The time has come—the time, that is, when our social feeds are completely overtaken by people posting their Spotify Wrapped. Every year, the music streaming app convinces us that our taste is unique and eclectic, that no one is a bigger fan of our favorite artists, and that what we listen to says something really profound about our personalities. Then, after you look at a few people’s charts darting across your social media feeds, it becomes clear that what we’re really fascinated by is information about ourselves—nothing is more interesting than your own list, and nothing is less interesting than everyone else’s.
What do these viral stocking stuffers tell us? For one thing, what we see on these lists may not be a reflection of our actual taste in music so much as the ways Spotify shapes how we listen to music: blasting the Beast Mode playlist at the gym for the 40th time, pulling up songs you heard on TikTok, putting on the one Vivaldi movement you listen to while you write emails.
Either way, our music consumption has become data-analyzable in ever more granular ways, down to the mundanities of day-to-day life: the podcasts we use to go to sleep, the music we play for our dogs or children, white noise or ambient music that’s designed for concentration, even squirrel-repellent sounds. All in one handy infographic.
Increasingly, you see people complain about how the tracks that aren’t part of their sincere listening mess up their Instagram-perfect Wrapped. (Parents: We get it.) But they’re missing the point! Your Wrapped is not a pure encapsulation of your musical taste; it’s an encapsulation of the garbage sounds that fill your days. That’s not something to be ashamed of—we all do it. It’s time to celebrate Meghan Trainor, and Cocomelon, and whatever other embarrassing things populate our playlists. Here are some of ours.
There are many embarrassing things on my Spotify Wrapped, because I am in my 40s and mostly listen to music I’ve liked for years (“Killing in the Name,” by Rage Against the Machine, “Go West,” by Liz Phair, and the Pixies’ classic “Here Comes Your Man” are all on here). But the worst has got to be the songs by sea shanty specialists the Longest Johns, who had their minute in early 2021 after the rest of the internet finally figured out that sea shanties were hot on pandemic TikTok. The weird mix of camaraderie and loneliness these songs pulled from my soul was perfect for that season. I’m sure everyone else has moved on, but I really love these a cappella dorks’ album Between Wind and Water, and listen to it constantly, especially when under deadline. And now you know! —Rebecca Onion
It’s not quite a poem, but one of the opening lines of the seminal 2003 Alan Jackson–Jimmy Buffett work, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” reads like a koan: “Work day passes like molasses in winter time, but it’s July.” Beautiful! Genius! I love this song, and I’m not too ashamed of it. It’s very soothing, and feels especially nice to listen to on a light walk around the block while taking a breather from work. (You don’t have to be drinking to connect with the tune.) But I was sort of uncomfortably surprised that it made my top 10 … do I really listen to the words “pour me something tall and strong, make it a hurricane until I go insane” that much? Am I a Parrothead? “Make it a big boy drink, I don’t wanna think”—really????? Is this ME? —Natalie Shutler
I listen to instrumental music when I need to focus. When I was younger, this mainly took the form of playing the instrumental version of Dr. Dre’s “Xxplosive” on repeat, but I’ve broadened my horizons. This year, I curated a couple of playlists featuring folk/country (William Tyler), soul (the Olympians), and even some psychedelic funk (Muunjuun). But my top five most listened-to songs are all from Star Trek soundtracks. The nerd heart wins out over the indie head. —Sol Werthan
This year I mainly consumed music by using the shuffle function on a giant playlist I’ve been building since I first got Spotify in 2012. It’s got 1,400 songs on it, and I like it because it frequently serves up music I forgot I loved and other selections that give life a nice little dose of manufactured serendipity. Its randomness is mostly a virtue, except that the same randomness can result in my most played song of the year being one I barely even know but was apparently into enough on Jan. 5 that I decided to add it to the ol’ playlist: “Comic Sans” by Audrey Nuna featuring Jack Harlow. I promise I’m not trying to save face—I am very embarrassing, and so is my crush on Jack Harlow, but this song, mostly distinguished for the amount of times people say “yuh” in it, is not the best reflection of my taste in music. I think I’m gonna take it off the playlist. In 2023, we’re doing curation. —Heather Schwedel
My top songs are (almost) all for my 2-year-old. He loves “Happy.” If I let him, he would watch that video forever. Also, he’s a small Swiftie, I guess—though in a very basic way. But I want to put in a word for Little Bandits. Really an incredible kids band from Brooklyn. They have a whole song about the Brooklyn Public Library, one about taking the bus, and one I really adore about the animals in Prospect Park. Also one about riding a scooter that causes incurable earworms.
They apparently used to teach music classes for kids, too. But they seem to have just dropped this one (great) album and disappeared. I really, really need them to make another. It’s the only kids music that doesn’t make me want to jump out a window. Another parent DM’d me that they got married (?!), so I guess that’s the goss. Please, Little Bandits, record some more music so I can stop playing this one album over and over. —Lizzie O’Leary
My top track this year ended up being “Me and My Husband” by Mitski, which I listened to over and over again while trying to add funky blues guitar to it for a conceptual musical project I was calling “Jimitski Hendrix.” I’m now almost completely sure this is a bad idea and have almost totally given up on it … but even now typing it up, I can hear it so clearly in my head. No. Well … I’ll see how it sounds with the wah pedal before I admit this is better as a pun than something someone else will have to hear. —Ben Richmond
Among my top five artists this year was Glass Animals. Frankly, I don’t know anything about Glass Animals except that they seem very popular among 20-something boys, they are British (?), and I feel instinctually that liking them is uncool. I actually think their music is fine, or at least, not much worse than most of what I listen to. The really embarrassing part is how I got hooked on them. During the pandemic, living at my parents’ house in rural Massachusetts, I learned—in my late 20s—how to smoke weed. I would buy pre-rolls at the dispensary in town, get high, and walk around the golf course opposite our house listening to Glass Animals. I pretty much gave up smoking when I returned to New York, but I still listen to “Tangerine.” —Cleo Levin
In past years, Cocomelon has crept onto my year-end Spotify infographic, but this year the toddler pick was the Magnetic Fields’ “Washington, D.C.” Fine: Great town, great song, great band, and you can see why an almost-4-year-old would love it. I’m not embarrassed by the selection, just a little shocked that we played this 23-year-old song that much, given that I’m someone who easily listens to 200 new albums each year. But you can’t deny the comfort of returning to a place you know. As the Fields’ Stephin Merritt wrote about my town: “It’s just that’s where my baby waits for me.” —Jonathan L. Fischer