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Spotify Wrapped is here, but what does it mean? ASU professor says it's about identity

By Kirsten Dorman
Published: Friday, December 1, 2023 - 8:47am

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Along with the holidays, this time of year marks platforms like Spotify releasing breakdowns of users’ individual listening habits. The crowd of listeners who get their Spotify Wrapped continues to grow.

Some may wonder: Why do we care so much about showing off that we listened to thousands of minutes’ worth of our favorite artists every year?

Erin Barra is the director of Arizona State University’s popular music program and executive director of ‘We Make Noise,’ a nonprofit.

“As we sort of attach ourselves to these artists, we too become like the vehicles for these messages,” Barra said. “And this is what we stand for. And this is what we believe in and this is how we identify.”

Where do artists focus their attention?

Barra said priorities in the music industry have shifted to leveraging that sense of identity as a brand for artists to market.

“There are other platforms like TikTok or Instagram or SoundCloud, or even like Discord, where somebody could have a massive, massive following,” said Barra.

But those same people may still not be widely known offline. Which raises the question: How do you gauge success in the age of the internet? Where do artists focus their attention?

“I'm always telling the students to focus on process over product because this is, I think, what makes the product so great in the end anyway,” Barra said.

Thanks to ease of access to music through the internet, fan bases and subcultures have had a unique opportunity and medium to grow.

Crossing digital borders

“American music, for so long, has permeated other markets,” she said. “But now the reverse is happening.”

Barra said that along with the variety of sounds that brings, it also means that artists like Peso Pluma, K-pop and J-pop acts, and beats inspired by music from Western and South Africa are increasingly seeing success in the U.S.

“Because of globalization and our ability to access each other at any moment at any time in any capacity, we're just blending,” said Barra. “There's a seeping or an overlap of culture that is crossing digital borders.”

This blend of different cultural sounds, Barra said, plays a key role in defining popular music today.

As far as what that might mean for years to come: “I hope that it means that we are open to alternative narratives and to different types of sounds.”

So no matter how much of your guilty pleasure playlist made your ‘top 5,’ Barra said she hopes fans will support artists beyond just streaming.

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