“I’m crying laughing,” my friend Jessica wrote in an Instagram Story caption atop a screenshot of her most listened to song of 2020, as determined by Spotify. For as long as I’ve known her, Jessica’s musical taste can be described as a mix of top 40 pop and emo classics from the 2000s. So it was as much of a surprise to me as it must have been for her that her number one streamed song of the year was “That Lady” by ‘70s soul group The Isley Brothers.
“Sophia used to love this song, so Mark and I played it whenever she was cranky or crying to calm her down,” Jessica wrote, referring to her one-year-old daughter. “And now it’s my top song of the year. Only in 2020.”
She’s not the only one feeling a little thrown off by the results of Spotify’s annual “Wrapped” roundup which allows users to get an overview of their musical obsessions over the year. Rumblings of unexpected wrapped results have taken over my Twitter timeline, Instagram feeds, and work Slack.
“My top five [artists of the year] were Margo Price, Bruce Springstein, John Prine, George Strait, and... Hozier?” Jezebel Senior Writer Esther Wang told me. “I literally do not remember listening to Hozier.”
“I absolutely don’t understand my Spotify Wrapped,” echoed Hazel Cills, Jezebel’s Senior Pop Culture Reporter. “My ‘top song’ was a song I played five times total, so Spotify tells me.”
My own results looked a bit odd as well: As much as I love “Teen Age Riot” by Sonic Youth, I certainly don’t recall playing it enough to make it my fifth most listened to song of the year.
But whether this is a strange Spotify glitch or we all have poor short term memories, there’s one thing anecdotes and stats alike can agree on: Everyone streamed a lot less music this year thanks to covid-19.
Even in March, the earliest days of the pandemic and widespread stay-at-home orders, Spotify streaming was at a low. This led Variety to ask, “Why Are Music Streams Down If Everyone’s Stuck at Home?” The answer was simple: Most people listen to music during their commute or at the office. No commute? No office? Well, that means no flipping through playlists and “liked songs” for hours each day. Even a music lover like myself, who mourns the loss of concerts and dance nights with a growing intensity as the covid-19 pandemic rages on, knows that my Spotify app has been largely neglected.
Instead, we’ve been filling the time with television: Viewership has risen sharply in streaming and network television alike.
“More eyes on TV screens meant less time for music consumption,” Variety noted way back in March. “Based on what had already played out in countries where COVID-19 disrupted life earlier, music executives were prepared for a bumpy ride.”
But did they expect the impact to last this long?
Look, I’m not saying that something fishy is afoot—maybe Esther did listen to Hozier more than she thought, and maybe I somehow really did listen to that much Sonic Youth—but one thing is certain: If life was a little more normal, and I was rushing to put in my headphones every time I left the house or ended up in the subway car with the Jesus freak, I think my Spotify Wrapped 2020 would look a little different.