their results via social media. Wrapped has existed in some form or another since 2015 when it was simply known as “Year In Music”. The feature has grown in popularity each year, with 2021’s Spotify Wrapped being the biggest one yet: “In 2021, public interest in Spotify Wrapped more than doubled compared to 2020, which was otherwise a record year,” writes Newswhip, a media monitoring platform.
In order for them to prepare the results in time for the Wrapped launch, Spotify stops collecting users’ listening data from October 31 to December 31. This leaves a brief two-month period in which whatever music you listen to won’t be taken into account for Spotify Wrapped. Now that Spotify has entered this post-tracking phase, I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon online — from friends’ Instagram stories to semi-viral TikToks — that some Spotify users are taking this time to finally listen to their “real music taste”.
One TikTok, in particular, stuck out to me: a post from @florakate2 that says, “The anticipation of Spotify wrapped has ruined my life. I cannot enjoy music anymore. Whenever I listen to something that’s even just the slightest bit embarrassing I am overwhelmed by the fear of it showing up on my Spotify wrapped … I’m just not myself anymore.” In the comments, there was a general consensus, with most users agreeing with the post, sharing their own insecurities over how “cringe” their Wrapped would be. Some even offered tips on how to “fix” it in time for October 31: play music on mute during school or overnight, use other apps to keep tabs on your most listened to artists in real-time, even playing songs deemed “embarrassing” on YouTube so they wouldn’t count at all.
At first, I was confused about this sentiment. Surely people this self-conscious over something so inconsequential had to be in the minority. Thinking on it more, though, I realized this post was voicing something many users including myself likely felt but didn’t want to name — Spotify Wrapped just wasn’t fun anymore. But why?
It all has to do with social media. Spotify Wrapped is more than just a recap of your listening habits; it is also a marketing tool for Spotify that wants users to share their listening habits with others and thereby promote Spotify itself. Last year’s Wrapped was filled to the brim with bold, flashy graphics and slogans that reeked of faux-relatability, like “a playlist as long as your skincare routine”. At the end of the slideshow, Spotify urged you to “go forth and proudly share your top-tier taste with the world”, complete with a ready-to-share graphic to put on your Instagram story. Instead of a simple list of analytics for individual listeners, Wrapped becomes a chore for those concerned with the opinions of others, a fear pervasive enough to affect everyone.
With this wave of insecurity over Spotify Wrapped, there have of course been people who find the whole idea absurd and pointless to worry about in the first place. One comment under @florakate2’s post reads: “meanwhile I proudly post my spotify wrapped on my socials to mortify my friends”. At first glance, these kinds of comments seem to promote real authenticity about their music taste, and the ability to proudly share their Wrapped online. But there’s a catch — it’s not embracing the Wrapped so much as it is framing it as a joke, and thereby reinforcing the idea that whatever artists or genres on it are considered “bad taste”. Because of this, Spotify Wrapped creates a frustrating dilemma with only two acceptable avenues: either post a Wrapped that has been carefully manufactured to be deemed as having “good taste”, or post a Wrapped with “bad taste” under the guise of humiliation and self-deprecation.
The catch-22 that Spotify Wrapped has become speaks to a larger issue, one that I believe is Gen Z’s largest problem when it comes to our relationship with the internet: performative authenticity. Being the first age group to be raised on and by the internet, we are markedly intertwined with how we present ourselves in person and online. Because we spend so much time on social media, our presence on it has become inexplicably and unnecessarily tied to our self-worth. Even though Gen Z parades itself on valuing authenticity above all else, true authenticity is impossible on apps where every post must be carefully curated and filtered.
Take BeReal as another example of inauthenticity — an app that has exploded in popularity since its release in 2020. BeReal encourages its users to post a picture at random two-minute intervals each day, priding itself on its spontaneity and, for lack of a better word, realness. Over time, though, BeReal has seemed to have the opposite effect: teens still find themselves not fully committing to the realness. According to a Wired article interviewing two teens about their experiences with the app, one said, “I get a bit annoyed when it comes at a bad time and I’m in bed. So I don’t post, or I make a blank screen. That’s the way it is; people use it in a way that it wasn’t made to be used.” Again, Gen Z is masquerading as truly genuine while still succumbing to the trappings of performative self-presentation.
So what can be done about all this? An entire generation being raised on manufactured charades of authenticity can’t be easily reversed. The collective that is our generation can’t change on a dime, but we as individuals can. It’s too late for some of us to “unfix” our Spotify Wrapped, but when it comes out consider posting it all: the good, the bad, and the cringey. The only way we can eradicate the fear of having “bad taste” is to wholeheartedly accept our preferences as they are.
Listen to Glee covers. Listen to Disney classics. Listen to video game soundtracks and Linkin Park and High School Musical 2 and anything else that you might hesitate to share publicly. When you share your 2022 Spotify Wrapped on your Instagram story, regardless of what’s on it, you might be making it just a little bit easier for someone else to do the same.
Buchan, Sophie. “Spotify Wrapped 2022 release date and why some months aren't included in results.” Glasgow Live, 8 November 2022, https://www.glasgowlive.co.uk/news/spotify-wrapped-2022-release-date-25460989. Accessed 11 November 2022.
Corzo, Haley. “Engagement to Spotify Wrapped content doubled in 2021 - Newswhip.” NewsWhip, 7 December 2021, https://www.newswhip.com/2021/12/engagement-to-spotify-wrapped-content-doubled-in-2021/. Accessed 22 November 2022.
Erin Duffy, Brooke, and Ysabel Gerrard. “BeReal and the Doomed Quest for Online Authenticity.” WIRED, 5 August 2022, https://www.wired.com/story/bereal-doomed-online-authenticity/. Accessed 11 November 2022.
Metz, Rachel. “Spotify Wrapped shows how our personal data gets sliced and diced.” CNN, 2 December 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/12/02/tech/spotify-wrapped-data/index.html. Accessed 11 November 2022.
“2022 Wrapped.” Spotify, https://www.spotify.com/us/wrapped/. Accessed 11 November 2022.