Making head or tails of Spotify Wrapped: can we learn at all anything from our 2022 listening habits?

 (ES Composite)
(ES Composite)

Spotify Wrapped 2022 is here, which means that we all have to put up with seeing the breakdown of our friends’ listening habits splattered across social media for several days.

But what is fascinating about the music streamer’s end-of-year round-up of the listening habits of its 456 million users is that it gives us a chance to find out who were the top artists that year - and while some of the winners are obvious (Harry Styles’ As It Was was the most listened to song in both the UK and globally, which makes sense; Bad Bunny was the world’s most listened to artist on the site, with 18 billion streams, followed by Taylor Swift; Ed Sheeran was the UK’s most listened to artist globally), others are not.

For example, Eminem was the tenth most streamed artist of 2022, beating Beyoncé, Ariana Grande, Megan Thee Stallion, Rosalia, Nicki Minaj, and other seemingly more popular artists. Sure, his last studio album, 2020’s Music to Be Murdered By, went to number one in the US and the UK, but who are these listeners? We have not met one person who listens to Eminem off the dance floor.

Of course, there are tonnes of mediating factors to consider when thinking about the Spotify recap, such as the demographics of Spotify’s listeners. After all, if you analysed the music tastes of middle-aged Dads it’s perhaps unlikely that Justin Bieber would be the eighth most listened-to artist globally, as he was this year (but then again, who knows). While Spotify hasn’t recently released a major breakdown of its listeners, a 2018 Statisia stat said that 55 per cent of its users were aged 18 to 34 years old.

We could muse on it all, for days. Here is our round-up of the biggest shocks and questions provoked by Spotify Wrapped 2022.

Ukraine’s war and cost of living crisis have had no effect - yet

 (Getty Images for MRC)
(Getty Images for MRC)

It’s been a tough year with the fall-out of Russia and Ukraine’s war, Covid, Saudi oil drying up and chaotic UK governing whipping up a cost of living crisis in the UK and around the world. The looming Winter of Discontent could have had an effect on music: during the Seventies political and social crises, the UK’s music scene exploded with rock subgenres (folk rock, psychedelic rock, glam rock, and the intensification of punk).

But, as of yet, all the crises seem to have not had an effect on the music tastes of Spotify’s listeners. Last year the top most streamed artists globally were Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny, Taylor Swift, BTS, Drake and Bieber. This year it’s nearly exactly the same - only the order has shifted slightly: Bad Bunny, Taylor Swift, Drake, The Weeknd and BTS are the top five, with The Weeknd bumping Bieber down to number eight.

Are people pretending there’s nothing going on? Is it too early to make any judgement on this (most people have, after all, only just turned their heating on)? Have people just become so numbed after Covid that more upheaval means we’re all less reactive? Or is everyone just battening down the hatches, finding comfort and enjoyment in their favourite music artists (some of whom, like Swift and Drake, released new albums this year)?

Spotify listeners love Styles, which makes sense

As It Was by Harry Styles has been revealed as the most streamed track on Apple Music in the UK this year (PA) (PA Archive)
As It Was by Harry Styles has been revealed as the most streamed track on Apple Music in the UK this year (PA) (PA Archive)

Harry Styles is everywhere. He starred in two of this year’s biggest film releases: Michael Grandage’s heartbreaker My Policeman, where he starred opposite Emma Corrin, and in Olivia Wilde’s scandal-ridden Don’t Worry Darling, which also starred Florence Pugh and Chris Pine.

His music video for the track As It Was garnered a whopping 371 million views, while the track itself topped Billboard’s top 100 chart for over 15 weeks. His third studio album, the May-released Harry’s House, went to number one in the US and UK as well as numerous other countries, including Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and Sweden. He has also been touring worldwide for over a year - his Love On Tour tour started in September 2021 and will end in July 2023.

This year Styles has topped nearly all of Spotify Wrapped’s lists: he was the second most streamed artist globally, the fourth top artist listened to in the UK; As It Was was most streamed song in both the UK and globally (with 1.6 billion streams) and Harry’s House is the second most streamed album globally. So, a big year for Styles, and absolutely not surprising.

