2017 Wrapped

2017 Wrapped

Wilf Skinner looks at 2017 Wrapped and the role of Spotify

‘2017 Wrapped’ is Spotify’s gift to the masses. It’s a nice way to share your listening habits with your friends. All the boys will like your upload. Top Artist: Liam Gallagher. For the parka monkeys out there. Or you could unfunnily photoshop your gift.

Are the minutes of music you’ve listened to a reminder of all the parties you’ve been to, assigned the DJ of the evening (‘Indie Party’), or a sign you’ve spent too long skulking around the streets, tinny headphones in, a pseudo-flâneur-euse?

A message greets you on the site:

Because in a year that many wanted to tune out, music gave us a reason to keep listening.

You wish Spotify would just tell it like it is. ‘Tune out’: criticise Trump’s travel ban by making a playlist of refugee artists – though in fairness, their ‘I’m with the banned’ videos are slightly more enlightening. It starts to read like the train of thought of someone who’s unexpectedly left education to pursue their music dream trying to convince their parents that it isn’t a huge mistake, the ‘music is life’ argument. The soundtrack of our lives is always on.

It’s the playlist titles that insinuate like a snake: ‘The Stress Buster’, ‘Get Home Happy!’ (featuring Dire Straits, Jason Derulo and The Wombats), ‘Your Coffee Break’. Give me a break! It’s the way terms like ‘chill’, ‘mellow’ and ‘easy’ abound. It’s the teleological obsession with ‘2018 goals’ (my own, according to Spotify – ‘Be self-aware’, ‘Don’t let the good ones get away’. Sound life advice; Music is life.) And yet you’re never far from a ‘Throwback’ playlist or your ‘Time Capsule’. Mercifully, a proper time capsule would be sealed for years. It seems like they signpost you to the dregs of music produced in your adolescence, and, considering the majority of users are millennials, you know what to expect. They don’t assume any development in your tastes.

The mouse icon is comically oversized on the website, as in one of those toy computers you’d see in adverts growing up. It’s like a third arm, controlling your clicks and automatically moving on to the next titbit. Accessing the site on a mobile will mitigate this. It mirrors the way you’re signposted to playlists and ‘radio stations’ devoid of any human warmth which usually direct you to the most facile choices, each artist’s most-played song. That is, if you’re a baller (or ‘Premium listener’). For those who don’t pay, adverts might give some semblance of humanity.

Apparently, I ‘skipped 1,430 songs this year’ which means my ‘trigger finger is more active than most.’ They advise me to ‘start listening with a fidget-spinner in hand.’ This is surely symptomatic of our reduced attention spans, but it also points to the warped algorithmic ordering of playlists generated ‘especially for you’ (which only occasionally point you to an OK song) and the primacy of singles over entire albums.

It’s true that there are more insidious algorithms out there. But how are they (adopting the language of the bedroom hacker-cum-conspiracy theorist) making use of our data? Deep Learning, Collaborative Filtering, Natural Language Processing: what do they all mean? A massive profile of music is being created, and you do wonder why an exclamation appears in Chrome on 2017wrapped.com alerting you to ‘6 TRACKING SYSTEMS.’

Spotify has been in the news this year because people claim to have exposed ‘fake artists’ who flesh out popular playlists and help them avoid paying royalties. So much of the app is reductive, so neatly packaged and couched in anodyne terms that something like that escapes your attention. They ply listeners with ‘endless’ mixes to soundtrack every moment until they drop dead. There’s their response to the travel ban, and they made a few podcasts and videos (demoted to the bottom of the homepage) to encourage young people to vote. But they also do a fair bit of lobbying, including arguing against tax avoidance measures by advocating a ‘global tax framework.’ 

There is the ‘If you don’t like it’ argument. People use Spotify because it’s convenient and cheaper than buying CDs or records (despite a tacit acknowledgment of how this hardly benefits musicians because they get paid pitiful amounts for each stream). Their genre descriptions can sometimes be a bit more nuanced, and ‘Related Artists’ can be useful. There are gaps in the catalogue, however:

I pay for spotify to **bleep**ing listen to xxxtentacion, and then you **bleep**s have the nerve to remove his albums and EPs. You better bring them back b4 i do, cuz u guys gon’ lose a lot of listeners.

Hippy Gollum incarnate Thom Yorke has recently put his solo material up, despite his well-documented aversion to the service. So controversial! Atavism is to be avoided: few people will trawl record shops for discoveries or exchange cassettes with a love interest nowadays. We’ve left the physical dimension, traded in spools for streaming, and playlists get shared instead, like performative utterances. These aren’t funny either.

The impact of Spotify and other streaming services on musicians’ (their incomes, their profiles) and our listening habits deserves an attention that I haven’t been able to give here. It’s undoubtedly useful but should perhaps be approached a bit more sensitively.

Spotify tells me I listened to ’93 genres’ this year, and if you were interested, my top genre was ‘Neo-psychedelic’ and my top artist was Pavement…

Featured image credit: Spotify


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