Music Editor Dan Brophy interrogates the unstoppable popularity of Spotify Wrapped.
Spotify Wrapped has become a cultural phenomenon. Released annually since 2016, Wrapped transformed an exercise of marketing, based on data collection, into what feels like a musical bank holiday. Its personalised approach, combined with its invitation to share on social media, creates a package designed to capture the streaming generation, emulating a sense of true connection between artist and listener.
This article will take an analytical look at Wrapped, diving deep into whether its personalised approach is a positive force, or actually represents an example of data manipulation, fostering the exploitation of musicians, and the creation of division fuelled by corporate greed.
Firstly, there is a genuine argument that Wrapped is a positive force within the 21st Century musical landscape. While it may have started as an annual listening review, it has evolved into a remarkably personalised experience, and it would seem that a great deal of care is invested into its various aspects: personalised artist messages, the introduction of 12 listening habits in 2023, its sleek graphic design and slide format. The package of Wrapped seems at face value to be a genius marketing idea, exercised with genuine care and consideration for the listener.
While, after a brief analysis, Spotify Wrapped would seem to be a harmless marketing incentive, it is clear that in reality, particularly for independent musicians, Spotify and its Wrapped initiative have had a catastrophic impact, on the working-class musician, the musical fanbase, and the music industry as a whole.
While Wrapped is a particularly ingenious marketing campaign, it is easy to argue that its basis lies in data manipulation, the creation of gatekeeping and division, and false personalisation. For example, its famous New York billboards plastered over Times Square contained the words: “wrapped or it didn’t happen”. This is a subtle act of pressure aimed at the consumer, supporting its continuing monopolisation of the streaming world, creating enormous FOMO for all enjoyers of Apple Music Replay.
Spotify Wrapped aims at personalisation, particularly the creation of an independent identity through music. However, its manipulation of data to create a batch of identical algorithmic Wrapped templates reveals a false care. This idea of falsity is highlighted further by the fact that Spotify does not support the independent musician. In reality, devotees of independent artists contribute the majority of their subscription fees to major label giants. Its seemingly non-existent pay-per-stream service, a measly 0.003-0.005 dollars per stream, simply does not exist, while the company’s new plans introduce further cuts to smaller artists and so-called non-contributors. For example, Portishead’s Geoff Barrow infamously tweeted that he had made just £170 from 34 million streams, prompting other artists to reveal that they had made next to nothing at all despite significant streaming numbers.
Spotify is essentially a major label ally, it pays out record companies and publishers against individual artist deals, neglecting everyone else while claiming to be representative. The issue is, they can get away with it. Spotify has a monopolistic hold over the streaming industry, and the music industry as a whole. Not only did it account for 30% of the global streaming market in 2022 – a market responsible for 84% of all recorded music revenue in the USA in 2022 – it made 56 million dollars in 2023, while paying the majority of its contributors absolutely nothing.
So, while it is certain that Spotify Wrapped is a cultural phenomenon, ask yourself whether it should be. Ask yourself if a company who supports the extreme minority of its contributors would truly care about contributing to a carefully curated musical identity for its listeners.