Spotify Wrapped: how sharing your music tastes can drive feelings of Fomo

21 Dec 2022

Has Spotify Wrapped turned listening to music into a competition? Glenn Fosbraey, Associate Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences and Head of English and Creative Writing at the University of Winchester, analyses how the platform is using the power of online friendships to drive more users to its service.

With its eye-catching animations, it would be easy to dismiss Spotify Wrapped – which gives users a roundup of their most listened-to music of the last year – as just another example of the festive feed fodder that engulfs social media every Christmas.

But there’s something more sinister in Spotify’s playful graphics – and I’m not just talking about the data tracking. The streaming service is utilising the fear of missing out, or “Fomo” (the uneasy feeling that our peers are doing something better or more interesting than us) to increase the time that users spend on the platform.

Streaming is now the UK’s primary means of music consumption. In 2021 there were 39 million monthly active users of music streaming services. Spotify, the titan of the streaming universe, has the largest share (between 50 and 60% of the market).

According to the streaming service, Spotify Wrapped is an easily shareable data wrap up that allows users “to gaze into [their] vibrant audio kaleidoscope and show it off to the world.”

And “show it off” is right. With its immersive display of stats and aesthetically pleasing, shareable graphics, Wrapped (which has seen its usage quadruple since its inception in 2017), can be shared on social media in seconds, to show all our followers what we’ve been listening to in the past year.

The battle of the tastes

Spotify Wrapped has turned listening to music into a competition where fans are encouraged to do battle with one another. Users find themselves competing to see who has the most eclectic tastes (via the amount of “genres we’ve explored”), who’s listened to the most music (via our “total play time”), and how fanatic we are (via where we factor in an “artist’s top percentage of listeners”).

When I inevitably caved and looked at my own Wrapped 2022, I saw I had “explored” 24 genres which inspired Spotify, alongside a charming space graphic, to say “look at you, you little astronaut”. Go me! I’d listened to 14,378 minutes, which meant I’d chalked up “more than 67% of other listeners in the UK”. Double go me! And I had been in the top 0.1% of Weezer listeners in 2022. Treble go me!

But then I started looking at my social media feeds. Someone else had “explored” 122 genres. Did that many genres really exist? Another friend had listened to 101,000 minutes. How were there enough hours in the day? And yet another was in the top 0.01% listeners for a band – and one I’d never heard of to boot.

Harnessing the power of ‘Fomo’

My bubble of musical self-worth had been unceremoniously popped, leaving me in a pool of inadequacy. Perhaps that’s exactly the point.

A 2019 YouGov survey found that social media makes many users feel “inadequate”. Now here it was, making me feel bad about my music consumption – something that so many of us turn to for comfort.

Spotify seems to be harnessing the power of this sense of inadequacy to drive more users to its service. And they aren’t doing this via an advertising campaign, but by harnessing the power of our online friendships.

Through Wrapped, Spotify weaponises its users with something they know will instigate those feelings of Fomo, encouraging us to unleash it upon each other in the name of fun.

Unless we want to opt out of social media altogether (and, oh, imagine the Fomo there), we feel the need to be better versions of ourselves when it comes to our listening habits. Which means going back on to Spotify to diversify our tastes, or wrack up even more listening minutes for our next yearly wrap up.

So, 2023 Spotify Wrapped? No thanks. Next year I’ll be putting my dreams of becoming a better little astronaut behind me and getting back to enjoying the music.The Conversation

This article is part of Quarter Life, a series about issues affecting those of us in our twenties and thirties. From the challenges of beginning a career and taking care of our mental health, to the excitement of starting a family, adopting a pet or just making friends as an adult. The articles in this series explore the questions and bring answers as we navigate this turbulent period of life.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

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