On 1 November every year, Starbucks teases its seasonal menu, supermarket chains stream Christmas carols over glitchy intercoms, and Mariah Carey starts defrosting in the Backrooms. While the internet self-detonates with deep-fried Will Ferrell memes and debates about the importance of Thanksgiving, true Martha Stewart-style, rumbles of an imminent mental health report starts gracing social media platforms.
Originally released in 2015 as “Year in Music,” a feature for users to recap their last 365 days via the songs and artists they listened to the most, Spotify Wrapped has since become an annual tradition—unhingedly gripping everyone’s feeds on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and more.
Typically dropping in the first week of December every year, the tool provides users with tailored reports about their listening habits, including their top 5 artists, songs, and favourite genre. Additionally, it sketches the number of minutes you’ve spent listening to music—a statistic that you’ll either be embarrassed or proud of, with absolutely no in-between.
In 2019, Spotify’s head of consumer and producer marketing June Sauvaget told Forbes that Wrapped “creates this FOMO effect that happens and that inherently entices new users to consider Spotify.” Meanwhile, Alex Bodman, the audio streaming company’s vice president and global executive creative director, noted that “much of [its] online presence has been organic.”
Although the platform has been called out for its algorithmic bias, surveillance capitalism, and personal branding, Wrapped continues to grip gen Zers and millennials alike who don’t exactly mind their habits being tracked in exchange for intimate insights they can share with the rest of the world to see and judge. Considering the rise of trends like meta selfies, it’s safe to say that privacy has taken a backseat for younger generations today.
Sporting a screenshot-friendly design with the intent of convincing users to share the statistics across their go-to social media platforms, Wrapped has essentially changed the way we consume music.
While Gleeks restrain themselves from indulging in their true musical pleasures until the app stops tracking their habits every Halloween, most of us have tried changing the trajectory of our reports by streaming gatekept artists or playing songs on mute to increase our minutes listened. If you aren’t guilty of these claims, you’re either lying to yourself or have impressively manifested the affirmation that your Wrapped doesn’t define you as a living and breathing human being.
Heck, the coveted feature has also redefined how we simp and diss each other on the internet. In 2022, responses to thirst traps have become synonymous with remarks like “Need to see their Spotify Wrapped so bad.” When deployed in a digital argument, the same is altered to “I bet you don’t share your Wrapped screenshots because they’re goofy af.” Hey, in my defence, I’m not the same person that I was six months ago, okay? So, I won’t let my Wrapped 2022 define me.
If you’re a chronic Twitter user, chances are that your feed is swamped with public anxiety surrounding Spotify Wrapped 2022—under the guise of memes and GIFs. Among a plethora of unhinged Elon Musk tweets come comments by users who are excited to make Wrapped their entire personality for a week. And, as per usual, the feature’s release date has also been bait for further misinformation on the platform.
In 2019, Wrapped was released on 5 December. In 2020, it dropped on 2 December, while the year after recorded its presence on 1 December. As of 24 November 2022, a quick scroll through Twitter is bound to initiate you into the purposeful rabbit hole of “Wrapped comes out today!” tweets. That being said, it’s worth noting that Spotify itself may be partly responsible for this anxiety.
As of late, every single time I open Twitter, my timeline has been bombarded with tweets from the audio streaming service. With every rising dawn comes a reference post with the caption: “Turn up the music… it’s almost about damn time for #SpotifyWrapped.” Although the platform’s social media team is seen replying to viral tweets about Wrapped, it doesn’t seem to take the same interest in quenching anxieties about the exact date the feature is set to drop.
“I’m always scared for my Spotify Wrapped so I want to know the date that I can expect it… at least two weeks before,” a user told me on Discord, adding that they’ve “grinded” the whole year by streaming music on the app in the background to boost their minutes listened.
“I don’t play certain music my friends send me because I’m scared it’ll ruin my Spotify Wrapped,” a second admitted. Meanwhile, a third went on to state: “Spotify Wrapped is better than the Emmys. Fight me.” Weird flex, but okay.
Most of the users I talked to agreed that the feature has now evolved into a tradition that marks the beginning of the holiday season. “I wonder about all my stats on Youtube, Discord, Instagram,” one added. “I wish there were things like Spotify Wrapped in each of them where we can see all our data like the most watched video, channel etc. And even further, I wish god would show us data of our life.” Nothing to see here, just gen Zers being the generation that is least concerned with how Big Tech uses their personal information.
So, what exactly is the solution for the anxiety Spotify itself builds around the drop of its coveted feature? For many, it’s a permanent day every year that they can keep an eye out for and take their own sweet time when it comes to sharing the insights on Instagram. Brownie points if the dedicated day is declared as a public holiday.
“[Spotify Wrapped] should be a global celebration,” a user said, adding that Google should integrate it as an official holiday on everyone’s calendars. “Can a gen Zer in the US government approve this?” a second asked, while a third mentioned: “I don’t know about you guys, but the day Wrapped goes live has always been a holiday for me.”
On Reddit, however, users were a little more critical of the move. “Yay another corporate holiday!” a person remarked, “But in all seriousness, not everyone uses Spotify.” Others went on to state that the last thing they want is for corporations to be responsible for public holidays.
When asked about their views on how much longer Spotify can keep enthusiasts on the edge of their seats when it comes to Wrapped 2022, most users replied with the threat of switching to Apple Music if the release date pushes past 1 December. “Even if it doesn’t happen, I wish Google Calendar would give me a notification when it goes live every year,” a fan noted.
