The Secret Shame Of Spotify Wrapped

Photographed by Erika Long.
Once again we have arrived at my least favorite time of year. No, I'm not referring to holiday shopping season or even the fact that the sun now sets at 4:30 p.m. every day. I'm actually talking about the time of year when what seems like every single person I know begins sharing screenshots of their Spotify Wrapped - Year in Review.
In case you're unfamiliar with it — although it's hard for me to imagine anyone hasn't been bombarded with images of many a friend's Top Songs of 2020 list — Wrapped is an annual report Spotify provides to its listeners that shows their "most memorable listening moments of the year." Listeners can see everything from their top artists, songs, and genres to how many new artists and genres they discovered over the course of the year. At the end of each user's Wrapped, Spotify writes, "Read it. Share it. Wear it like a badge of honor." To me, however, my annual Spotify Wrapped feels much more like a badge of dishonor, a scarlet letter exposing just how deeply uncool and unadventurous I actually am.
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In years past, when I started to see all my friends posting about their Spotify Wrapped, I would get excited thinking that my own would surely show me as a chill Brooklyn girl who listens to indie-pop mostly performed by other very deep women. Instead of seeing groups like boygenius and Waxahatchee, however, I've always unwrapped my Wrapped to find such hits as "Summer Is Coming" by Maurizio Malagnini from the Call the Midwife soundtrack and "Welcome Home" by Rachel Portman from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (Original Motion Picture Score)
This year, I knew better than to expect anything else, and instead of feeling excited when I saw others share their Spotify Wrappeds, I just got angry and jealous. Seeing my friend share that she listens almost exclusively to '90s jam bands, and proving that her brand as a laid back cool girl is strong, should maybe make me happy for her, but it just makes me sad for me. And that acquaintance who prides herself on being tapped into the up-and-coming pop scene, and has a Wrapped that reflects that? I mean, good for her. I guess. But bad for me. To me, these posts feel like not-so-humble brags that their music choices echo who they truly are, whereas my Wrapped makes me look like a nerd who only listens to music while she's working and only ever chooses serious scores from old movies or British TV show.
I know it's not that deep, but every year, my own Spotify Wrapped and those of my friends still trigger something inside me. This year, I was at least relieved to discover that I am not the only one. A coworker of mine shared a horror story that she had once attended a party where all the guests had to bring their top Spotify lists and everyone played a game where they guessed which one belonged to who. "It was torture," she said. I cringed in empathy, and — for the first time — was secretly grateful I wouldn't be attending any holiday parties this year.
Another coworker told me she also felt shame about her Wrapped, saying that it had been basically the same for the past five years. "I browsed my list this morning and just felt like, Oh great, confirmation that I am boring," she explained as I rubbed my hands together, thrilled that I wasn't the only one. Then, she revealed that her top artist is always Mariah Carey and her top genre is Alternative R&B. I immediately thought, But that is cool! Stanning a diva nowadays is the ultimate marker of being interesting. Yet another friend shared that her top artist in 2020 was Taylor Swift, a fact that she said makes her feel "exposed." That, too, seemed to me like a fun top artist to have. It reveals that she is up on the latest pop hits.
But the same way in which I found my friends' top songs to be cool, while they thought theirs were super uncool, when I revealed my top Spotify genres — which include "Soundtrack," "British Soundtrack," and "Classical" — to others, their responses weren't at all what I'd feared. "I love this about you," one co-worker said. "It shows you care about your own wellbeing." It's true that the Philip Glass arrangements and scores from 1998's Meet Joe Black — a film I've never even seen — bring me comfort and keep me sane. So why should I care if they aren't on any best new artist or throwback hit lists? The truth is my Wrapped challenges the stories I tell myself about my identity and stands in opposition to the persona I want to present to the world through social media. Despite it being deeply uncomfortable to look at Spotify and see the gap between my persona and me, it might actually be the healthiest thing an app has ever provided for me: an honest picture of who I really am.

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