Move over Mariah Carey: these days the arrival of Christmas is marked by the arrival of Spotify Wrapped. Since 2016, the streaming giant has generated end-of-year listening statistics that claim to reveal users’ most intimate music secrets. Endless discourse about most-played songs, guilty pleasures and expected genres ensues. It’s a savvy marketing scheme for a platform that otherwise makes headlines for paying musicians poorly, although it seems few of us can resist the opportunity to show off our exemplary choices. But what can this data really tell us about our music tastes?
“Humans are good at trying to find reflections of ourselves in anything,” says anthropologist Nick Seaver. The author of a new book called Computing Taste, he argues that it’s important for us to understand “how that mirror got made, and what kinds of distortion is going into that reflection … It’s not just showing you as you are. It’s shaped by all sorts of decisions that people who are not you are making.”