Maybe all the audio streaming service needs to make the choice now is a change.org petition? Only time can tell, but at the moment, it’s safe to assume that your annual mental health report isn’t dropping for another week or so.
December is the season for hot cocoa, gift-giving, and an influx of Spotify Wrapped screenshots on social media. Each year, as November fades away, Instagram and Snapchat stories witness an influx of the latest screenshot-friendly designs Spotify has released. Whether you couldn’t care about everyone else’s top five songs or you look forward to the fun graphics each year, Spotify Wrapped continues to appear on most of our screens. Though, as its annual campaign becomes increasingly popular and more visually appealing, what exactly is the audio streaming giant achieving by curating these annual summations of our individual listening tastes?
Organic—and free—marketing could be pinpointed as the main reason Spotify unrolls the feature. As its users watch their personalised and playful year in review, many capture the graphics displaying their listening activity to share with others on social media platforms. Users can even screenshot their top artists of the year in a variety of colourways to align with their personal aesthetic. By crafting this dynamic feature, Spotify routinely pulls off a largely low-cost marketing campaign. Rather than hiring brand influencers as it has in the past with the likes of Sophie Turner, Wrapped prompts all users to act like influencers themselves. When the feature was rolled out for the third time back in 2017, the platform asked listeners to “be brave enough to share [their] listening history.” This allegedly led to 5 million shares on social media that year, and that number has only skyrocketed since.
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In 2019, Spotify’s head of consumer and producer marketing, June Sauvaget, told Forbes that Wrapped “creates this FOMO effect that happens and that inherently entices new users to consider Spotify.” In the same article, Alex Bodman, Spotify’s vice president and global executive creative director, noted that “much of [its] online presence has been organic.”
Through the company’s thousands of unique billboards that coincide with Wrapped findings, Spotify has been able “to create cultural moments.” Bodman also said that it achieves this annual success by treating the campaign “as something that you’re not just trying to think of as an ad.” Instead, he acknowledged its mission to “entertain.” This goal is deeply embedded into the company’s advertising structures—though it could be argued that tapping into collective and individual identities is at the heart of its marketing goals.
Rather than selling music, Spotify sells us curated versions of ourselves. Through mood-oriented and Discover Weekly playlists, the streaming giant affects both what we listen to and how we do it. While in many ways this is beneficial and desirable—who doesn’t want to find new music that they’ll most likely love—it also begs the question: what’s the purpose of Spotify doing so?
Like the sense of meaning we often find in star sign readings—even if it means that we’re narcissistic—we’re drawn to music’s uncanny and whimsical ability to identify and express our sense of selfhood. Using immense swathes of personal data, an average Spotify user listens to music for an estimated 2.5 hours a day. Spotify merely cashes in on the artform’s connection with human identity through its various services, the most blatant being Wrapped. Through its highly curated, algorithmically-generated features, the platform is able to produce detailed aural portraits of each of its users. This yearly rollout reaffirms the core of its marketing campaigns which is, as Wrapped’s introduction often reads, “no one else listen[s] exactly like you.”
Though there’s a large distrust in big data and tech giants at the moment, most Spotify users can’t get enough of their highly personalised playlists. The algorithms behind the platform are what have set it apart from industry competitors for years. Benjamin Johnson, an advertising professor at the University of Florida, said that Spotify has avoided the “creepiness factor” of data collection “by granting a maximum amount of user control over what people’s networks see of their listening history.” Because of this, we feel in control when taking screenshots, choosing the colourway we’d like to display and selecting which parts of the coveted musical summary to include and omit from our social media profiles. As Johnson additionally noted, users can decide ‘Is this going to make me look good?’ or ‘Does this reflect the story I want to tell about myself?’ when viewing their customised Wrapped features.
Due to the amount of time we spend with and on our phones, algorithms effectively unearth some of our deepest patterns and feelings. However, they also reveal how intertwined they have become with the intersection between one’s sense of identity and digital consumer culture. As journalist Kelly Pau succinctly stated in an article for Vox, “[o]ur collective enamoration with” Spotify Wrapped demonstrates how we increasingly see ourselves “as brands to be refined.” Furthermore, users are becoming aware of how their activity on digital platforms is reflective of their own actions while simultaneously being “inherently manufactured and performative.”
This sentiment is present in the work of P David Marshall, a new media and communications professor at Deakin University, who researches how people consider what they share on social media. According to Marshall, “we realise we’re a digital construction” when engaging with social media, but this construction has also become intrinsically connected to who we are, or at least “who we think we are.” By sharing Wrapped playlists, users can come to a better understanding of how they define themselves—as mainstream, niche, or somewhere in between—through their music tastes while also refining this fixed identity to others online.
Although many don’t consider themselves as influencers, Wrapped works in a way that brings out our collective instinct to influence. Pau noted how one Spotify user she spoke to, Isabel Edreva, said that “[i]f someone I really respect has a top song I’ve never heard of, I’m like, ‘Okay, I should listen to it.’” This example reiterates how effective the marketing campaign is in encouraging users to engage with Spotify even more, but also how seamlessly the streaming platform fits into our desire to define ourselves on and offline in relation to others. Our instinct to share is tied with designing a specific brand of ourselves, and, through personalised data, Spotify effectively continues to help us curate our sense of selves—for better or worse.