Spotify 2020; by Sam Grinnell

Amongst the plethora of lists that emerge at the close of each passing year, summarizing our favourite Netflix shows (remember Tiger King?), our top Google searches (Coronavirus, no doubt), or, maybe this year, the best pandemic memes, Spotify Wrapped has to be my favourite. This year, however, it has come to my attention that this is a rather unpopular opinion. As many of my friends opted to share their top Spotify artists, songs, and genres via Instagram stories, they also routinely added captions to their stories to the effect of “I know nobody cares whatsoever but…” or “I know how annoying these things are but…”, which prompted me to delve deeper into why we choose to share these Spotify Wrapped lists (even if they are “so annoying”), and more generally, the diverse reasons we have for continuing to share our musical tastes with the world, year after year.

I think I speak for the majority when I say discovering that someone else shares your taste in music is always pretty cool—all of a sudden it seems like you both have so much in common. Personally, I think the music I listen to represents my whole…vibe, my outlook. So when someone else appreciates my musical taste, it’s like they almost inherently appreciate my vibe, too, which is a great start in terms of connecting with someone. A study published in Neuron suggests that, through evolution, our brain has actually “produced a dedicated neural circuit for [music]”, so it’s really no wonder that music plays such a key role in the ways in which we connect with others. I guess what I’m getting at is that through sharing our musical favourites each year, we’re sharing with others not only our personal vibe, but we’re also hoping to connect with others who might share similar tastes. And of course, it works in the opposite way, too; total disagreement in musical taste can certainly be a ‘dealbreaker’ in friendships and relationships. I once dated a guy who was 27 years old, yet still listened to angsty teen rock (and not the good kind), not to mention he was obsessed with country music—needless to say that was a hurdle I couldn’t get over.

Yet, aside from the general idea that music profoundly connects (or detaches) us from others, I think we all, more or less, fit into three camps in terms of the reasons we specifically share our Spotify Wrapped each December. The first camp are those who unashamedly listen to top 20 music, and only top 20 music. They want you to know how “with the times” they are, and apparently “the times” solely include dance-y pop music? Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, The Weeknd… you can name the rest. The second camp exists in an entirely different universe. They listen to the most obscure music and secretly hope that no one has ever heard of their top artists and songs. To them, music is a cult, and you are probably not a member. And lastly, there are people like me, who are completely stuck in a bygone era. To be honest, sometimes I’m not entirely sure whether my retro music taste is more of a resistance to popular contemporary music, or a true affinity for a bygone time. What I do know, though, is that my sparse knowledge of contemporary pop music results in oscillating feelings of embarrassment and arrogance, depending on context.

Ultimately, my point is, I’m here for your Spotify Wrapped. In light of this extraordinary year that has profoundly isolated us from one another, music is at least one way that we can feel connected to each other. In fact, all I want for Christmas this year is someone to make me my own personalized Spotify playlist.

That being said, below is a list of the most notable albums to come out of isolation and the pandemic, according to our Lifestyle Editor, Madhumita Prasad.  We believe this music has helped us all connect this year.

Fiona Apple: Fetch the Bolt Cutters

An album that came out at the very beginning of the social isolation and distancing protocols in early April this year, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, was extremely appropriate for the lockdown, even though it was created during a time when the virus felt like an impossible occurrence. It reminds you how important it is to be angry and to be vulnerable and how being alone can help you understand yourself. In the titular song, ‘Fetch the Bolt Cutters’, she says, “Fetch the bolt cutters / I’ve been in here too long”, trying to break out of the cage she kept herself in, stating the importance of not being afraid to speak up.

Any time I saw this album on an Instagram story, or someone mentioning how much they loved it in a tweet, it made me so happy to know that, as strange as this album might seem against the backdrop of the current pop scene, there is still so much comfort that so many find in it. The natural, everyday sounds of Apple’s dogs barking in her songs, her screams, her whispers and breathing, makes it feel like she sings for us, letting us know that it is okay to feel all the emotions without judging yourself.

Standout Lyric: “I would beg to disagree / But begging disagrees with me” (‘Under the Table’)

Taylor Swift: folklore

        When considering albums that came out of the lockdown, it would be an incomplete collection without Swift’s folklore. A true product of isolation, this album was described as “a sweater-weather record filled with cinematic love songs and rich fictional details”. In a quest, perhaps to create music considered more mature and award worthy, she creates a world filled with characters that are consciously flawed and go through almost fairytale-esque experiences to welcome listeners into. The nostalgia that comes with thinking about high school betrayals and the innocence of childhood friendships is uncharacteristic of Swift’s more pop based music, and is almost more reminiscent of her country days.

        Witnessing even a little bit of folklore on my friends’ Spotify Wrapped was not unusual this year, especially considering the popularity of the album, but knowing that so many found solace in the music made within the forests, the trees and nature in general, reminded me of how much joy the outside brings. The album is, again, a testament to truly feeling all your emotions and trying to grow as a person during this time. Swift’s ability to get everyone invested in stories and conspiracy theories about fictional characters also builds an incredible community of people hanging onto every last word and analysing more than just the universe that the music creates.

Standout Lyric: “They told me all of my cages were mental / So I got wasted like all my potential” (‘this is me trying’)

Rina Sawayama: Sawayama

In complete contrast to the lyric heavy music of folklore and Fetch the Bolt Cutters, Sawayama is a call to dance your heart out to songs that feel right out of the late 90s, or Y2K pop.  This is not to say that the album is not relevant to the year for more than just that. Sawayama’s approach to talking about excessive materialism, for example, in her song ‘XS’, singing “Gimme just a little bit (more) / Little bit of (excess)”, especially with the widening gaps becoming more evident as the lives of frontline workers become increasingly dangerous. She mentions breaking friendships, troubled relationships and facing everyday racism as she goes through life, all set to incredibly infectious beats that make you want to move around.

Sawayama is indicative of a new generation of music that tackles the heavier parts of life without turning to acoustic guitar for ‘authenticity’. Coming across any mentions of this album on any of my friends’ social media platforms made me feel so connected to them. Knowing that they are also exploring their identities and reverting back to the popular music of the late 90s and early 2000s made it feel like we were simultaneously holding it together by visiting our childhood,  even though we are physically apart.

Standout Lyric: “We don’t need to be related to relate… You are, you / My chosen, chosen family”