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‘Almost like election night’: behind the scenes of Spotify Wrapped

There’s a flurry of activities inside Spotify’s New York City’s offices in the Financial District. “It’s almost like election night,” Louisa Ferguson, Spotify’s global head of marketing experience says, referring to a bustling newsroom. At the same time, she feels like Santa Claus putting presents under a tree. “Honestly, it’s a pretty apt analogy,” she says on a brief respite during what constitutes her busiest day of the year. “It’s really like we created this gift of music and then we get to deliver it to everyone.”

Related: ‘Putting a number on art’: musicians nervous as Spotify announces royalty changes

Spotify Wrapped, which went live today for millions of users globally, enjoys its status as a cultural, social and music event of the year. Generated by listening habits and rolled out in a tidy package of graphics, video and music, it’s a uniquely shareable snapshot of the sonic year that was, providing users with their most listened to songs, artists and podcasts. 2023’s top streamers include Taylor Swift, the Miley Cyrus hit Flowers, Bad Bunny’s album Un Verano Sin Ti and The Joe Rogan Experience podcast.

Since its initial rollout just under a decade ago, Wrapped has become a social media feast which has spawned countless memes, and a raft of imitators. “It’s very surreal,” says Ferguson referring to the phenomena, with competitors like Apple Music and companies like JetBlue to Audible generating their own versions of Wrapped. Ferguson says the streaming giant has a secret to both success and relevancy. “We basically thrive off of feedback,” she says. “We’re constantly interacting and seeing what people are saying on how we can step up our game.”

As a result, the streaming giant ruminates for months about the unique ins and outs of the tradition which regularly includes quirky features. “It takes a long time. We’ve also developed a bit of a crew who has stayed on the program year-over-year. I always say we’re never not thinking about Wrapped. We stockpile ideas.”

Taken from that aforementioned pile, this year’s fresh concepts include Me in 23, which assigns users a specific listener characteristic from Luminary (for fans of lighter, fun music) to Alchemist (for those who have a habit of creating personal playlists).

There’s also Sound Town, which matches one’s listening habits with a comparable community whose residents stream the same music as the user. Throughout its rollout earlier today, Ferguson has noticed major chatter with Sound Town specifically. “It’s getting a ton of interaction online,” she says. “We’re seeing clusters of towns posted on the internet, which was a surprise to us.” (Cambridge, Massachusetts, home of Harvard University, seems to be a popular location.) According to Ferguson, the feature expands on Spotify’s goal of “drilling deeper on a hyper local level. We chose hundreds of towns and cities from across the globe”.

Another major Wrapped component, akin to a bow fixed atop a shining gift, are video messages from artists thanking their biggest fans on the service. This year, Ferguson and her team culled 40,000 of them.

“We did a proof of concept with video messages two years ago,” she explains, noting this year they are integrated directly into the Wrapped rollout, which turned out to be a technical feat. “It’s always really exciting to bring the top acts in,” says Ferguson. And yes, that includes this year’s most-streamed artist.

“Oh hi, this is a special message from me to you, basically a thank you note,” Swift says in her video, donning a sequin dress, presumably shot backstage during a recent Eras tour stop. “Honestly, it looks like you listened to a lot of my music this year. It doesn’t matter what era you were listening to; I’m very, very grateful to be on your Spotify Wrapped,” Swift says before blowing a kiss to the camera.

This year, Swift unseated Bad Bunny after a three-year reign as the service’s most-steamed act globally. (For 2023, he’s No 2; the Weeknd and Drake are ranked third and fourth, respectively.) And in a bit of cosmic fate, Swift’s boyfriend, Travis Kelce, is also represented in Wrapped’s calculations. The podcast he hosts with his brother Jason, New Heights, is the year’s most-streamed sports podcast.

Ferguson’s team is no stranger to collaborating with Swift and her team. “When it comes to Taylor, over 2023 we developed a series of smaller-scale interactive experiences (which led up to her video),” she explains. Along the lines of Wrapped, over the summer they rolled out My Top 5 which ranked listeners’ most-listened to Swift eras.

Wrapped, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2024, has come a long way in the intervening years. “It started as a marketing campaign without any type of digital component,” says Ferguson of what was originally called Year In Music. “Then it expanded with an external microsite, and the following year we took it in-app.” Since then it’s experienced “exponential growth”.

One thing hasn’t changed: to put it in Biblical terms, the exact day and time Wrapped rolls out is unknown; a closely guarded secret beyond Spotify’s confines. But when it’s finally unwrapped (for lack of a better term), Ferguson and her team jump into action. “When we finally press ‘go’, we pop champagne. Then, it’s immediately back to our laptops.”