Spotify Wrapped Isn’t An Algorithmic Representation of Your Audio Selection — It's The Very Essence of You

Spotify Wrapped Isn’t An Algorithmic Representation of Your Audio Selection — It's The Very Essence of You

If music and human behavior go hand-in-hand, then Spotify Wrapped isn’t an algorithmic representation of your audio selection — it’s the very essence of you

MusicDecember 20, 2021 By Keith Stone

Tis’ the season — it’s the holidays once again! This means ‘walking the dog’ outside your childhood home, paid vacation (fingers crossed), honey ham, Christmas cards from family friends you didn’t know existed, and the greatest metamodern tradition of all: seven-hundred thousand ‘Spotify Wrapped’ posts on your timeline. Late November onwards is the time of the year most synonymous with giving, and there’s no better way to spread cheer than letting everyone know you listened to Ukrainian deep-house for seventeen hours in 2021. I’m sort-of kidding, but also not: Spotify’s year-end feature has become a massive staple in digital society. I used to loathe the annual event. Every time the first of December rolled around, I turned into music scrooge. What was it about Spotify Wrapped that grinded my gears? Could it have been my undying loyalty to Apple Music? Or perhaps the aggressive superiority complex that comes with being a music writer? Looking back, I’m not sure I had a legitimate answer. I’ve learned to love the campaign, not because I think everyone’s music taste is quality, but for a much greater reason: Spotify Wrapped is a literal representation of us — not in a “I listen to this music and that makes me unique” way. Neurologically, it’s you in playlist form, and we can’t help but play along. 

This epiphany I found is exactly the reason why Spotify Wrapped has taken over the world. From a technological standpoint, Spotify created something incredible in 2015. First calling it “Year in Music,” the streaming service brilliantly gave users a 365 day summary of their audio preferences. A year later, they renamed it “Wrapped” and watched it grow to unimaginable heights. The many minds behind the operation combined data collection and the desire to be seen online. In the simplest of ways, they used “FOMO” as a catalyst for engagement, and it worked. Each year since its inception, Spotify Wrapped has grown exponentially, and it seems as though this year’s iteration has finally reached a true zenith: societal phenomena. Nat Rubio-Licht of Protocol described perfectly how it’s truly become a can’t-miss communal facet, explaining that “Spotify has managed to accomplish the most rare of things: create a genuine cultural moment every year, a day on which everyone on the internet seems to be talking about the same thing.” Whether you’d like to identify it as such is irrelevant, because she’s right, and by that very definition, Spotify Wrapped is right up there with the Super Bowl (seriously — 2021’s Super Bowl LV drew 96.4 million viewers, and Spotify Wrapped was used by just over ninety million people). Since we’re talking sports — arguably our largest cultural connection — more people had Spotify tell them their taste was “on point, king” this year than the NBA and MLB championship series combined was watched… nearly seven times over. 

Music is the universal language. Sounds and styles, instruments, tempos, octaves, vocal patterns — these pieces in a greater sonic puzzle have fit together across oceans and continents, stretching centuries of time. It’s woven into the fabric of our brains so naturally, one’s decision in what’s playing through their headphones is synonymous with the most common human actions and emotions. In 2019, a research team at Harvard took the lid of the human skull and searched for an explanation. Coincidentally, their analysis banked on four attributes: machine summaries, listener ratings, expert annotations and expert transcriptions — sound familiar? After countless hours of work I can’t begin to describe, they found that “across societies, music is associated with behaviors such as healing, dance, love, infant care, warfare, processions, ritual, and much more.” They came to the conclusion that, without a shadow of a doubt, “songs that share behavioral functions tend to have similar music features.” 

What does this have to do with sharing your taste through Spotify? The list of preceding traits that the aforementioned research team documented is vast and all-encompassing, leaving a general, profound discovery at the forefront: if music and human behavior go hand-in-hand, then Spotify Wrapped isn’t an algorithmic representation of your audio selection — it’s the very essence of you. And as long as that essence isn’t in the top .0001% of Ed Sheeran listeners, I think that’s fucking beautiful.