Self-Representation Through Music on Social Media
Are We Really Who We Portray Ourselves as Online?
The broad term “representation” means something that stands for the original thing it refers to. While a presentation may involve sharing what something is, a representation, on the other hand, is the constructed version. We reconstruct ourselves visually by sharing photos, and we use blog entries or Twitter posts to create written self-representations. In addition, there’s a relatively new category, referred to as quantified self-representation. The concept refers to sharing our habits through numbers and graphs, mainly via companies that track and quantify our behavior using algorithms.
This is where Spotify comes in. With the help of new streaming technologies, our listening choices can be widely publicized these days. A record of the songs we listen to during a given year is now stored within the app, quantified and presented to us as a yearly wrap-up: for example, “2020 Wrapped.” Not surprisingly, this information comes with a “Would you like to share this?” button. With substantial public interest in making personality matches through this content, every year these wrap-ups go viral on various social media platforms such as Twitter (#spotifywrapped) and Instagram, where people now share and represent themselves through music.
Personalization of Spotify
This “personalization” is a massive part of Spotify’s success. It all started in Stockholm, Sweden, with the service’s founding in 2006 by Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon. It began by allowing users to create handcrafted personal playlists, and as the technology advanced, the company itself became able to create playlists personalized for each of its users. “Discover Weekly” was the first of those lists, shared with every user every Monday beginning in July 2015. Over time, other customized playlists such as “Daily Mix” and “Your Time Capsule” emerged, and when “Wrapped” was started, it made Spotify even more popular. The possibility of sharing their “Top 10 Songs” was an incredibly attractive option for many people. And as users saw that others were sharing this information, sharing their wrap-up became an annual event that everyone knew about and looked forward to. In 2019, more than 60 million users engaged with this feature. There were around 40 million shares; this number probably increased in 2020.
Can People “See” Inside Our Headphones?
Streaming platforms track us to present our listening habits, and we are now able to use music to represent ourselves on social media. But how does this affect us? I believe that all these factors place today’s listeners into a social context when listening to music. We feel like we’re being seen, and even if we don’t choose to share our personalized wrap-ups on social media, we’re still being seen via Spotify’s default mode, which shows us what our friends are currently listening to. We encounter playlists and other personal representations from them as well.
Who Else Hides Their “Guilty Pleasures”?
It’s well known that the need to create an “ideal self” comes from the human social context, in which people endeavor to be liked, gain status and prove themselves through competition. Now that our listening habits are becoming public knowledge, we want them to be ideal, to be what they “should” be. This heats up debate about musical taste. Most people question (and worry about) whether the music they’re caught listening to is “marginal” enough, “elite” enough, “cool” enough, or whatever label they want to represent themselves with. People try not to listen to their so-called guilty pleasures on Spotify so that they won’t be reflected in their yearly wrap-ups. Many also turn off the option that allows their friends to see what they’re listening to.
How Bad Is Your Spotify?
Criticism about musical taste is growing more prevalent on social media as well. In December 2020, a bot showing everyone “how bad” their taste was went viral. Although this new application (created by “The Pudding” digital culture site) was used primarily for entertainment purposes, it caused people to dwell even more on the way their musical tastes were represented on their personalized Spotify accounts. Another example of such criticism occurred when PewDiePie’s taste in music became a hotly debated issue on Twitter after some of the YouTuber’s Spotify playlists were leaked.
To sum up, music streaming platforms have made possible a new type of self-representation: sharing our listening habits. This new dynamic in music consumption has given birth to new human behavior issues on social media platforms, including Spotify. The effects of publicizing our musical preferences seem huge and require further research.