The Truth about Spotify Wrapped cover image

The Truth about Spotify Wrapped

Andrew Basile • January 30, 2021

streaming music-industry

Picture this: The year is 2011. It’s your freshman year of high school. Your friends just came over after school and you all rushed to your room to show off the new music you had found that week. You exchange Mac Miller, Wiz Khalifa, Drake, G-Eazy, and Mike Stud mixtapes before showing off the Friendly Giant mashup of Vamos a los Levels that you found on last night. It’s Vamos a la Playa...AND one song. Come on that’s epic! Needless to say, life is sensational.

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Every December when Spotify Wrapped rolls around, I’m briefly reminded of fond memories like this and I recall what it was like to have a music collection which took some bit of time and effort to collect, but was uniquely mine. The hours retagging the metadata on iTunes so that artist’s songs were all stored together on different devices. Finding alternative cover art online so that I had cooler photos to look at while staring at my iPod. Scouring the deepest corners of the internet for rare remixes and secret releases. Waking up an extra hour early to sync a new release to my iPod so I could listen on the way to school - sometimes even earlier if I had a few new albums to sync. I loved it. This is what it took to be the go-to music guy in my friend group, so I took a lot of pride in that time and effort. Moreover, this was the time in my life when I really proved to myself how much I loved music.

As a result of this pride, however, I was admittedly very resistant to streaming services when they first arrived. Why would I want everyone else to readily have access to the same songs that I had? Why would I even want that many songs at my disposal? There’s no meritocracy in that! I would spend hours finding a new song that I loved and now someone can just save it to their library in seconds. They used to at least have to put in a little bit of effort or even money to get new music on their laptop or iPod, but the newfound convenience and accessibility of streaming platforms meant it was only a quick “like” away from being just as much their discovery as it was mine.

I wasn’t ready for this change and convinced myself that a reality in which streaming was the predominant source of music consumption would be one with no character. But, I was wrong. I now understand that these were the conclusions of my naive, yet proud 14-year-old music purist self, and I have come to thoroughly enjoy the offerings of streaming platforms. The dust has settled from streaming’s arrival, too, and I also see that there’s nothing stopping me from still conducting my music discovery “the old fashioned way”. My most important realization since then, though, has been that this magic has not been lost in the streaming era. Sure discovery might be less labor intensive now, but the essence of it all is still there, and it culminates in the entertaining annual spectacle that is Spotify Wrapped.

This year, though, I saw a lot of sentiment online that read along the lines of “no one cares about your Spotify Wrapped, don't post it” and that bummed me out. Contrary to what many may think, Spotify Wrapped is not another symptom of social media’s vapid oversharing environment. Yes it manifests as an Instagram post, but someone’s musical year in review isn’t the same thing as them letting you know what they had for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day and it’s not a feigned happy birthday post as a reason to share a great photo of themselves. Spotify Wrapped is much more than that. It’s a reflection of who they are, their year, what brought them comfort, what took them out of their comfort zone, their trips to the gym, how they got through finals week, who broke their heart, who was there for them, and so much more. It can have a competitive vibe at times and I am guilty of wanting to be in my favorite artists’ top listeners, but I get the most joy from looking at it as a reflection rather than a contest or even celebration. It’s a nice way to stop and acknowledge not just your year itself, but more so the role that music played in it.

So, as we embark on a new year of musical discovery and adventure, let us forget about Spotify Wrapped entirely for the next 11 months, but continue to fuel its statistics. Let’s disregard the optics of what we’re listening to and simply allow the songs we love to do what they’re supposed to do. May the music of our lives enhance our experiences and serve as the soundtracks to our memories next December and every one to come.