When Spotify Wrapped came out in 2017, it hit my groups like breaking news. A friend frantically sent me a screenshot showing they’re among the top 1 percent of Frank Ocean’s listeners with a message, “Can I believe it,” followed by a deluge of text messages from other friends, highlighting their accolades in the live broadcast. It wasn’t long ago that people all over the internet shared their listening results. Instagram stories have been full of streaming stats that either mock low-key taste or reflect on artistic inclinations. (I admit, I also shared myself.)
Spotify originally released its first iteration of Wrapped in 2015 as The Year in Music, a feature that allows users to look back through the last 365 days through the songs and artists they listened to most. The tool included statistics such as the listener’s most played songs and the number of hours of music they listened to in total. Despite the popularity, General in Music didn’t go viral, not until two years later it was upgraded to the customizable graphic version, which it is now.
Now, Spotify Wrapped is an annual tradition, representing the changing of the seasons in the same way that beloved cultural staples like Starbucks cups for the holidays or Mariah Carey celebrate the holidays. But as the Spotify feature has grown in popularity, so has the rhetoric about algorithms, the use of which has become standard procedure on social media, upon which Wrapped relies.
The algorithm takes a set of inputs and generates an output, in the same way that a recipe turns ingredients into a cake. Spotify’s reliance on algorithms means that it uses data from its customers to create music discovery delivered through playlists. Open Spotify’s homepage and you can find any number of curated playlists that source user data collected from the app, from “US Top Songs,” which collects mass data, to “Discover Weekly,” which derives from personal data. To create these playlists, Spotify tracks the music you listen to, organizes it into specific categories, benchmarks the tracks against other listeners, and uses this information to choose the music it wants to show you.
Spotify’s algorithmic delivery was what initially set it apart from other music streaming platforms, and it’s often cited as an important factor in the app’s success despite its reliance on tracking data. One app user, Kiana McBride, 22, told me, “My Discover Weekly is often active. Spotify has such good data analytics, and it can decide which music I’m likely to enjoy.”
While tracking music data doesn’t seem too mysterious at first glance, the use of AI has been shown to differentiate. Reports have shown how AI can be encoded with bias and perpetuate racism. When combined with video technology or security software, algorithms have also played an essential role in fostering surveillance capitalism. There have been reports that the platform feature is inaccurate and outrageously marketed. However, Spotify Wrapped is spreading very quickly. Our collective immersion in this feed reveals just how embedded algorithms are in the way we perceive ourselves in the digital consumer culture: as brands to hone.
According to B. David Marshall, Professor of New Media and Communication at Deakin University and a prominent researcher on online identity, the concept of “dual strategic personalities” informs deeply how people approach what they share on social media. “Strategic double character [uses] He told me the word both ways. “Double as in two, and duel, which means you’re already starting to play in a space that understands algorithmic transformations.”
Consumers are increasingly understanding that how they use an app influences the type of content they see, creating a dual digital awareness, in which “we realize we are a digital construct,” but we also realize that “the digital construct is connected to who we are — who we think we are,” Marshall said. In essence, our online selves are still an extension of ourselves; it’s not Not A copy of the character. At the same time, it is a version that is made and performant in nature.
As is the nature of the performance, those on stage are called to act without interruption. We strategically build a certain perception of ourselves through snippets that are increasingly optimized with the help of Spotify Wrapped and other algorithms. For example, sharing a summary report on social media can put someone in a certain niche: indie; punk; Stone. If music genres were more obscure, this one could move into very specific areas: folktronica; Cloud Rap Japanese pop music.
One app user, Alfonso Velasquez, 22, told me he loves watching other people’s Spotify scores because by comparison, it “makes him feel more independent.” It speaks of an instinct to organize a brand of itself – an instinct drawn from the culture of the dominant influencer.
“Influencers exist in this dual personality structure, working between an institutional version of themselves and a highly individualistic version of themselves,” said Marshall. For this reason, they “change our broader transnational culture into the normal.”
Another user, Isabel Idriva, 21, told me that they watch other people’s results on Spotify to “take notes”.
“If someone I really respect had a great song I hadn’t heard before, I’d like, ‘Well, I have to listen to it,'” she explained. ”
Many people do not record receiving recommendations from Spotify Wrapped as being affected. But this is the core of influencer culture.
“We start doing different variations of those things that influencers do,” Marshall said. “They’ve become our way of trying to understand life online, and the way we, as regular people, begin to rebuild our concept of differentiated personality.” When internet celebrities like singer Madison Beer, Musical.ly star and singer Lauren Gray, or TikTok-viral musician Laufey post their broadcast results, the practice spreads faster. Spotify Wrapped is just one example of how influencers’ habits, from what they post to how they post it, have turned into a private guide for everyone on the internet, no matter who you follow on social media.
Spotify makes it easier to participate in this culture. With a single click, content – already created in different formatting colors – can be shared. Attractive graphics are pre-created. Users can reveal a little more about themselves with low risk and little engagement, which without thinking simulates how influencers mine their desires and interests to become a brand.
Perhaps it is this seamless engagement with instant brand building rewards that makes the suspicion of tracking your data on the platform pale in comparison. It’s just songs,” Sophronia Barone, 21, user of the app told me. “I think it’s not a big deal.”
Is it just songs? When analyzing the app’s back-end, the team of five researchers behind the 2019 study “Spotify Teardown: Inside the Black Box of Streaming Music” made it clear that the algorithms do not exist in a vacuum. They write, “Scientists have shown how algorithmic content delivery has implications for the production of gender, race, and other classifications. Users are invited – or obligated – to convert their listening habits into ‘taste profiles’, which are measured using a range of parameters.”
They also found out that the company knows your IP address, i.e. location, nationality and, by proxy, social class. Another study by the Bank of England found that Spotify data can even detect a user’s mood. It’s not unreasonable, then, to assume that Spotify can infer a significant portion of your socioeconomic demographic, narrowing down your race, age, and possibly even sexuality if you listen to certain podcasts, such as Spotify’s popular Qiwirology. (And after a Catholic post recently revealed the priest’s sexual activity via his phone’s location data, that information clearly has real-life consequences.) Went.
Of course, Spotify isn’t the only company that has had success with marketing algorithms and back to consumers: everything from DigiScents, which promises to perfume your home based on your web browsing history, to TikTok, the most popular social media app right now. It is all about algorithm-based display and encourages us to buy a ridiculous amount of things. Learn about the culture of artificial intelligence, the new age of digital capitalism, where the consumer remains endlessly stuck in their own feedback loop. If you open an app, you inherently give businesses free work in the form of web visits, AdSense, and taste profiles, just for those apps to sell your profile and user identity – what you are basically – to others and then eventually back to yourself. These companies push us toward algorithm-based viewing, and we don’t just research what their data reveals about us, we eagerly share it for others to see.
We do this in the name of our own brand. Because in the end, we got another quantifiable piece to add to our very specific online personality. For a fleeting moment, we can all be touching, too. “I would love for Spotify to share its stats with you,” McBride said. It’s “as if you were an MLB star to listen to music.”