It’s that time of year again. Today, November 29, Spotify users all over are sharing their year-end “Wrapped” recaps, which try to sum up your past year of musical taste by giving stats and rankings on your most-listened-to artists and songs, alongside a sleek graphic to share on all your socials. I look forward to it every year. But as Spotify Wrapped has practically become an internet holiday, I can’t help but notice that it’s gamified how we listen to music throughout the year.
I don’t think about Spotify Wrapped throughout most of the year, but as November nears, part of me wants to make sure it actually reflects my musical tastes that year, rather than getting hung up on that one time I listened to the Glee cover of “Smooth Criminal” for three days straight. Knowing that Spotify Wrapped looms over my account and is keeping a tally of every time I leave a song on repeat does tend to subconsciously get me to switch songs just out of the irrational fear that someone might find out I listened to the stolen version of a Taylor Swift song while waiting for the new version. Heaven forbid a stray repeated song derail Wrapped’s “definitive” look at my musical year.
Can raw numbers really capture musical tastes?
Wrapped says my top-ranked artist in 2023 was Sleep Token. Not surprising, as I’ve been looping the prog rock band’s eclectic album “Take Me Back To Eden” all year. It’s easily my favorite record of the year, so it felt right for them to rank up top, and for three of their early singles to be my most-streamed songs. Ethel Cain and Troye Sivan came in second and third, which I was also happy with given Sivan’s new album “Something To Give Each Other” was a late-year obsession. It only launched in October, leaving only a month for the Australian pop king to fly up my list.
Aries, the last artist in my top five, is the odd one out. I only really listened to his absolute banger “Snake Eyes” after discovering it on TikTok, but I listened to that one song obsessively. I’m talking about having it on repeat for days on end. “Snake Eyes” is my #4 song of the year now—wild.
Ultimately, I have no one to blame but myself for where the chips fall, but it does make me really aware that my Wrapped doesn’t reflect how much I listened to some full albums that launch later in the year, like SZA’s “S.O.S.”
Spotify Wrapped is for sharing, so we put on our best face
The weird, meta min-maxing some of us now engage in thanks to Spotify Wrapped and its ilk is an interesting phenomenon because even now, I see people on platforms like TikTok joking about how they are now “free” to listen to whatever they want since Wrapped stops tracking your year’s activity after it launches (though the actual end date has seemingly fluctuated over the years). The second Spotify Wrapped shows up on our phones, we feel free to embrace the cringiest of guilty pleasures on repeat without having to expose ourselves in a year.
But as we all compare and contrast our respective lists and stats, I’ve also noticed a trend that makes me feel like I am simply built different than the average Spotify user. Reader, I almost always have headphones in. I’ve never needed dead silence to write, talk, or even edit a podcast. Apparently, this is not the norm for most people, because most of y’all have some rookie numbers when it comes to “minutes listened.”
In 2023, I listened to music and podcasts for 144,866 minutes on Spotify alone. That’s not even counting the times I switched over to Soundcloud or YouTube for a more obscure remix or video game soundtrack. Every time I scroll past a friend’s Wrapped and their minutes listened is a mere four figures I remember some people apparently don’t have sick beats playing in their ears at all times.
Part of me would like to challenge everyone reading this to beat my “high score” next year. I’m at the top of the 2023 leaderboards (so to speak) among my friends, and it’s been that way every year since Spotify Wrapped started in 2016. At this point, I’m starting to fear I might be the weird one. But trying to challenge people to listen to music differently also feels against the spirit of what these year-end recaps are meant to do. Spotify Wrapped can impart a tacit pressure to change your listening habits so the numbers represent some imagined passion we have for an artist or song; that sentiment has even been weaponized by stans believing certain content creators don’t seem passionate enough for their liking. That’s no good, so I’ll just be content here at the top of the scoreboard having listened to music for—let me check my notes—100 full days in 2023.
The recaps are fun, but we don’t need to game them
Like most social media trends, Spotify Wrapped is an extension of all of us putting on a performance and projecting a version of ourselves out to the world that is cool and has their shit together. But these year-end roundups, including video game equivalents that track our video game habits like PlayStation’s Wrap-Up, give us a data-driven reason to expose the part of us that might be less cool, or in the case of my Overwatch 2 playtime, worrying to the average passerby.
I love seeing a Spotify Wrapped that exposes someone’s niche interests and guilty pleasures. Even if that is in and of itself performative and makes for good posts, it does show that some of us game the music we listen to the same way we might deliberately play as certain characters in a fighting game, to ensure they show up on our stats page. We want people to know our mains, not the character we tried out for a day in a fit of boredom. So even if you come away from Wrapped or the like feeling like it doesn’t really represent your year or your preferences, remember that raw numbers can’t account for all the ebbs and flows of our musical tastes.
And hey, the weirdest top-ranked song or artist can make for especially tremendous posting. Like this one: