by Elizabeth Saubestre
I’ve had an image that I have held in my mind for a while. I had imagined that I would be driving home from my first semester as a transfer student at a new college, listening to my Spotify Wrapped playlist as I am prone to doing in the latter half of December. I would be fresh off of finals week, exhausted, ready to see my dogs, feeling both nostalgic and driven. I would go to the third-annual Christmas party that my friends and I would’ve excitedly planned over the past month, and I would get to tell them about the ups and downs of college and try to reclaim the crown in Mario Party that my team had sadly lost the last year.
With the month of December being the same drudgery that the last nine of the pandemic provided, it feels fairly safe to say my imagined scenario won’t be the reality, and I’ve known that for a while. Of all the details I’ve had to mourn, however, my excitement for Spotify Wrapped wasn’t one of them. And yet, this year, it seems to represent something different. How do you even begin to quantify a year in a pandemic, and how do you look back on the songs you’ve listened to through one of the most disruptive times you’ve ever faced?
I certainly have some predictions for what the year “wrapped” will look like. Every year since I joined Spotify I made it my goal to listen to a bit more music, and I think it’s safe to say that I’ll have achieved as much (the long, lazy days of summer spent sitting on my bed and staring at the ceiling with different playlists playing gently in the background were productive in their own way). I’m sure that the Succession soundtrack will have earned its place as my new go-to study music, and I would be surprised to not see “betty” (or any folklore song) in one of the top spots. Other than that, though, it’s a bit of a guessing game.
Wrapped was always a fairly constant endeavor for me. It’s safe to say that I’m a creature of habit. You could say that I know what I like, or you could say that I’ve had the same musical sensibilities since high school. My Spotify is certainly no exception to that rule; it’s always been a relatively consistent mix, year after year. The songs have always fallen into a few set categories: songs to shout-sing with while I drive to work, songs to listen to when it’s nighttime and I’m feeling a bit too nostalgic given how young I am, guilty pleasure pop songs that I insist aren’t guilty pleasures, songs with weird titles that caught my eye on my Discover Weekly, whatever musicals I’m listening to that year to keep me in touch with my theatre kid past self.
Of all the things that the pandemic has changed, the way that I’ve listened to music is undoubtedly one of them. Music has always been a soundtrack to transit for me. When I need to walk between classes, I’ll listen to my playlist I’ve curated for that month. In the car? I’ll do the same thing. Grabbing food before a shift? You guessed it. That’s something I lost in the pandemic. It’s not just the act of going places that I lost with the social distancing advisory, it’s the way I interact with an art form that is incredibly important to me.
As previously stated, I didn’t lose the pure act of listening to music, but rather how I went about it. It’s always been a simple pleasure of mine to create monthly playlists that capture whatever vague vibe I’m feeling, but when months start blending together, making the mere aspect of time appear to not be changing much at all, suddenly even listening to music seems counterintuitive. I have one playlist dedicated to all of 2020. It’s eight hours and thirteen minutes and by no means short, but when I look at it, I’m unable to break up what songs I listened to during which months, it’s all just one long list of songs (most of which I barely know the lyrics to, which is greatly out of character for me).
It’s not news that the transcending qualities of music can be nothing short of magical. That’s part of the reason I love the Wrapped system. How beautiful and awful that I can listen to my 2016 playlist and remember high school, how cruel and wonderful to shuffle between Modern Baseball and Paramore and reflect on how far I’ve come. How bittersweet to remember 2019 days spent yelling Mitski’s “Townie” at the top of my lungs and listening to “Gotta Get Up” after a Russian Doll binge.
So what to make of a year where I don’t have these specific memories linked to sitting in my car, driving to work on a play or to a part-time job or to class? I’ve sat in my car, sure, but without any purpose to it, the random drives around town all just sort of mush together and the soundtrack to it is no exception. Maybe actually seeing the elusive Wrapped 2020 will change that for me. Maybe I’ll finally gain some clarity about these months that have happened around me since March. Maybe I’ll just be reminded of some really great tunes. Who knows?
2020 will not be the year I will want to look back on, it won’t be the thing that keeps me busy on a drive back home, but in its own way, it will be a collection of memories, dull or elusive though they may be. Though I may have lost many of the little moments I’m so accustomed to, there will be things that are special to look back on in their own way; painting my nails on the bathroom floor and listening to Dua Lipa’s “Future Nostalgia,” released on my early days of quarantine birthday. Hanging up a call with my friends and listening to “I Know the End” by Phoebe Bridgers and thinking about the future and how far away it seemed from that long before dawn in July listening to The Amazing Devil, as I sneakily dropped music recommendations in a BAMPFA blog post.
(As a quick author’s note, by the time this will be posted, Spotify Wrapped has, in fact, been released and foiled my hopes that it would wait until after this post was out into the world. The sentiment nonetheless remains.)