You’re all alone, at last. Your roommate’s away for the weekend, or your husband is out grocery shopping. The kids, if they exist, are busy. It’s time to take a shower, or fold the laundry, or start chopping veggies for dinner in peace. Alexa? Play Whitney Houston. Play Kanye West. Play ABBA. For me, it’s The Killers, on repeat. For you, it might be the new Olivia Rodrigo album. Or, a DivorceCore classic, like Don Henley. You know what you blast when you’re at home, in private—what you belt out over the ironing board or dance to in front of the coffee table.
Now, imagine that I’m there, too. Not really there. But I could be, in a way, if you would just switch your Spotify listening feed to public. Wouldn’t that be fun?
The internet is a place where we diligently curate personas for ourselves, overthinking our profiles in hopes that they’ll help us to be perceived in some specific way. We post photos to Instagram from our most flattering angles and word our tweets with precision and care, so they’re as sharp and witty or as jaded and aloof as we wish we were. Spotify is different. Sure, you can make your public playlists as performatively cool as you want, throwing on every NPR- and Pitchfork-endorsed cut you can find. That doesn’t mean you actually stream any of them. What I want is your listening. I’m talking about the live feed, right there, on the right-hand side of the Spotify desktop app that shows Friend Activity. This module’s primary use is for music sharing and discovery between friends, I’m sure. But it also happens to be the only way we can really learn who a person is, organically and authentically, online.
It’s one thing to know about the recurring argument your friend has with their boyfriend, but even that gets fed through a lens of their own perception of events. It’s something entirely more honest to know that they work out exclusively to Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. That they have been listening to the A Star is Born soundtrack cover to cover between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. every weekday since 2019. That they really and truly only listen to Nicki Minaj. Like, only Nicki Minaj. Ever.
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To watch someone’s listening on Spotify is to gain entry into their deepest, real-time truth. Such intimacy simply does not exist on any other social media platform or website. I might argue that even real life rarely affords such moments of complete knowing. It’s a live broadcast of a person’s mood at that very second without any crafting. Put simply: there is nowhere to hide when your listening is public.
So why would you do that? Expose yourself to your friend list, become the potential subject of their ridicule, and let your community know exactly where you’re at (like, down enough to spend three consecutive hours listening to only Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois)?
Firstly, because we want to know your heart. Your unedited, real self. Somewhere, you want us to know this, too. That you’re someone who listens to Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2015 album Emotion near-constantly. (Actually, that’s me.) What’s the point in pretending? No song or artist is inherently embarrassing, it’s you who is grafting the shame of “guilty pleasure” onto them. Stop doing that. Go on and like what you like. I am not ashamed about Carly Rae, and you shouldn’t be either.
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On a practical level, because the feature is not available on the mobile app, Spotify stalking is mostly limited to working hours when we’re all in front of our computer screens. No one is spending their lifetime surveilling you. They’re just popping over to the app between emails on any random Tuesday to see how you’re faring. It’s good, clean fun. If you take yourself too seriously to be honest about your music taste with your friends, you take yourself too seriously, period.
Also, we already know you’re going to share your year-end wrap up come December and tell us what you spent the last 12 months listening to, anyway. (You know, the day that Spotify dresses up its data on you all cute, and then asks if you want to show it off to your friends, which, of course, you do.) Instagram floods with Spotify stats, and we all learn, yet again, that Drake is every 20-something-year-old male’s top artist. Why not just share it all year round, I say?
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For the past 15 months, we couldn’t gather to share music. There was no singing along with a crowd at a packed live show. No euphoric dance parties in sweaty clubs with thumping speakers. No vinyl-soundtracked listening sessions in friends’ living rooms. Last May, on the Friday that Lady Gaga’s Chromatica came out, I was alone in my childhood bedroom, in a different city than I wanted to be, while all the bars outside were closed. But I was still dancing. And seeing that sidebar fill with other names streaming the same set from their own lockdown locations—that helped. So make your Spotify listening public. I’ll be here, at my laptop, saluting your living room raves, your shower concerts, and your Nicki Minaj marathons.
I can’t promise I won’t be taking screenshots, though.
Lauren Kranc is an editorial assistant at Esquire, where she covers pop culture and television, with entirely too narrow of an expertise on Netflix dating shows.
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