Last week, Spotify released its annual Wrapped campaign, a year in review spotlighting users’ personal listening habits and overall trends on the streaming platform.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Taylor Swift was this year’s global top artist. The musician, who in the last year has re-released two of her past albums, embarked on a record-shattering world tour and broke the box office with her Eras Tour concert film, racked up over 26.1 billion streams and counting on Spotify since the start of 2023. To compare, last year’s global top artist, Bad Bunny, received 18.5 billion streams in 2022.
What could have been a run-of-the-mill announcement for an achievement Swift fans (also known as Swifties) were likely anticipating, Spotify turned the news into a moment to engage and celebrate the Swiftie fandom.
Spotify’s reveal brought Swifties on a tour of their favorite artist’s lyrical world with artwork that paid homage to their eagle-eyed nature and love of hunting for clues in her work. Intricate out of home creative was packed full of Easter eggs nodding to Swift’s discography and cultural moments from the past year.
According to manager of label partnerships, Taryn Lacroix, Spotify had Swifties in mind from the start.
"When we were ideating how to celebrate Taylor Swift becoming the top global artist on Spotify, we knew it had to be about rewarding the Swifties who were undoubtedly instrumental to her success with something completely unique,” she said in emailed comments. “That meant digging deep into the fandom and handpicking easter eggs ranging from the universal to the more obscure.”
A deep understanding of the Swiftie universe
The visuals announcing Swift as Spotify’s global top artist included references to the musician’s entire catalog, running the gamut from obvious to obscure.
More on-the-nose references include street sign for Cornelia Street to represent the Lover song of the same name, while a devil rolling dice recreates lyrics from her 2023 Billboard hit “Cruel Summer” (also the sixth most streamed song globally on Spotify this year). A stack of friendship bracelets adorning Swift’s hand references Midnight’s song “You’re on your own, kid,” which sparked a frenzy of friendship bracelet bead sales over the summer.
Others would only make sense to superfans with an extensive historical knowledge of the artist. A woman wearing a gold dress and peering into a snowglobe, for example, alludes to a gold dress that first appeared in Swift’s “Love Story” music video, while the snowglobe was sold on her online store during the Red album re-release in 2021 – the snowglobe represented in the photo plays the 10-minute version of “All Too Well” in real life.
One scene, showing a woman in a fluffy purple jacket holding a red phone and sitting backwards in a chair, could only be translated by a die-hard Swiftie: The jacket is the same one Swift wears while performing songs from Midnights during the Eras Tour, while the phone is a nod to the “Midnights Mayhem” phone from the album rollout. The chair resembles the one she dances on during the concert performance of “Vigilante Shit,” which is a constant talking point on Swiftie social media subgroups.
“Ultimately, it was a culmination of knowledge our team has organically as fans compounded with what we've learned over the past years in executing bespoke campaigns with [Swift],” said Lacroix over email. “This moment truly was a long time coming, and we did what we do best — speak the language of the Swifties."
Lily Thaler, a strategist at Design Bridge and Partners and self-identified Swiftie, said Swifties online reacted positively to the artwork precisely because of this level of dedication to their fandom.
“To have Spotify and the designers there create such a thoughtful representation of the Swiftie universe is very, very well received,” she said, adding that fans are still discussing the content on social media, “which is unheard of in the general timeline of the internet.”
Various threads on X (formerly Twitter) unpacked each Easter egg spotted in the work, and TikToks analyzed the artistic composition of the image. “People loved the depth in which whoever created it had to get into her music to understand all of the references,” said Thaler.
Playing into Swifties’ love of hidden clues
The rollout of the global top artist announcement was uniquely tailored to activate Swifties’ obsessive nature and love of searching for clues left by their favorite artist. In the 48 hours before the news was unveiled, close-up shots of specific Easter eggs from the artwork were plastered on billboards across the globe, leading fans on a hunt to uncover them all.
Billboards teasing the announcement didn’t mention Swift by name, and only Swifties well-versed in the artist’s world would point the work back to her. For example, a billboard showing a black snake is innocuous enough, unless you’re a Swiftie who knows it to be Karyn, the Reputation-era snake.
According to Thaler, the online Swiftie community was immediately on the hunt for clues. “The night that the snippets were coming out everywhere, people were going crazy online trying to find the next piece,” she said.
