Around this time every year, 320 million people around the world receive a love letter.
These declarations are unique reflections of our personalities, an acknowledgment of our quirks, and an ode to our likes and dislikes. They remind us of dates that aren’t marked with a neat colored square on our online calendar. These love letters may not possess the whimsical quality of Julie Andrews’ original version, but they still list all of our favorite things.
Come early December, every Spotify user has their year memorialized in music. The feature, aptly termed "Spotify Wrapped," is a personalized curation of a user’s favorite tracks, genres, artists, and so much more. Spotify Wrapped has the energy of a quiet, bespectacled biographer in the corner of your room, noting down the soundtrack accompanying your life. The three days you spent listening to Taylor Swift's "august" after a messy situationship, the brief month you only listened to lo-fi hip hop beats to study, the year you spent trading song recommendations with your best friend like playing cards. These moments are neatly cataloged in a video montage, complete with resplendent panels of album artwork and musician portraits.
The exact birthplace of Wrapped is unknown. Originally, the feature was presented on a microsite and emailed to Spotify users, a far cry from the in–app, individualized video format it exists in today. On December 3, artist Jewel Ham took to Twitter to lay claim to Wrapped's shiny new packaging, writing that she'd come up with it while working as a Spotify design intern.
Spotify itself has disputed this, stating that "while ideas generated during Spotify’s internship program have, on occasion informed campaigns and products, based on our internal review, that is not the case here with Spotify Wrapped."
Despite its dubious origins, there is one aspect of Wrapped that is clear. Traditionally, love letters are tucked away and poised for secrecy. Depending on the literature you read, they are stored in former shoeboxes or as ash in an ornate fireplace. A love letter, much like beauty, exists solely in the eye of the beholder. Spotify Wrapped, on the other hand, exists to be beholden by others.
The newer in–app version of Wrapped can be shared on Instagram stories with the touch of a button. Our taste in music is now anthologized and ready to be published. Sure enough, most of us have spent this past week on Instagram flipping through a myriad of music tastes. Some stories are colored with playful humiliation, as someone questions why their most played song is sourced from The Lonely Island discography. Others profess their commitment to a musical artist's repertoire, showing off their newest clique: The Top 0.01% of Taylor Swift's Listeners.
No love story is without its obstacles, and no suitor goes unchallenged. Spotify Wrapped is no exception. There has been a frequent call to stop posting your Spotify Wrapped's, for reasons ranging from: no-one cares, to valid criticism of Spotify's role as a tech giant exploiting artists. The former critique generated a sharp rebuke, including a number of tweets encouraging people to share their Spotify Wrappeds without fear of censure. This discourse emphasizes posting what you want if it makes you happy.
Spotify Wrapped has been likened to horoscopes and the burgeoning interest in astrology. In an interview for the Atlantic, lifestyle writer Ruby Warrington remarks "I see astrology as a language of symbols that describes those parts of the human experience that we don’t necessarily have equations and numbers and explanations for.” Perhaps our fondness for Wrapped stems from the same source. Our experiences are collated through sound and symphonies, immortalized in music. Music can manipulate or influence our emotional states, which are closely connected to our personalities. Albums and song preferences express our most intangible sentiments and defining traits.
In a lot of ways, 2020 has been a year of collective trauma. We spent quarantine miles apart, yet reveled in our shared loneliness together. The world experienced an upheaval of the status quo, especially with regards to long–overdue conversations about racial justice and equity.
Spotify Wrapped is by no means a gift to counteract everything that has happened as of late. But maybe that's the point. It evokes a bite–size kind of happiness that hasn't been easy to come by this year, an individualized thumbprint of our year in sound, an ode to all the little moments. Spotify Wrapped casts our memories in a nostalgic light—the mornings we spent dressing up with nowhere to go, the evenings we danced with our roommates in the kitchen because we couldn't leave the house, and the nights we lulled ourselves to sleep at 4:00 a.m. after accomplishing absolutely nothing all day.
Perhaps the vantage point that these love letters afford us is rose-tinted. Now, more than ever, we deserve it.