Spotify Wrapped: The Power of Big Data

Another hugely successful marketing campaign from Spotify has washed over us with this years arrival of 2018 Wrapped. As the end of the year approaches, music streaming giant Spotify compiles all their premium user data into neat personalised packages (ideal for publicising on your instagram story or, I don’t know, maybe a… blog post?) which summarise your listening habits of the year, from the first song you listened to way back in January, to your most listened to star sign.

I thought the realisation that such a dominant business held such intimate information about me would make me squirm and shy away from music streaming, perhaps try to trick the system by playing ‘Steady As She Goes’ by the Raconteurs on repeat all year. In fact the effect is to the contrary – I find this intensely meaningful. For most of us, music is profoundly emotive. We seem to take immense pride in these analyses of our taste and personality, however trivial they may be. Just seeing the titles of the songs in my ‘Top 100 Songs 2018’ playlist sends me through a fleeting whirlwind of reminiscent emotions. They transport me back to exact days, exact feelings, exact moments in my life. These audible articles have a triggering effect on our fallible senses and memory of them.  I’ve known these songs and they know me, they’ve shaped this past year and, coupled with specific memories, have engrained themselves in my mind. Heartbreak, joy, disgust, sadness, love, serenity, fear, optimism, ecstasy: I remember them well.

My first song. The first thing I listened to as we welcomed the new year was ‘Broken Stones’ by Paul Weller. Boom. There I am. An unbelievably fortunate New Year spent in Colorado with with the various albums I had downloaded for the hideously long fights and crisp exploratory walks to the cannabis dispensary.

Some of my Top Songs:
Hoo Ha by Francobollo. This wrenches my mind directly back to living in Paris, not only memories of seeing them play at Supersonic in the 12th arrondissement and spending an incoherent evening chatting away with them behind their van but also a specific day in the spring, running errands in the city, feeling manic and full of energy and messaging my friend upon realising that I’d been playing this song on a loop in my headphones for over an hour (hence discovering that it flows seamlessly and satisfyingly back into itself).

Yesterday by Noname. It pleases me immensely to see two of Noname’s songs in my Top five songs. Relaxing sunny memories for sure. I could never tire of this album, Telefone, and I find it hard to believe that anybody could dislike it. Unless of course you share the opinion of one of my mates who said “I just don’t like listening to girls rap”… ok.

SUMMER by The Carters. Wow, a whole album of BeyoncĂ© feat. Jay-Z, now you’re talking! This album came out while me and Zoe were travelling in South America. I remember being in our hostel in Medellin, brushing my teeth and getting ready for bed alongside Zo with this in my ears. This is now my happy song, that’s all there is to it.

Melody by Serge Gainsbourg. Now I’m not massively into Serge Gainsbourg, or any French music for that matter (R.I.P. to my French degree), but there is an undeniable coolness about this sleazy old frenchman speaking over the riffing of an orchestra-backed guitar which became my go-to upon returning from my year abroad, struggling to readjust to living at home along side my poor mother. I’M A PARISIAN NOW MUM YOU WOULDN’T UNDERSTAND. I played this often while enjoying a relaxing bath, a luxury that wasn’t afforded to me in the dingy bathroom of my flat.

What the hell is a permanent wave?

My most listened to sub-genre is ‘Permanent Wave’, actually a genre I’d not even heard of before Spotify so swiftly deconstructed my tastes. It turns out this is an eclectic hodgepodge of alternative music and a term not really used except for in these Spotify round-ups. The internet is awash with forums and Reddit threads trying to understand this characterisation. For clarity, check out this scatter plot generated algorithmically by Every Noise at Once in an attempt to map the 2,418 genres defined by Spotify. It shows the artists that fall under this genre  and how they relate to one another. They explain the artists’ locations on the page “…in general down is more organic, up is more mechanical and electric; left is denser and more atmospheric, right is spikier and bouncier.”. Look, there’s even one for your favourite genre too. Brilliant. Actually this page of artists do seem familiar to me, just the title of ‘Permanent wave’ is something I’ve never hear of and probably won’t go round saying ‘oh yah I really dig permanent wave’ when people ask “what kind of music are you into?”.

Finally, one of the more useless summaries from Spotify, I now know that in 2018 I listened to more Gemini artists than any other star sign… Does this mean anything? Are star signs a thing? I’m sure there’s a blog for that somewhere. I’m a little skeptical since my housemate Tom also listens to predominantly Geminis and his favourite sub-genre was ‘Italian Arena Pop‘. Perhaps more Geminis are musicians than other star signs?

Oh well, when all is said and done, this list of musical memories is nostalgic in the most indulgent of ways. I’m just happy to have spent 23 hours with Mike Skinner and to see Spotify put this incomprehensible volume of data to good use in an encouragingly humanist manner.


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