I have a confession to make: I am a proud Apple Music user (hold the slander please) and also a big fan of Spotify Wrapped. While Apple Music has its own version of Spotify’s iconic year-end presentation, Apple Music Replay, it pales in comparison and doesn’t incite the same anticipation as Spotify Wrapped. There is a lot of pressure every year on the release of Spotify Wrapped. It’s a big reveal for many to see how they measure up against their past selves. It can also be a big disappointment for those with horror stories: some let their little sister or boyfriend use their Spotify and then end up with Olivia Rodrigo and The Joe Rogan Experience Podcast at the top of their charts. For others, listening to the same white noise or meditation every night can dangerously overtake their Wrapped. While I used to feel pangs of FOMO, I ultimately decided that Apple Music was a comfortable, safe place for me. The idea of restarting my entire music library on a completely new platform was exhaustingly daunting. 

While I may not be able to see what my friends are listening to in real-time or find new playlists as easily, I am not jaded. I still genuinely enjoy looking at other people’s Spotify Wrapped. There has been a movement in recent years to villainize Spotify Wrapped as an entity on social media, and the debate has been divisive. The first “hot take” was that even though you, as an individual, might care about your own personal Spotify Wrapped, no one else does and therefore you should be shamed for posting about it on your Instagram Story. The hotter take to counter this hot take was that once it became cool to hate on Spotify Wrapped, a wave of Spotify Wrapped defenders appeared, united by the message that even though no one else was captivated by your post about your Spotify Wrapped, they cared; they supported you and your Instagram story.

It has been widely publicized that the original idea for Spotify Wrapped was conceived by an intern at the time, Jewel Ham, who never received proper credit or compensation. Spotify Wrapped has also been criticized again this year as a corporation’s thinly veiled attempt to appear ultra relatable with the use of trendy (or used to be trendy) slang. Phrases like “understood the assignment” and “lived in your head rent-free” that have been popularized by Gen Z were made a part of the Spotify Wrapped format to wide ridicule. While it does feel a little like mega-companies posing as your quirky best friend (think Virgin America Airlines instructional video in musical form or Denny’s posting memes that make no sense on Tumblr), we still have to acknowledge that Spotify knows its subscribers care about their Spotify Wrapped and are at least trying to create the best experience possible for them. It is, after all, supposed to be a gift; a surprise that one gets to—almost literally—unwrap.

Besides being a gift, Spotify Wrapped is also a recognition of an accomplishment. Just recently, I heard a group of friends bragging to each other about how many minutes they had racked up listening to music: more than 100,000 minutes of music annually is definitely a badge of honor for young people. It’s a gratifying experience to be given a data summary of what you’ve achieved as a listener and how your taste has developed that year. Humans thrive on the illusion of productivity, and this is not always a bad thing. Keeping track of how many steps you’ve walked in a day or your screen time for the week (that one can maybe be a little toxic) are methods to measure and record the ways we spend our lives.

I personally have taken to bullet journaling, a condensed method of journaling that has been widely popularized on Pinterest for the intricate, artistic spreads that people incorporate into their respective Moleskine notebooks. Every bullet journal is customizable. Each day, I like to record things like my to-do list, what I ate, how much I slept, and what my mood was for the day. Even though all these things could’ve still happened without me acknowledging that they did (and writing them down is not necessarily “productive”), keeping a daily history has grounded me, made me feel more organized, and helped me break up the monotony that can arise from months of keeping the same routine, week after week.

Social media is another big proponent of illusional productivity. Both sides of it—the consumption of endless content and the posting of content into an endless void—can feel rewarding. Going through your feed until you’ve seen everything new and have opened all your notifications can be satisfying, as can sharing something with the world and getting more notifications as a result. While this practice has the potential to become addicting, it also serves as a compressed highlight reel of the human experience and acts similarly to bullet journaling: it makes us feel good because we have a physical (digital) record of how we have lived. Another part of social media is constantly showing others that we are busy or having fun or “being productive.” Snapchat can be attributed to starting the trend of stories that have now gone on to infiltrate almost every other major platform. This kind of posting has a sense of urgency and immediacy. It says: “here is the cool thing I’m doing or the amazing place I am in right now.”

Circling back to Spotify Wrapped: while the original formats were meant only to be viewed by the individual viewer, newer versions have made sharing far easier. They are now literally made to be posted as a story. And though it is easy to argue that the motive behind Spotify Wrapped is less about altruistically wanting people to share their music predilections and more about making all the Apple Music users so jealous they convert, you still have to admit that there’s something sweet about a giant community of music lovers with such a vast variety of tastes all comparing how they did this year. Spotify Wrapped is a perfect example of healthy artificial productivity and is a continuation of the enduring instinct of humans to record everything about ourselves for the elucidation of future civilizations. I, for one, will continue to look forward to Spotify Wrapped partly because there’s no pressure for me to participate and be judged (again, as an Apple Music user) and partly because it is simply a fun way to genuinely connect with people.

Emma Kendall can be reached at erkendall@wesleyan.edu.