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Wrapped Up in Music and Myself

At least we’re vibing on the road to insanity.

Spotify Hosts 2022 Wrapped Playground Event Featuring Charli XCX

There are two kinds of people who post the results of their annual “Spotify Wrapped”—the summary of their listening habit that year on the music platform. One kind of poster shares on social media out of sincere excitement, to signal their tastes in music as a quasi-tribal identity marker to their followers. The other posts their results ironically, conscious of the banality of the trend and, cringing at themselves for capitulating to it, accompanies the post with a self-deprecating or sardonic caption.

As someone who falls into the latter category, I find this year to be particularly challenging. I am painfully conflicted by my giddiness as I click on the inescapable pop-up that appears when I open my Spotify app on the morning of November 30, and by my cloying cynicism, wondering why any of this actually matters. I’m plagued by my paradoxical scoffing at the barrage of Wrapped posts on my social media feed, as I wonder with an irrepressible curiosity what my friends are listening to. “Who cares what you’re listening to?” I exclaim to myself, being fully aware of the answer: I care what people are listening to, and I want you to care, too.

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Sharing the music one likes with friends isn’t necessarily vain or superficial. Music is an inherently communal art form, and throughout history it has brought people together in a variety of settings. What makes Spotify Wrapped so cringe is the way in which the trend inverts the experience of listening to and sharing music, reducing it to something self-referential and thus dreadfully banal.

Last year, Spotify told me that my “audio aura” moods were “energy” and “bold.” This year’s categories were more nuanced (though equally incomprehensible), borrowing from popular Twitter/Tumblr “aesthetic” categories. My mornings are “giving” “Fancy Royalcore Cozy” suggestions, while my afternoons are “Confident Lit Hype,” and my nights are “Mystical Zen Gothic.”

Spotify Wrapped fits our age of atomized identities. The answer to the question of who I really am has less to do with the sets of formative experiences, places, people, and traditions I grew up with and the greater values and ideals I aspire to reach. Rather, it has to do with my fleeting tastes, accomplishments, “tribes,” and moral causes du jour that tickle my fancy.

Identity, more than anything, has become a matter of “vibes.” The ephemeral factors that we now rely on to construe our identities are largely detached from any notion of rootedness in something that precedes us or entities that transcend ourselves. Their lack of integration with my ontological nature and my lived daily experience make them difficult to be shared with others in a meaningful way, rendering them merely abstract categories to be signaled out into the vaporous social media-scape.

The new feature of “Listening Personality” inadvertently sheds a revelatory light on what attracts us to music. Like taking a personality test, I’m told that I’m “The Adventurer,” which apparently means that I’m “a seeker of sound,” and that I “venture out into the unknown, searching for fresher artists, deeper cuts, and newer tracks.” Throughout civilizations, music has been a means to contemplate ultimate truths about our existence and the cosmic forces that surround us. Music is indeed a powerful tool for “venturing out into the unknown” and “seeking” something greater. But the reduction of our taste in music to “vibes,” “auras,” and abstract identity categories flattens that search.

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“Latter-day pop culture,” writes Irish music journalist John Waters, “has contrived to ‘forget’ that the roots of most of our contemporary musical forms emerge from Blues and Gospel, forms which stretch the true note between the muddy deltas of human habitation and the glittering firmaments above. Outwardly reduced to ‘showbusiness’ and ‘entertainment’, the holiness of the song is forced inwards into a closed circuit, a communicating and receiving that becomes mistakable for something else and deniable in its true nature.” Spotify Wrapped can easily be said to exacerbate the “short-circuiting” of the effect that our favorite music has on our souls.

“When the singer opens her mouth,” he continues, “a vital process occurs: a stirring of hearts and souls. But, in describing this, we resort to technicalities and more clichés…We speak of ‘soulfulness’ but the clue in the word goes in one ear and out the other. We note the existence of ‘passion’ but seem not to remember what the passion is for.” This conundrum leaves us “in a bind,” for music points to something “of the heavens” and yet we “are not permitted to comprehend or believe it.”

In 2019, Spotify applauded me for the fact that my “borders disappear” when I listen to music—for being a “World Citizen” (I listened to artists from 41 different countries). It also celebrated my “genre fluidity”; I adamantly “refused to let one sound define” me. As much as I may ridicule such assertions, I can’t deny the excitement I felt upon discovering that in 2022, one of my top five artists made it into the global top five, my top two songs made it into global top five, and my number one album was also the number one listened to globally.

The illusion that I am linked to a community of fans that encompasses the entire globe gave a sensation of pseudo-transcendence. Thus goes the propaganda of elitist global capitalism. We are fed the idea that we can somehow be fulfilled by standing in solidarity with people around the world, consuming a diverse array of cultural products and supporting righteous social causes. The reality, however, is that I just like listening to music that sounds good.

My triumphs in crossing transcultural boundaries, in real life, looks like me sitting in my car or going to the gym, listening to my playlists that get me through the day. I’m just your average atomized consumer who, far from being some kind of moral exemplar or social revolutionary, continues to patronize monopolizing corporations like Spotify that ravage the last vestiges of moral and cultural substance in our society.

Allowing ourselves to be convinced that “genre fluidity” somehow constitutes a virtue is just another way for us to distract ourselves from the banality of our daily lives, from the fact that we are not “taking a stand” in favor of substantial moral causes, nor are we accomplishing anything particularly noteworthy. Most of us are using our music to numb ourselves to a sense of powerlessness that plagues us. We are quick to turn the very tool that could potentially prompt us to search for a more substantial meaning into a tool for distraction, allowing that search to get “short-circuited” by advertisement and entertainment.

I’m sure you are all dying to know which artists, songs, and genres made it into my Spotify Wrapped. More importantly, I’m dying for all of you to know my results. But regardless of our taste in music, the powers that be will continue homogenizing the globe. And we will either go with the flow, our music mere background noise numbing us along the way, or like Nietzsche, we will “dance” at the risk of being “thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” Repost that to your story.

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