We’ve finally been blessed with one of the most glorious days of the musical calendar — Spotify Wrapped Day. Now an institution in the music world, Spotify Wrapped gives us an opportunity to dive deep into what’s going on in our headphones. From how many minutes we spent listening to tunes this year, to what artists managed to sneak into our top five and ruin our cool cred (shout out to my friend whose top artist this year was the “Glee Cast”), Spotify Wrapped isn’t just a deep dive into what music makes us who we are — it’s a sign of what our society values.
In recent years, we’ve steadily seen the introduction of women in the most streamed artists on Spotify, but it wasn’t always like that. In 2013, 2015, 2017, 2018, and 2020, not one woman made it into the top five most-streamed artists globally. Let that sink in.
Thankfully, in recent years, the presence of women in people’s Spotify Wrapped — and playlists as a whole — has been increasing. In 2019, Billie Eilish and Ariana Grande took out the title of the second and third most streamed artist respectively on Spotify, globally. 2021 saw Olivia Rodrigo and Doja Cat make the top five.
In 2023, this pattern is continuing. Topping 2023’s most streamed Spotify artist is Taylor Swift, who beat out Bad Bunny, The Weeknd, Drake and Peso Pluma. Swift has become the first woman artist to be number one globally since Spotify’s Wrapped concept was first introduced in 2015. Meanwhile, the most streamed song on Spotify of 2023 was Miley Cyrus’ “Flowers” with 1.6 billion global streams since January 1. SZA also cleaned up, with “Kill Bill” being the second-most streamed song and her album SOS as the third most streamed globally — beaten only by Taylor Swift’s Midnights (#2) and Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti (#1).
While I’m not claiming that the presence of one woman artist in the top five constitutes a revolutionary change in how women in the music industry are treated, it is still something worth celebrating. A USC Annenberg study found that in 2022, 30% of artists on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart were women, an improvement from 2021’s 23.3% and a significant increase since a decade ago. While these are both worth celebrating, the same study still found that women were missing in popular music, with a ratio of 3.5:1 men to women in the industry. Meanwhile, songwriters are predominantly men who occupy 86.8% of the industry, while women make up only 12.8% of songwriters. Yet despite the odds not being in our favor, a woman has managed to snatch the number one artist spot this year.
Let me be clear — it shouldn’t be a novelty to see this modest result in 2023, but given the grim state of inclusion in the recording studio, the odds of a woman making a top five list (let alone the top artist!) is slim. I’m no mathematician, but if only 12.8% of songwriters are women, their chances of being the number one global artist are even slimmer. In 2023, women are proving that the future of music is theirs — if only the industry would catch up in representation and opportunity.
But while we wish this could be a story purely celebrating women’s dominance in the music industry, looking at the most streamed men artists paints a sobering picture. When women have managed to squeeze their way into best-of Spotify Wrapped lists, they were still overwhelmingly outnumbered by men, with the highest presence seen in 2019 with only two women artists ranking at all. Moreover, the men artists that are still landing themselves into our Spotify Wrapped is concerning.
Until November this year, The Weeknd was the most streamed artist worldwide, with Canadian artist Drake coming in third place. The Weeknd, whose real name is Abel Tesfaye, has been a controversial figure for a while (and not just because of his appearance on The Idol, which received mixed reviews by critics), with many arguing that his lyrical content is misogynistic. In the 2015 song “The Hills,” he sings, “I just fucked two bitches before I saw you.” Esquire later asked him about his prolific use of the word bitch in his music, to which he argued that The Weeknd was “definitely a character,” seemingly distancing himself from the content of his songs. His 2019 song “Lost In The Fire” was accused of being potentially homophobic following the lyric, “You said you might be into girls, you said you’re going through a phase.” If The Weeknd is a character, isn’t it particularly worrying that the artist, who has vocalized lyrics which are claimed to be sexist and damaging rhetorics, is one of the most listened-to in the world at the moment?
Jump on over to the third most streamed Spotify artist, Drake, who has long been accused of being a problematic figure. A 2010 video allegedly showed him touching a girl, and when she informs him that she’s underage and 17 years old, he says “he can’t go to jail yet,” and questions “why you look like that? You thick,” before kissing her. Many people have criticized his friendships with young women, including a 19-year-old Hailey Baldwin (Drake was 29 at the time), 18-year-old Billie Eilish (Drake was 33), and a then-15-year-old Millie Bobby Brown, who would go to Drake, at the time himself 31, for “boy advice”. While we cannot confirm why the singer has had a history of befriending young girls, crawl through the internet and these will be one of many criticisms made against the Canadian singer.
While the allegations about these two artists are mostly whispers, the fact that there is an ongoing concern around their questionable behavior is concerning, especially when we consider that they are two of the most highly streamed artists in the world. In a world where it’s just as easy to permanently mute an artist on Spotify, for some, listening to an artist is seen as a stamp of approval — both of their music and their beliefs.
Yes, we’ve made significant progress in the representation of women artists. Yes, we’ve looked on as women have finally scraped into our most streamed artist lists and dominating our own Spotify Wrapped. But when it’s one woman amid a crowd of men, how much should we really be celebrating? And when some of those men have allegedly treated women in a questionable way in the past, shouldn’t we start worrying about why we’re still celebrating them?
This story originally appeared on Refinery29 Australia.