“It was kind of like a puzzle, which goes back into the Swiftie lore of [Swift] masterminding things and [Swifties] hunting for clues,” she added. “It reinvigorated Swifties’ love for those kinds of mind games — that's one thing that really unites the fan base.”
Swift’s lyrical and personal universe is incredibly well-crafted, noted Fandom’s Fried, who said the artist’s universe leads her to fit the criteria of a successful franchise: world-building, quality, consistency, a fierce fan base and cultural relevance. This, in turn, helps fans uncover clues leading back to the mastermind herself.
“The things that she does feel new, but they're connected to the pieces that she's built — in terms of the colors or the things that she wears — and there's a lot of consistency to how she does that and how she brings that to life, which her fans love,” said Fried. Therefore, announcements from Swift feel “both expected and sometimes unexpected, but in a consistent way, which is really powerful.”
Spotify’s campaign was so authentic to Swift’s own methods of engaging her fans that the online Swiftie community at first thought the teaser billboards came from Swift’s own camp and were going to reveal Swift’s next endeavor, said Thaler.
“It quickly became clear that it was more of a celebration of everything that makes Taylor Swift’s music universe,” she said. But the fact that Swift’s most devoted fans thought the campaign came from the musician herself points to the authenticity of the creative, and the extent to which Spotify researched and devoted time to the work.
The success of the campaign within the Swiftie fandom reflects that brands must devote time and energy into crafting authentic messaging when trying to tap into fandoms.
“All brands would do well to remember that their audiences are also audiences of other brands, people and institutions,” said Thaler. “Being able to engage with those other entities in the same way that their audiences do would serve as an interesting, useful and probably fruitful platform for connection with those people.”
Fried noted that engaging with fandom is ultimately a positive endeavor, as they are built off of the joy of a shared interest. “The more brands connect with fandoms and help them celebrate those fandoms, the more they can connect to that positivity — which is much better than a lot of the toxicity that exists today.”
The work stood out from other brands’ attempts to align with Swift
This year has been filled with instances of brands attempting to align themselves with Swift, from the NFL to various purveyors of ranch to the local businesses surrounding her various Eras Tour stops. Even the word “era” has become synonymous with Swift, and it has subsequently been sprinkled in brand social media posts since the beginning of the tour.
Thaler described these communications as “cheap shots at trying to align themselves with Taylor,” adding that this campaign was the opposite. Spotify “took time, dedication and probably a big team of people to design.”
“If brands really want to align themselves with Taylor, cheap shots are not going to cut it” for devoted fans, she said.
Hard-core fans are uniquely capable of sniffing out inauthenticity when it comes to their favorite person, TV show or fictional universe. “If [brands] come in from the outside and are just trying to trade on the success of a person or a brand without really understanding why that brand or person resonates with their fans, you're not going to do a good job and it's gonna come off as disconnected and cheap,” noted Fried.
It also made sense for Spotify to enter the conversation when it didn’t make as much sense for other brands like Kraft who attempted to jump on the Swiftie bandwagon, added Fried. “Spotify is in the music business, and Taylor is the biggest artist in music,” she noted.
Thaler noted that Spotify has long been a champion of Swift. “This was a really extravagant way to demonstrate their appreciation of her and her fan base,” she said.
Spotify did not share how much was spent to create the art, but any qualms about the laborious undertaking of the project relative to a quick-fire post on X — which involved a dozen Spotify departments and contracting agencies for production, sound and VFX and finishing — is eased by Swifties’ financial commitments to their love of their favorite artist.
“Let's not forget that her fan base brings Spotify a ton of money,” said Thaler. “Clearly, as its global top artist, Swifties have got to be the biggest listener base on the platform.”
Thaler also noted that some members of the Swiftie fandom have Spotify Wrapped on their minds year-round. “It’s a competition now to be in her top 1% and below of listeners, which takes a lot of dedication to Spotify usage,” she pointed out.
The project made clear the importance the brand places on the Swiftie fandom, which has the potential to solidify loyalty to the platform. “It shows that Spotify uniquely understands [Swift]; it humanizes [the company],” said Thaler.
Indeed, Swift was also Apple Music’s top artist for 2023, and though the brand is celebrating by inviting Swifties to a live experience based on the Eras Tour, Spotify’s artwork dominated the conversation in the Swiftie universe, said Thaler.“It was such a unique celebration, of course it was going to get a lot of buzz,” she said. “Someone or a bunch of someones — probably a big team — spent a long time making this and it cut deep with the fan base, which is probably why it blew up so much.”