Ye has an unshakeable fanbase

Kanye West makes first Twitter post since platform’s takeover by Elon Musk (Ashley Landis/AP) (AP)
Kanye West makes first Twitter post since platform’s takeover by Elon Musk (Ashley Landis/AP) (AP)

Arguably one of the most fascinating outcomes of the round-up is the news that Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, is the ninth most streamed artist globally and fifth most streamed artist in the UK. This isn’t to say that Ye’s music isn’t great, or doesn’t deserve to be listened to, but it provokes a number of questions about the ethics of consuming the works of artists whose opinions or political positions you may vehemently disagree with.

However, it is intriguing to see Ye’s fans, who have been long tested, continue to enjoy the music of the cast-out rapper. Ye has been making outrageous comments and being politically active for years - best remembered perhaps are the moments he said “George Bush doesn't care about black people” on TV in the early 2000s and his presidential run in 2020 (which was the same year he infamously wore a MAGA hat).

But the Grammy-winning pariah’s antisemitic outburst in October, which followed a White Lives Matter incident at his Yeezy fashion show the same month and resulted in Adidas ending their super-lucrative partnership with him (apparently Yeezy sales next year were set to be worth approximately $2 billion), has lost the rapper some of his most dedicated supporters.

Perhaps it is once again too early to draw any conclusions - after all, most of Ye’s most shocking comments (and actions for that matter: just last week he attended a private dinner with Donald Trump and white nationalist and Holocaust-denier Nick Fuentes) have been made over the last couple of months. This time next year, will he still sit at the top of the lists?

Bey is nowhere to be seen

 (beyonce.com)
(beyonce.com)

If someone asked you to name the biggest musicians in the world, it’s likely that Beyoncé would be one of the first artists that you’d list. Bey has a whopping 28 Grammy Awards (she holds the record for the number of Grammy wins, second only to Georg Solti), is only the fourth woman in history to have 10 songs top the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart (alongside Aretha Franklin, Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey), and has a net worth of approximately $500 million. She is part of one of the world’s most famous couples (her husband, under-rock-dwellers, is rapper Jay Z) and is regarded, by pop-lovers at least, as the Queen of the genre.

There was an undeniable hysteria around the July release of her seventh studio album Renaissance, which included production from highly acclaimed artists and producers including Honey Dijon, Skrillex, The-Dream and Mike Dean. The songs (which heavily leaned into the dance genre) became soundtracks of the summer - you could barely go to a bar or club without hearing one of the feel-good bangers.

So it is a bit of a shocker that Bey hasn’t made any of Spotify’s lists. Eminen, but no Bey? Imagine Dragons (whose track Enemy, with JID, is the eighth most streamed track globally), but no Bey? Kanye West, but no Bey? We could go on.

Renaissance was listed by Time as the third best album of the year, was largely well-received by reviewers - one newspaper called it a “dazzling tribute to underground and underappreciated Black culture” - and went to number one in the UK Official Charts and the US Billboard 200. So what’s going on on Spotify?

Drake can do no wrong

 (AP)
(AP)

It’s happy days for Drake, who is Spotify’s third most streamed artist globally. On reflection, perhaps it’s not a massive surprise, particularly given that last year Drake also topped Spotify’s charts, and he just keeps on releasing music (meaning there’s an endless well of tracks for both fans, and new listeners, to enjoy). The Canadian rapper is a prolific music maker: this year alone he released two albums, the June-released dance album, Honestly, Nevermind, and his November-released 21 Savage collaboration, Her Loss, which was closer to straightforward rap album.

D-Block Europe show that the listener is king

 (Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)
(Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

D-Block Europe is the tenth most streamed artist in the UK, beating dozens of arguably more famous artists to the top spot. However, it’s not all surprising: the Lewisham hip-hop duo (made up of artists Young Adz and Dirtbike LB) set a precedent when they announced a 15-date world tour in August, which included a stop at the O2 Arena.

The group has released two studio albums (the second, Lap 5, which was released in September this year, went to number two in the UK’s Official Charts), five mixtapes and over 30 singles since 2017. Artists that have featured on their songs include Burna Boy and Offset and they have collaborated with Lil Baby and Rich The Kid, too.

The UK list of most-streamed artists is, predictably, slightly different from the global list, with British artists Dave and the Arctic Monkeys replacing Bad Bunny, BTS and Bieber.

Nevertheless, D-Block Europe’s spot on the list can be seen as further proof of a pattern in music-making that audiences have witnessed for a long time now: that with the advent of streaming, the listener is king - and that artists, such as D-Block Europe, don’t need to give so many interviews (they don’t) or be hugely active as a duo online (they’re not) to build a devoted fanbase.