Spotify Unwrapped: How Music Stokes Nostalgia



Spotify Wrapped Promotional Image 2021

Stella Goldstein, Staff Writer

Whenever I hear the song “Rihannon” by Fleetwood Mac, I am immediately brought back to a night three years ago driving home on a road trip. When I hear it, I feel as though I am reliving the never-ending car ride, looking out of the backseat window at the night stars and nothing but desert and cacti for miles and miles. I am overcome with all of this nostalgia from a single song. 

So during the wintertime when Spotify comes out with my annual Spotify Wrapped songs, I am overcome with those same feelings. When I woke up the morning of December 1, picked up my phone, and saw my Snapchat spammed with my friends’ Spotify Wrapped, I knew that they were feeling the nostalgia too. Every story I saw made me intrigued by my peers’ music tastes and habits throughout this year. And as I tapped through my own Spotify Wrapped, I thought to myself, the year is officially coming to an end. 

So in case you are an Apple Music user, you may be wondering: what is Spotify Wrapped anyway? Spotify Wrapped is an interactive story on the music streaming platform Spotify. It tells you all about your listening habits throughout the past year, including your most listened-to artists, songs, genres, and more. It has become popular for social media users to post their Spotify stories and share them with their friends.

It is essentially a time capsule of the year, summarizing your music from January to November. This five-minute story about music is enough to remind us of an entire year, showing an astute significance between music and memory. After all, music and memory are incredibly intertwined in our minds. Oftentimes, when a particular song comes on, there is an oddly specific memory associated with it. Hearing that song transports us back in time, and we feel completely immersed in that moment. We all have a song like this, whether we realize it or not. As a result, we are all unified in this odd, nostalgic feeling that music gives us. When we listen to our Spotify Wrapped, we are presented with the opportunity to experience this phenomenon. Whether it be a positive or negative memory, it is still incredibly powerful. Additionally, this is often why we sing a song to remember something, just like how many Milken students will never forget the quadratic formula to the tune of “Hotline Bling” (thank you, Mr. Rudajev). 

Furthermore, much of this music we see on our Spotify Wrapped was shared with our friends. Music is incredibly social, and in a BBC article, scientific researcher Cretien van Campen says, “Because music is there as part of lives spent with others – often significant others – that helps make it especially meaningful.” So when we look back at our listening habits of the year, we think of our happy, sad, or exciting experiences with our friends throughout the last 12 months. As social creatures, we love sharing our music with others. This ability and feeling becomes very powerful, which perhaps is a reason as to the craze behind Spotify Wrapped. 

There is also a bragging right that goes hand-in-hand with your listening habits. In every Spotify Wrapped, there is a slide that tells you what top percentage you are of your most listened to artist. If one prides themselves on being an avid Beatles fan, then a statistic telling them that they were among top 1% of Beatles listeners would– of course– make them proud. Spotify Wrapped also validates us in our passion for our favorite music and makes us more inclined to post about it. When we receive this statistic, we can prove our love for an artist with literal evidence. It almost becomes a competition to post about it, seeing who listened to an artist more, therefore only advancing the popularity around it. I too partook in this craze. When I saw I was among the top 0.1% of Kanye West listeners, I proudly posted this on my private story on Snapchat for my friends to see, where I was promptly validated by multiple friends responding telling me how impressive this feat was.  

However, Spotify Wrapped was not always as immersive as it is today. Originally, it was just a playlist of a listener’s top 100 most listened to songs, titled “A Year in Music” in 2015. In 2017, the format was changed to “Spotify Wrapped,” in which new statistics about user interests and habits were included. Interestingly, an idea of an interactive story that users can participate in was created by an intern a few years ago. This concept became reality and has brought about nothing but success and happiness for Spotify and listeners alike.