Spotify's Algorithm

Updated: Jun 28, 2020

In typical ‘making the best of a bad situation’ fashion, we’ve seen a load of people (even Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda got in on the act) making their own coronavirus-themed playlists. Some are K-pop inspired. Noodles, guitarist of California punks The Offspring, created a rock playlist to see fans of heavier music through the pandemic. The Times put one together based on readers’ suggestions

I decided to have a go myself. I named my Spotify playlist ‘COVID-19’ and decided to see what the algorithm had in store for me. Recommended songs included The Police’s ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’, Beastie Boys’ ‘Time To Get Ill’ and MC Hammer’s ‘U Can’t Touch This’. It’s unsurprising, as taking a look at The Times’ playlist, for example, all three of these are present, alongside Billie Eilish, Skepta and Solange.

Are enough people really making these playlists to influence Spotify’s algorithm to such a degree? It taps into our desire to make the best of a bad situation and seek humour in even the bleakest of times, something that apparently connects us over borders. Rather than just a few users here and there making these playlists, it’s turned into something of a phenomenon.

Interestingly, Spotify themselves are being proactive in handling the pandemic. A new genre is ‘Coronavirus Info’ – while it might not be as instantly hooking as hip-hop or punk, it offers plenty of podcasts for those looking for help regarding COVID-19. At the same time, the first ‘Mood’ to appear on the ‘Genres and Moods’ screen is ‘At Home’ – by suggesting playlists, Spotify is essentially encouraging people to obey the rules of the current lockdown.

Perhaps even odder is that some artists have taken to actually writing tracks inspired by the pandemic. “Data alchemist” Glenn McDonald had been keeping an eye on coronavirus-related tracks, and within two weeks there were over 400 songs, spanning a variety of genres. Type in ‘coronavirus’ or ‘COVID-19’ and its surprising just how many songs appear, often by verified artists.

The music industry might be facing something of an uncertain future with COVID-19 throwing so much up in the air, but Spotify seem to be adapting to it pretty well. We could discuss the role of Spotify in distributing public service information and get into changing trends in media consumption but that’s a discussion for another platform. In short, a combination of these gallows humour-inspired playlists and actual information provided on this platform shows us Spotify at its very best.

Written by Adam England.

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