Spotify Wrapped and Everyone’s Obsession With It

Picture of By Katrien Nivera

By Katrien Nivera

Unless you’re using some other music streaming service or live under a rock, chances are you’ve been waiting the entire year for Spotify Wrapped 2021 to drop. December 1st marks the day Spotify releases the Spotify Wrapped, a marketing campaign that lets its users get an overview of their listening habits over the last year, and invites everyone to post it on social media. It’s one of the internet’s most anticipated events of the year, similar to YouTube Rewind. So, when did this obsession with Spotify begin?

So, What is Spotify Wrapped?

The viral music campaign originated back in 2015 as an optional “year in a music” feature so users could see which artists and songs they listened to most. Initially, it wasn’t a popular campaign and people went about most of the year without giving it a second thought. However, everything changed when Spotify added funky graphics and the option to share them with other social media users. And what can I even say except that the rest is history? 

Where Does This Weird Obsession Come From?

I know I’ve spent the year looking forward to Spotify Wrapped too, but I always wondered, why do we get so excited about this campaign every year? On one hand, there’s a cultural and individual significance to living life immersed in music. Music is more accessible than ever before with music players being integrated into everyone’s phones and computers. People are constantly listening to music whether on their daily commute, doing chores, finishing up work, or just for the sake of having something in the background to keep you company. It’s fascinating to see how our personalities are reflected in our year-old music choices and can open a window into someone else’s life and their emotions with just one click. 

On the other hand, people love to use their Spotify Wrapped as a way to flex on the year. No one wants to say it out loud but I can’t count the number of people who have talked about “how good” their Spotify Wrapped was this year. In that sense, whether you realize it or not, you gain clout by showing off who you listened to and how much time you spent listening to them. You can show off the exact number of minutes you used Spotify or look at the variety of music compared to others. Spotify Wrapped created a FOMO effect (fear of missing out) by showing people what they missed out on this year, which to be honest, is enough to motivate anyone to use Spotify the next year, without a doubt. 

“Every Breath You Take, I’ll Be Watching You”

While I have enjoyed Spotify Wrapped in the past, there is something about it that doesn’t sit well with me anymore. Wrapped is Spotify’s way of securing free advertising which is not inherently bad. Most people would argue that it is an exemplary model of a successful marketing campaign (which is hard to deny) because it spends a small portion of its budget preparing for the campaign but probably makes millions in profit from all the individual posts and social media virality it gets. 

And people can see that it works — from 1.2 million Tweets in December 2021 alone to the hundreds of Wrapped graphics you see on Instagram from your friends and family, everyone is aware of Spotify’s presence in people’s lives. It’s no secret how saturated the media landscape gets when the campaign drops at the end of the year. But users need to be aware that they are also providing advertising for a company that is “built on exploited labor”. 

It’s rather ironic that Spotify also includes a bit about all the cool and fun artists you listened to throughout the year when the corporation has run into many issues with paying artists their royalties after users streamed their music through the platform. This especially comes as a problem to smaller, new artists, who need these royalty payments to make a living. This campaign just goes to show Spotify’s grip on the music industry and society’s slow acceptance of corporations commodifying their personal data for profit. 

Free Data For All

If they already compile this much data about your yearly-listening habits, who knows what else they might be tracking about you — not to mention, what other data corporations might already have on you by this point. 

We have started to normalize corporations tracking and publicizing our data and not giving it much afterthought simply because Spotify turns it into clout. In any case, I feel like it should become some cause of concern because of other privacy issues in the past like Facebook’s Cambridge-Analytica scam and Snapchat Live Stories mishap. Spotify removes part of the stalking aspect by limiting the number of people that can see your Wrapped but if they already compile this much data about your yearly-listening habits, who knows what else they might be tracking about you — not to mention, what other data corporations might already have on you by this point. 

Spotify Wrapped is so successful that other social media platforms are attempting to do the same like Reddit Recap and Tumblr Year in Review (which are both lukewarm at best). It sets a precedent that we should all be okay with corporations using and storing our data and publicizing something that can be very personal and private to other people. 

And That’s a Wrap on Wrapped

I don’t mean to be a massive drag — I get that Spotify Wrapped is something people look forward to and have fun with, especially at a time like this. Enjoying the campaign to the fullest, it feels insightful and exciting to look back on all our year’s memories through music. I do advise people to be careful of the data trails they leave behind and to still be careful with their online information. To quote the Atlantic: “Ultimately, the popularity of Wrapped may reveal more about our love for music—and occasionally, our inability to resist the charm of a catchy show tune—than it does about our protectiveness over our data.”



Cover Image: Viktor Forgacs/Unsplash

Edited by: Pritha Ray

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