Spotify’s year-end Wrapped feature has effortlessly become a staple of social media during the month of December. The colorful visualizations of each user’s listening for the data are ripe for social media sharing — so if you’re on Twitter or Instagram there’s little chance you haven’t seen one or two in the last few days.
There may be a somewhat insidious story behind the evolution of Spotify Wrapped and it's fun veneer, though. Jewel Ham, a multimedia artist who once worked at Spotify as a student intern, says she brainstormed the idea for Spotify Wrapped’s more attention-grabbing look during her time at the company. And Spotify took it without any credit to her.
Ham posted yesterday to Twitter with her assertion and a receipt that’s pretty difficult to dispute. The above image, which Ham calls an “intern project,” depicts an idea for a brightly colored, interactive Spotify Wrapped that goes far beyond the simple email-and-playlist combination originally used for the feature.
The original tweet with Ham’s allegation has racked up more than 300,000 likes in less than 24 hours; the image as proof, which is also available on her website, has another 150,000 likes.
The proof is in the project — To be clear, Spotify Wrapped has always been available in something resembling its current form — an aesthetically pleasing listening analysis made with social media sharing in mind. Nonetheless, Ham’s line of thinking is undeniably similar to the path Spotify chose for its latest iteration of the feature.
This year, Spotify pivoted to an Instagram Story-like experience, where users tap through each slide rather than the traditional scrolling. Ham’s designs center on interactivity — making Wrapped even more sharable and interesting to younger users.
“While the stats are pretty interesting (and even come with a bit of screen-shottable bytes),” Ham writes on the project, “Gen Z requires a bit more attention. We like to touch and feel; to scroll and post. With this in mind, I have retooled Wrapped, to allow for a more interactive approach.”
So...what now? — We’ve reached out to Ham for comment on this question, but most likely nothing will come of her assertions. Her project’s ideas resemble those used by Spotify, but they aren’t a clear enough translation for her to have a real case. Plus, as an intern, her work sort of belongs to Spotify anyway.
Even more clear-cut intellectual property theft usually goes unnoticed. The internet allows some of these instances to gain attention from the general public, but for every instance we see on our Twitter feeds, there are plenty that never make it to even that level of notoriety.
Nonetheless, social media is providing some much-needed accountability here. We’ll update our story if we hear back from Jewel — and in meantime, we’ll meditate on how much money corporations make on the backs of their underpaid workers.