Like the brief romance between Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson, the new Linkedin-owned Spotify playlists are confusing at best. That seemed to be the consensus across the web after the job-hunter’s platform of choice announced these bops in a tweet earlier this week, promising to keep listeners company during “every moment of your career journey.” There’s the “New Job, Fresh Start” playlist for when you start a new job, there’s “Never Give Up” for when you’re unceremoniously laid off from that new job, and when you’re inevitably back to hunting for another new job, the “Interview Time” playlist has you covered.
It’s always a bit weird seeing normally hypercompetitive tech companies playing nice like this, and even more weird that Linkedin would ostensibly roll out a playlist that nobody (or at least anyone with decent taste) was really asking for in the first place. But when you look into the way Spotify’s slowly morphed its playlists into data-mining machines, suddenly it makes a lot more sense.
Here’s an example: while writing this, I revved up the “Refine and Focus” playlist, which, the company says is best suited for when you want to “[p]olish your Linkedin profile and refinine those job skills.” While I can’t speak to that, I can speak to the fact that this playlist is—lord help me—not that bad, particularly if you’re a die-hard for ambient music like I am.
It’s unclear whether Spotify had a hand in curating the right mix of Sigur Rós and Sufjan Stevens (LinkedIn didn’t yet respond to our request for comment), but it’s not hard to imagine at least some sort of influence, considering how the company’s refined its chops at curating branded playlists over the past few years, along with the playlists of the more than 200 million users on the platform worldwide. And while more than a few people have tried to explain (or reverse engineer) the recipe behind Spotify’s recommendations, which are powerful enough to literally bring listeners to tears, nobody’s come close to cracking it.
The scientific community and Spotify as a company both know that music is tied closely to mood—and as Liz Pelly pointed out so eloquently in a Baffler article from this past summer, the company’s made a name for itself in being able to package up the specifics of that mood for profit. And playlists—just like the Linkedin ones I’m listening to now—are where those packages live.
See, to Spotify, playlists and podcasts aren’t just what you’re listening to, but who you are. So even though I’m listening to this Linkedin playlist now, I’m sure Spotify knows that when I punch out of work around 6:30 or so, I’ll spend an hour on the train home listening to some sort of podcast (likely MBMBaM, if we’re being honest). Spotify also probably knows that pretty soon after that, I’m binging some kind of awful workout music while busting my ass on a treadmill at my local gym, and then back to podcasts again when I’m home making dinner.
In the process of tapping into Spotify day after day after day with some variation of this routine, I’m giving the company not only my emotional state but also my entire schedule. And the company isn’t keeping it quiet—last year, Spotify rolled out “real-time context” targeting that lets brands target their users in “specific moments” throughout their day—an idea that the company’s been toying with for more than half a decade.
Spotify didn’t respond to my request for comment on whether Linkedin’s playlists are going to be farmed out for ad targeting, but looking at the platform’s track record, it’s hard to believe that they won’t. Since going public in 2018, Spotify hasn’t been quiet about its push into the big data space, partnering with third party after third party (after third party) to bulk up the intel it can already guesstimate from its user base. More and more, it’s starting to look like Spotify’s less about knowing my “mood” and more about knowing the car I’m most likely to drive, the beer I’m most likely to order at a bar, whether I still live with my parents, and the exact location where I’m binge-eating Baskin Robin’s.
Which is why, as I’m sitting here, writing this while bopping along to a playlist curated by Linkedin—a company that already has a solid track record of targeting its base along “every moment in [their] career journey”—I can’t help but question the motives behind these playlists that, on their face, seem like a one-off joke. Because the millennial users that bulk up the core of Spotify’s audience are also part of a group that’s constantly awash with layoffs, at least I know I’m not listening alone.