It's just providing a huge corporation with free advertising to try and show everyone how cool you are. Still, there's little else to celebrate.Chelsea Stahl / NBC NewsDec. 6, 2020, 4:53 PM UTCBy Meredith Clark, political and cultural commentator
If you’ve logged onto social media in the last week — and who hasn’t in the midst of this worsening pandemic? It’s not like you can catch up with friends in some other way without risking your life or theirs — then you’ve assuredly seen someone sharing their “Spotify 2020 Wrapped” graphic, bragging about what music they’ve listened to while enduring the neverending hellscape that was the past year.
In a way, it makes a kind of sense: there aren’t many other ways to do a personal year-in-review of 2020 that aren’t hopelessly grim or achingly tone deaf to everyone else. It is mind-boggling to think about the fact that this year is nearly over when the last nine months have felt both so short and so long — repetitive, demoralizing, interminable.
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What other remote good is there to talk about when it comes to summarizing our year? There have been nearly 15 million diagnosed cases of Covid-19 in the United States (and that number is growing), there have been more than 280,000 deaths (and that number is growing), and everyone has a long list of things they didn’t do out of concern for the health of their loved ones and communities (and the potentially lonely holidays are looming).
Stuck mostly indoors, and in smaller groups or alone for much of 2020, the hours and hours of media we would consume in normal times had an even bigger presence for many of this year; music, movies and television were in some ways our constant companions.
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But somehow, all of that makes the already annoying annual tradition by some people of sharing their Spotify statistics on social media seem even sillier than it normally does.
I do get it: It’s easy to hit “share” on a sleekly packaged data visualization provided by our collective “friendly” music streaming subscription service, to show friends — or Friends — what you’ve really been listening to. And it is, after all, a slightly more honest ranking of what people have been actually pumping into their ears than the year-end “Best Of” lists that will start dropping soon.
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Plus, unlike in past years, we weren’t able to post photos of ourselves at music festivals and concerts by buzzy artists, or go to record stores and browse through bins. Without the chance to discover and enjoy art out in the real world, we had to trust The Algorithm — and what our friends talked about online — to find music for us this year.
But it’s also annoying to see bursts of conversations about — or, really, screenshots of — What We Liked This Year from people essentially humblebragging about their taste. It brings up flashbacks of feeling excluded by the Cool Kids, never knowing the right references or owning the right albums. Maybe, like me, you find it a little bit depressing to see, let alone share, that you did, in fact, listen to Dua Lipa and Taylor Swift that many times this year — but I promise you that the number of times you cranked “Don’t Start Now” this year is still lower than if you’d been able to go out to bars and dance parties and see your exes and get your heart half-broken. (Everyone listened to “WAP” that much, though.)
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On the other hand, we’ve made huge strides over the last couple years in dismantling often sexist stereotypes about pop music and fandom, and at least challenging the idea that musical taste is personality. BTS fans, mostly young women, ran several successful activist operations through social media this year, and Cardi B. remains one of the best political commentators on any platform.
So maybe, just maybe, the Cool Kids… aren’t anymore.
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It’s also odd — and, perhaps, makes you feel a little secretly superior — to see so many people doing free marketing for Spotify, a Stockholm-based company valued at around $46 billion. The 2020 Wrapped feature is a pretty box full of mined data that we willingly fed into an international corporation’s computers in exchange for listening convenience.
So, yes, we all listened to a ton of Phoebe Bridgers in 2020 — congrats for being cool enough to be just like literally everyone else — but aren’t we still supposed to be mad that it is now the exclusive home of Joe Rogan? Or about it using “fake bands” to avoid paying real artists royalties last year? Have we collectively stopped caring that the shift to streaming has put even more financial pressure on artists — millions of whom are struggling even more mightily now that the pandemic has made touring impossible for the foreseeable future?
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Still, a catalogue of our year in music (and podcast) consumption is actually probably the best of all possible lists when it comes to streaming platforms. Netflix, for instance, is notoriously secretive about its viewing numbers, but imagine what your personalized Netflix Top 10 of 2020 would look like; the very thought is chilling. No one wants to know exactly how many times they’ve watched episode 5 of season 3 of The Office, as it would reveal far too much about the darkness that lurks within us.
So while hating on people who post screenshots of their Spotify Wrapped lists is fun, the lists are actually sort of comforting because they prove that none of us are really cool. (The Twitter buzz over the HBO show “The Undoing” should have be proof enough of that, but this is just in case you needed more).
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If there’s anything that people should keep in mind as we enter the months-long wait for a vaccine to be produced and distributed, it’s that the most important thing is to make it through this, not what we listen to while we do it.