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(Credit: Freguesia de Estrela)


What Spotify Wrapped reveals about growing cultural divides

It’s official, Bad Bunny is once again the most streamed artist on Spotify this year, and never has the divide between the internet and mainstream culture been clearer. You could surf conventional radio waves for days on end without hearing his name mentioned let alone one of his songs, and despite this, he has received 9.1 billion streams. To put that into context, the current population of the entire world is 7.9 billion. Why then, does my mother seem to think that Bad Bunny is Roger Rabbit’s nickname?

When he first claimed the top spot in 2020, the Puerto Rican star had never had an album or single break the top 100 in the UK charts. Thus, he was, for most of the populous, a complete unknown—an unknown tallying more yearly listens than any artist in history, at that. Cultural divides aside, a name with that clout should surely have occupied headlines, particularly considering his star in the UK market is now a rising one too. 

As a predominantly Spanish speaking artist, it is no surprise that a large part of Bad Bunny’s following comes from South America and the Latin-American contingent but he is far from limited to that market alone, that much should be clear from the sheer numbers he is hitting. In fact, despite the reality that most millennials and above may well never have heard of him, it is a name that registers with younger generations in every region of the world. Even if they don’t particularly like his music, the ‘need-to-know’ appeal of a fad for the online masses proves absorbing, but this is seemingly something that conventional forms of media have avoided. 

For instance, aside from Spotify and the revealing Wrapped roundup, a similar revelation broke earlier this year when Addison Rae was given a contract by Netflix believed to be worth potentially seven figures. When this news hit the headlines, a chorus of ‘who?’ rang out by those who haven’t succumbed to the craze of TikTok where she has a legion of followers numbering 86 million. 

There are myriad reasons as to why this is the case, but for now, let’s explore two of the most prominent. Cultural divides between the old and young are eternal, it’s even written about in Homer. However, now that youth culture has moved online, a lot of the trends are confined to a screen. If Spotify Wrapped had been around in 1977 and suddenly Sex Pistols topped the chart, it would’ve been no surprise to anyone; they had occupied headlines, made controversial primetime TV appearances and millions had started dressing like maniacs in imitation.

Now, such movements occur on a handheld device behind the privacy of a picture of fruit and for the uninitiated masses, they remain out of sight and out of mind. Thus, when Doja Cat cracks the top 5 globally streamed albums with Planet Her, it leaves many scratching their heads and millions of others mimicking the dance move that made it trend its way to the top.

Classic mainstream media is now very slow to pick up on these trends or else passes them over completely. Even as little as ten years ago divisive cult artists like Kanye West were ubiquitous in the mainstream, now he doesn’t even feature in the top 5 despite releasing a hugely publicised new album this year. 

Every aunt, uncle and candlestick maker know of Kanye owing to the vast mainstream media he received in his pomp. The same cannot be said for the third most-streamed artist this year, BTS. The rise of K-pop had slowly boomed in the background of the mainstream for years. More and more kids became infatuated with the uber-commercial world that the Korean market assailed. Huge online groups began sprouting up as kids sought to find their own online niche and were roped into the world of Korean pop. Now, BTS have featured on F.R.I.E.N.D.S. reunion shows and Saturday Night Live, but their primetime western exposure has arrived so long after the fact that many of their original followers have lost interest. 

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Aside from the divide between mainstream media and internet culture, perhaps the most interesting revelation inferred from Spotify Wrapped is how it is reflective of our changing society on an individual level. We’ve all been privy to it ourselves: a friend who you have known for years likes something on social media that you have absolutely no idea about and rather more inexplicably, they have never mentioned. Whether that be a thumbs up on Facebook regarding news of a new Bad Bunny release or liking a streamers post on Twitter that you have never heard of despite them having a large country worth of followers. 

The truth is that we live far more of our lives online now and aside from the bipartisan extremes of political social media, there is also a subtle tribalism to that notion when it comes to culture. The anonymity or otherwise alternate identities of the online world absorb us into seemingly private bubbles. As such, this makes it harder for mainstream media to grasp mass interest, thus Bad Bunny may well be avoided by Radio 2 and DaBaby’s controversy may skirt broadsheet discussions despite both being worthy of the platform.

The rules of the online game are not yet written as we continue to evolve in the age of data and as such ‘stick to what you know’ is the method followed by the media and individuals alike. Whether that be missing out on the fad of TikTok and forgoing an account or a producer passing up on the unknown entity of Spotify Wrapped charting The Kid LAROI despite a multi-million following.

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