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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Hey, are you listening?

Residents of Chapel Hill and Carrboro shop from Mike West's stand at the Carrboro Record and CD Show in Carrboro, N.C. on Nov. 6, 2022.

Every year, during the last week of November, the world waits.

The last autumn-dappled leaves threaten to drop off trees, schools fill with anticipatory holiday cheer and millions of people begin the countdown to the most important event of the season — Spotify Wrapped Day. 

In a series of infographics, Wrapped gives you an overview of your music-listening activity on Spotify, from your top five most-listened-to artists to the genres and songs you've listened to throughout the year. The subsequent influx of posts is inevitable, inescapable, all-consuming. Equally prolific are laments from people claiming that their results are too embarrassing to post.

Whatever your feelings about your Wrapped are (I promise, it’s not the end of the world if your top songs are from Broadway musicals), one thing is clear: what you listen to matters.

Other add-on music services that broadcast what you’re listening to in real time — such as Receiptify, Airbuds and the Friend Activity feature on Spotify — direct even more eyes to your listening habits, trapping you in a spiraling prison of self-consciousness. Streaming services like Spotify are no longer mere tools to listen to music, but social media platforms on which every action is recorded and publicized.

I’m an avid Spotify user and it deserves credit for helping me discover some of my favorite musicians. However, the unique way it and similar services have commercialized music has propagated a culture in which people are more invested in the act of listening to music rather than actually listening to the music. 

Now, you aren’t just a fan of Lana Del Rey’s music, you’re the kind of person who listens to her, which of course, comes with a set of behaviors, aesthetics and ideas tied together with a bright pink coquette ribbon. Fans of The Smiths don’t just appreciate a good guitar solo or lead singer Morrissey’s  dubious vocals, they’re all male manipulators or esoteric women with Joan of Arc-esque bobs. 

Playing an album on Spotify while you’re listening to it on vinyl so it counts in your Wrapped, letting Spotify play while you sleep to farm listening minutes, filling every moment of your life with a constant cacophony just so you don’t have to hear silence — or worse, your thoughts — all cheapen the invaluable human experience of actually listening to music. 

Advocates of streaming will profess the obsolescence of older forms of media — CDs, records, cassettes, even the radio — in the modern age, but there’s been a recent increase in the popularity of these alternative forms of music among Gen Z, which I think presents a solution to this thoughtless consumption.

In an age where we can freely flutter between thousands of algorithmically generated playlists, the most radical thing you can do is commit your undivided attention to a single song, album, or EP without broadcasting your actions to the rest of the world. Forcing yourself to slow down and take the time to choose one piece of music to devote your time to enjoying allows you to fully engage with and understand the art.

I’m not asking you to delete your preferred streaming service and go buy a gramophone. Just consider that a more thoughtful and intentional approach to media consumption is the best way to make the most of the unprecedented abundance of wonderful music available to us.

It’s time to reject the all-seeing panopticon that encourages mindless consumption for the sake of aesthetics and instead fully commit to experiencing art we actually enjoy, for no one but ourselves. 

@dthopinion |

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