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  • Jade Tran

The Stigmatization and Polarization of Music: “Did You See Their Spotify Wrapped?

It was extremely hard to avoid. The mass wave of screenshots that flooded our Instagram feeds and stories, the type of social media pollution that yielded both positive and negative attention at first glance. The thoughts ran through our head, thoughts we had preconceived about people we have never met in real life. “I thought she was a liberal, and I never would have expected him to listen to that type of music.” On this annual occasion, there is an electric surge of dopamine guaranteed when we open our own Spotify app. How should we showcase our musical interests to our followers? Will the quick screen grab of our top five songs of the year suffice or rather the one that displays our top five most listened-to artists? More importantly, which one is the safest approach and embodies our “truest form” while preserving our reputation?

The polarization of music is on the rise in our nation and reveals itself more with the upcoming generations. As the nation falls victim to the politicization of most any and everything, people are forced to marginalize themselves into the smallest boxes they can fit into. It is far more difficult for us to find a song we like, be able to listen to it freely, and display these interests to our peers without gaining some type of feedback. Some consequences come with a hyper-polarized country, as we begin to become increasingly performative for our audiences. We attempt to fit the standards upheld by our associated political parties to a tee and begin to lose sight of our passion and where our beliefs are uprooted. Performativeness lacks authenticity and does not encourage true change for the betterment of our country, and it simultaneously creates a severe divide.

The historical connection between music and politics has existed for decades. Music has always been used as an outlet and operated as a form of expression of beliefs. During major crises in history, such as moments of weakness for certain racial groups, or just upsetting issues that shake the world, people have turned to music to subdue the pain. Notable stars have used their musical platform to curate music surrounding injustices. Billie Holiday, in her song “Strange Fruit”, discussed her opinions on the reality of institutional racism and the civil rights movement. As a result of this continued intersection of music and politics, people have lent themselves to associating genres of music and their audiences with certain political affiliations. Artists are no longer solely responsible for songwriting and performing but also for publicly taking a political stance on relevant issues of the times. Some just refuse to get involved, like Dolly Parton, a country singer, who refrains from speaking about anything political. She also happens to engage a strong Republican audience and has voiced that she is fearful of displeasing her main listeners, as music is her priority. Parton even stated in an interview, “I learned a long time ago to keep your damn mouth shut if you want to stay in show business. I’m not in politics, I’m an entertainer.”

Nowadays, it is no longer about the music and the pleasures it provides, but it is about how the music outwardly reflects you, as you wish to be perceived. This flustered state of mind that society pushes us to exist in causes these Spotify-Wrapped to curate counterfeit results. If Paramore and Pierce the Veil make it to your list at the end of the year, you are labeled with the toxic stereotypes generated by outsiders who do not even listen to those bands. Likewise, if rap music is at the pinnacle of your replay, you fall prey to being perceived as solely a follower of the trends, or a performative listener for validation. On the contrary, people with more conservative views may find themselves associating negative labels fueled by racist undertones with people, just based on their sole interest in the rap genre. These stereotypical labels we place on people lead us to build our storylines that are filled with our poorly assumed takes on their beliefs. Unfortunately, placing these toxic constructs on genres of music ultimately limits musical expression and the potential for great quality music to be consumed.

Several artists have tried to defy the odds and worked to break the barriers and stigmas surrounding specific music niches. Lil Nas X encouraged these differences in 2019 when he made the song, “Old Town Road” with country singer Billy Ray Cyrus. He attached this song to his debut, included a bluesy tune throughout, and sang with a sort of country-mixed-with-a-pop-edge and people loved it. As a Black, openly-LGBTQ+ performer he had broken the social constructs that society had worked to maintain and had done so with ease. The indie rock band of The Neighbourhood has ventured out into realms of music that did not “align” with their norm and even had a whole album titled “#000000 & #FFFFFF” that featured an abundance of artists from the rap genre. These two instances have surely generated varied reactions, but also work to discourage musical polarization, engage audiences of all kinds, and bring people together.

While the acknowledgment of politics is severely important, we live in a time where even the little hobbies we enjoy revolve around its’ static and drama. It is essential to have safe havens where you can escape from reality and express thoughts and ideas candidly. Music should be a comfortable option to do so.

The cover of this piece is a collage I created of my Instagram followers’ real Spotify Wrapped(s). As you can see, they all have diverse tastes, and the ones who submitted seem to find joy in their musical choices. You should too. As we approach the new year, I encourage everyone to stop being afraid of listening to what you want to in fear of it showing up on your summary in 12 months. And as a whole, we should all stop stigmatizing the music that people around us enjoy.


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