The Soundtrack of Surveillance

Design by Sara Offer

“Let’s follow each other on Spotify!” A fun, harmless suggestion—one you might receive after getting to know someone for a few weeks. But there is a hidden dark side, and once you share your profile, there is no going back. All of a sudden, this new follower is privy to your deepest emotions, your constant activities, and your entire social circle, including all your failed talking stages and situationships.

Since Spotify launched in 2008, it has skyrocketed to become one of the most popular music streaming platforms with over 551 million users. Part of this traction can be chalked up to the app’s comprehensive social dimension. People are able to follow each other, “like” other user-created playlists, and, most importantly, see their friends’ listening activities in astonishing detail. 

All of these features create a breeding ground for the fascinating cultural phenomenon of Spotify stalking, the practice of monitoring your friends’ listening activity to an almost disturbing extent and using the platform to gather intel about people. On Spotify, it is a given that all users stalk. If anything, it would be a misuse of the platform not to. Besides, it would be neglectful of your closest friends—you don’t care enough to be there while they loop Lana Del Rey and Mitski from their “sad girl hours” playlist at midnight? Slacker.

Some of you may be thinking: “I would never stalk someone on Spotify! That’s so weird!” It is important to note that all Spotify users can be sorted into two types of stalkers. There are those who stand honest and proud, begging for your Spotify and following your listening activity maybe a little too intently.  Then, there are those who scoff at the very idea—invoking privacy laws and warning you of Big Brother. But even the strongest wills are bound to fall, and these people will eventually be caught Spotify-stalking their ex-situationship after a month of being ghosted. 

Therefore, since virtually everyone stalks each other on Spotify, it is necessary to keep your profile presentable at all times. Maintaining an aesthetic yet chill vibe is of utmost importance. Playlists have to be relatable yet enigmatic; the title not only has to evoke a deep sentiment but also prove that the creator experiences it more intensely than anyone else. Not too elusive, though, or it risks looking like overcompensation. 

Heartbreak and pining becomes “i am nothing without you”: I listen to The Smiths, read Dostoevsky, and write love letters that never get sent. Teenage angst is titled “are we still friends?”: featuring TV Girl and Current Joys (but it must be clarified that I discovered them before TikTok did). To prove that you are a true underground music listener and this compilation of 18-30 songs is fundamentally yours, it is critical to match an ever-idiosyncratic playlist title with the perfect playlist cover photo. Book annotations, aesthetic Pinterest visuals, blurry flicks of late night hangouts, etc. Leaving a playlist with the default 4-square album cover is akin to Picasso painting a masterpiece and forgetting to sign it. 

In this age of social networking, it is absurd that Spotify is not considered a true social media platform. Who wants an aesthetic Instagram feed when you can have a cohesive Spotify playlist collage? Staying updated on your friends’ lives through Snapchat stories should be replaced with constantly monitoring their listening—which, arguably, provides a more honest look into what they’re up to. You can soft launch on Spotify with a subtle playlist titled “butterflies” that features Laufey and Faye Webster, or go official with a collaborative playlist labeled with you and your partner’s ship name…the possibilities are endless. Who needs the brazen theatrics of modern-day social media when we have the lowkey yet artful parlor that is Spotify?

The first person I ever Spotify-stalked was my hot driving instructor. He briefly pulled up the app to play his favorite band as we cruised down the interstate, and curiosity drove me to find his profile that night. Naturally, I was disappointed with what I found: he was about 30 years old and fanatically into country music. However, that inspired in me a deep appreciation for this art, and since then, the Spotify-stalking endemic has seeped so deep into my bones that it has completely altered my self-perception. My profile is my pride and joy so much so that I go on my friends’ computers to see what it looks like from their perspective, ensuring my aesthetic is polished and welcoming for others’ stalking. When I take my headphones off after a long day, I ensure I end on the perfect song. I am leaving my legacy, letting my superior music taste memorialize on my friends’ sidebar until the next morning.

As fun as Spotify-stalking is, I cannot ignore its consequences. Listening to music is no longer just a hobby; Spotify is a full-time job, and I am contractually unable to take leave. That said, I cannot imagine not being inextricably connected to my friends through the melodic lives we share in our headphones. I love seeing all their little profile pictures on my sidebar, each with their own little worlds. Even if our friendship is in tatters from repeatedly criticizing each other’s listening activity, even if I scare off potential suitors by secretly finding out far too much about them just based on their profile, I cannot deny my nature. I am a proud Spotify stalker. 

Leave a Reply