Spotify’s Year-End Lists Are the Ultimate Personality Test

Why the mass sharing of the music streaming service’s year-end lists is uniquely telling

If you looked at my Spotify Wrapped summary today and concluded, “You spent a lot of 2019 being sad and/or going on long, moody walks with your headphones,” you’d be correct:

Apparently, I listened to a lot of folk-pop singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers and her indie rock outfit, Better Oblivion Community Center. Today I was one of thousands of Twitter users (based on the hashtag #spotifywrapped2019) to post a screenshot of the streaming service’s individualized end-of-year roundup — the condensing of a year’s worth of data, showcasing what we pumped into our ears while we worked, commuted, cleaned the apartment, or lay in bed staring at the ceiling.

Much hilarity has ensued, as well as self-reflection:

An editor here at Forge used the moment to open up about her love of show tunes. Many parents whose playlists have been hijacked by offspring riffed on how, as one tweet put it, “children will bring you low”:

In a way, these lists are the purest personality test the internet has to offer — data-backed, strangely intimate, revealing (and sometimes embarrassing) tallies of exactly how we spent the hours that added up to a year.

There’s some humblebragging, as always: These screenshots are a handy way to display how we like and engage with good things. But these lists are not carefully curated personal branding exercises, like the “My Top 10 Albums” lists that insufferable music nerds would post on Facebook during the heyday of such things. They are pure data, unfiltered reflections of who we are when no one is looking — which can be surprising even to ourselves.

I can no longer hide from the fact that I listened to Weezer’s cover of Toto’s “Africa” quite a few times, though I have no memory of doing so. Or “Back to You” by Selena Gomez, which I do remember listening to quite a few times but would be embarrassed to admit (except here I am, admitting it). (In the interest of transparency, I should acknowledge that apparently I also listened to a lot of Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, proving that I am fundamentally a dad.)

More than the results themselves, the moment Spotify Wrapped is having is about the way these lists are shared — mostly with a heavy dose of irony or self-deprecation. This is often the case with contemporary “personality tests” made for social media sharing. The real fun of BuzzFeed’s “Who Are You From ‘Succession’?” quiz was reacting to and protesting about the results on Twitter. Similarly, the real fun of Spotify Wrapped is uniting in our shared embarrassments or sighing wearily and admitting, “Yeah, that seems about right.”

Spotify, a company whose predictive algorithm is legendary, seems to also understand something fundamental about social media: We love to talk about ourselves, but doing so in an earnest and straightforward manner feels self-indulgent. So we find roundabout ways of showing who we are, often attributable to something outside ourselves — a feature built into an app we use every day, or a silly quiz. As yet another tweeter put it, “[W]e all love our own data.”

Of course, not everyone was on board with the public sharing. Some instead tweeted about not posting their Spotify Wrapped lists. Some devoted their energy to creating visual spoofs of the list. And, of course, this being Twitter, some shrugged off the playlist-sharing with a pointed display of indifference.

But here’s the thing: Publicly choosing not to engage is still engaging. Like it or not, you’re still participating in this particular personality test.

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