Spotify Wrapped: Your best and worst playlist

The personal and cultural significance of Spotify’s annual time capsule

Spotify Wrapped is just around the corner, which means it’s time to get your listening act together. Or not, since Spotify probably already has your tastes figured out. Wrapped is a curated collection of listening stats that allows users to look back through the songs, podcasts and artists that they listened to the most during the year. It’s nostalgic, fun, and, at times, surprising. It’s also a lesson in excellent marketing — sharing Wrapped on social media is a time-honored tradition that gains Spotify plenty of attention each year. The campaign’s popularity is apparent, but the sources driving it are more complex.

Spotify, today a staple of the music streaming industry, released Wrapped as a marketing campaign in 2015 under a different name. “Year in Music” was a feature allowing the user to create playlists based on their most popular artists, songs and genres. While it was popular, it didn’t see viral growth until it was reinvented in 2017 as Spotify Wrapped, a more robust Spotify feature that provided the user with a click-through format in which they could discover their top genres, artists and more. Its popularity then started to grow to the levels seen today. Judith Fuentes, first-year intended psychology major and longtime Spotify user, explained another factor in the growth of Spotify Wrapped — TikTok.

“I think music became a really big part of the media when TikTok blew up, and I think it blew up like 2019-2020ish,” Fuentes said. “People got exposed to a lot more music that they wouldn’t usually listen to. … I think that really rocketed different bands that were underground before and different songs that nobody had heard of. And Spotify is pretty accessible when it comes to listening to music.”

This points out a few reasons for the popularity of Wrapped: its host app is accessible, current and has direct connections to other popular social media platforms. But there’s also a psychological element that comes into play. Danae Barkocy, junior political science major, said that the experience is inherently personal.

“I connect specific memories to music a lot, so I love that recapping everything I listened to in a year can also mean recapping all the fun things I did and memories I made,” Barkocy said.

The curated adventure that Wrapped has to offer is indeed distinctive. Spotify essentially talks the user through their Wrapped experience, generating fun comments throughout, quizzing the user on their top music and cycling through carefully curated music in a way that feels intentional, as if the app is directly interacting with the user. Madi Schlundt, a sophomore environmental studies major and Apple Music user, explained that, in this aspect, Wrapped sets Spotify apart from other music streaming apps.

“Apple Music is basically the same thing as Spotify, except they don’t have Wrapped on any version of it,” Schlundt said. “[It’s] the one thing I’m missing out on. I kind of do want to switch over to Spotify at some point because, yeah, even if it’s just for the one poster billboard thing I get at the end of the year … Spotify seems a little bit more personalized.”

Within its personalized playlists, there is also a sense of nostalgia for those enjoying Wrapped at the end of the year. This makes sense since Spotify starts collecting data for Wrapped on Jan. 1 and stops a few weeks before its launch in December, summarizing most of the year. Barkocy discussed the feelings that Wrapped can evoke for her.

“I find that my Spotify Wrapped usually pops up with songs I’ve listened to especially regularly during the year,” Barkocy said. “Usually that means that there’s a week or month’s-worth of time that is attached to a specific song for me. Listening to any old Mac Miller reminds me of visiting my friend in New York in August last year. It’s so great to be able to have that nostalgia at the end of the year.”

Fuentes explained how Wrapped brings a sense of achievement to the end of the year.
“When you do an activity for so long, you like seeing your progress or your activity as you’ve grown throughout the year,” Fuentes said. “I really look forward to seeing all my tastes change over the year.”

For a lot of users, the popularity of Spotify Wrapped comes down to accessibility, a personalized interface and the strategic use of user data to create nostalgia. Students looking forward to Spotify Wrapped this year can do so content in the knowledge that others are likely doing the same — and for good reason.