The WTF genre from this year’s Spotify Wrapped, Dream SMP, reveals the service’s real motives

One of the most popular styles from the 2021 edition of the hugely successful marketing tool isn't a style at all. It's a game.

Non-Spotify Wrapped – now that would be illuminating. Your phone or laptop telling you exactly how you’ve spent all your time when not listening to music, in the style of a wanker from Dalston. “You spent 342,956 minutes imagining an alternate life in which you bought Bitcoin in 2009 and married Sally Phillips. Have you tried washing?” “Your top 5 activities: #1 Arguing With Anti-Maskers On Twitter; #2 Elden Ring videos; #3 Pissed On Zoom; #4 Cyberstalking Sally Phillips; #5 Get Back”.

It might also be useful to get a detailed breakdown of where your streaming tenner goes each month – something like, “£3: Daniel Ek’s space rocket; £4.50: Universal Records power lunches; £2: AI defence tech; £0.50: actual musicians” – just as the artists do in royalty reports that should really be titled Spotify Shafted.

Instead, once a year, we get a precise run-down of the acts we already know we like, ready to plaster all over social media like individual voting sheets for an Albums Of The Year list that no-one will ever compile. At least you do if you actually use the service: I went to check mine only to find a black screen saying “no recent activity”, reminiscent of the time that – and this is absolutely true – I filled in the lengthy and detailed personality survey to join eHarmony only to be told I was beyond help.

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The best thing about Spotify Wrapped, of course, is having your taste broken down into genres you never even knew you liked, or even existed. Last year everyone discovered they were huge fans of ‘chamber psych’ without ever knowing what it actually involved (pretty much everything, it turned out). And the 2021 drop has caused just as much bafflement as listeners post proof that they’re big into Otacore, Japanese vgm, German cloud rap, Bubblegrunge and Ninja.

Causing the most consternation is Dream SMP. Or Dream WTF as most of the genre’s ‘fans’ are complaining. Because Dream SMP isn’t a music genre at all – it’s a game. Dream is the online pseudonym of the YouTuber who created an exclusive ‘survival multiplayer’ server (or SMP) in Minecraft, where players enjoy role-play and inventing elaborate plots and histories for their characters, factions and alliances and generally twatting around murdering and shouting at each other. There isn’t even any music on it, as far as I can tell, yet Spotify has lumped together Dream SMP players who also make music (such as Willbur Soot, Tubbo and Dream himself) with acts that have written tribute songs to the server and its tangled web of a plotline – a kind of 8-bit Game Of Thrones.

Whether they sound anything alike is beside the point: if you’ve been streaming much Lovejoy, Derivakat, Corpse, Undertale, Lucas Lex, Lemon Demon and Kroh – and let’s face it, who hasn’t? – then you’re officially into Dream SMP music. Which is a bit like being told you’re into ‘Uber’ if you listen to Ed Sheeran. Or that streaming a whole load of acoustic singer-songwriters makes you a fan of ‘Part-time Deliveroo drivers’. Thought you liked 1970s classic rock? Sorry, you actually stan ‘Vaccine Hesitancy’ and ‘Voted Leave’.

If ‘chamber psych’ was a catch-all category to keep streamers constantly involved, the Dream SMP ‘genre’ is an attempt to capitalise on wider-world interests and communities beyond music. The aim is to keep us clicking by playing to anything we’d engage with, suggesting our Spotify genre lists will soon start looking like a Twitter trending column. Expect random and disparate new genres in next year’s Wrapped called things like Squid Game Rap, Cryptopop and JK Rowlingcore.

Such are the online content providing games we play, and a natural consequence of our music being fed to us through themed playlists:

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“What you listening to?”

“A bit of All The Feelz, you?”

“I’ve been hammering a lot of Rushed Intercourse, but I’m really getting into Park Bench Breakdown…”

Yes, it’s disheartening that we’re increasingly being defined less by who we actually are or what we enjoy and more by how best we can be sold to. Mark my words: give it five years or so and we’ll all be heavily into the latest sounds of Cultural Commodity.

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