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Hey Spotify, why the heck am I ‘Provo, Utah’?

‘The only Burlington I’ve been to is the coat factory’

Lisa Simpson with a bored expression on her face, listening to an iPod Image: Fox Animation
Petrana Radulovic is an entertainment reporter specializing in animation, fandom culture, theme parks, Disney, and young adult fantasy franchises.

It’s the most wonderful time of year — Spotify Wrapped season! Every year, the music streaming service aggregates its users’ listening data and presents them with fun little infographics about their most-listened-to artists and songs. In addition to the standard things like your Top Artist (Taylor Swift for me) and Top Song of the year (thanks to an association with an NPC in our D&D game, mine was Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville”), Spotify likes to get a little quirky and come up with other categories like listening archetypes. This year, one such category was “Sound Town,” which supposedly tells you which town’s population has the listening habits most similar to yours.

And somehow, I got Provo, Utah.

I mean no offense to people who live in Provo, Utah, but what the fuck? According to Spotify, this is because I listen to Taylor Swift, Mitski, and Sleeping at Last. Which, all right, fine, maybe this specific combination is more common in Provo than it is in the rest of the world. But looking at other people’s “Sound Town” results has me wondering how Spotify calculated this, because people who also got Provo have tastes that seem completely different from mine.

For starters, the same handful of towns keep popping up (at least, judging by reports from my very U.S.-centric social media feeds): Provo, Utah; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Davis, California; Berkeley, California; Bozeman, Montana; Boulder, Colorado; and, perhaps most commonly, Burlington, Vermont. But it’s not like these towns are generating similar music tastes.

I’ve seen Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Fiona Apple, Death Grips, and boygenius all associated with Burlington as a Sound Town entry. Meanwhile, Provo is generating a range of Taylor Swift, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Weezer, and The Strike. The artists are also not mutually exclusive to each town; I’ve seen Taylor nearly everywhere.

It could be a genre thing. A lot of K-pop fans have been getting Davis, and a lot of people with “pop” as their top genre have also gotten Provo. An official statement from Spotify says that the Sound Town results are artist-based, but I know someone whose Provo assignment gave them three tiny indie bands, while I had Taylor Swift. People on Twitter keep joking that Burlington is “for the gays,” probably because of MUNA and boygenius, but poking around social media, I’ve realized it’s also the Sound Town for a lot of Gen X Dad music.

For what it’s worth, this is what a Spotify representative told me:

The Sound Town selected for each eligible user has the most similar taste profile to their own — based on their most streamed artists of the year and how those artists are streamed in other cities across the globe. It is objective and entirely driven by a user’s listening history.

So is the sample section for a Sound Town label just three specific artists? How did Spotify pick those three, which aren’t even always from a listener’s top five groups? How many towns are even options? Is everyone in the United States doomed to get a town in this country?

My co-worker Samit Sarkar pointed out that the most common Sound Towns were also big college towns. It could be that everyone I know has the taste of college students. Spotify did not tell me how each of the towns was chosen as a possibility for the map, but it’s a strong theory. The follow-up question, though, is why?

I simply do not know. People who I thought had similar music tastes as me keep sharing screenshots of Berkeley, Burlington, and Boulder, while I’ve been “objectively” assigned Provo. Another one of my co-workers summed up the confusion best: “The only Burlington I’ve been to is the coat factory.”

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