Journalist Liz Pelly has emerged as one of the more thoughtful (without pulling any punches) critics of Spotify: for example her examination of the gender skews of its big playlists last June, or her look at the ‘streambait pop’ sound last December. Her latest article takes aim at Spotify’s “Big Mood Machine” – the service’s ecosystem of mood-focused playlists – and how it relates to the company’s advertising business.
“Over the years, streaming services have pushed a narrative about these mood playlists, suggesting, through aggressive marketing, that the rise of listening by way of moods and activities was a service to listeners and artists alike,” she writes, before offering another interpretation. “A more careful look into Spotify’s history shows that the decision to define audiences by their moods was part of a strategic push to grow Spotify’s advertising business in the years leading up to its IPO—and today, Spotify’s enormous access to mood-based data is a pillar of its value to brands and advertisers, allowing them to target ads on Spotify by moods and emotions,” suggests Pelly. “Further, since 2016, Spotify has shared this mood data directly with the world’s biggest marketing and advertising firms.” None of this is a secret, but the piece brings all the strands together and offers some sharp criticism of the overall model.