“The beauty of the world is the mouth of a labyrinth. The unwary individual who on entering takes a few steps is soon unable to find the opening. Worn out, with nothing to eat or drink, in the dark, separated from his dear ones, and from everything he loves and is accustomed to, he walks on without knowing anything or hoping anything, incapable even of discovering whether he is really going forward or merely turning round on the same spot. But this affliction is as nothing compared with the danger threatening him. For if he does not lose courage, if he goes on walking, it is absolutely certain that he will finally arrive at the center of the labyrinth. And there God is waiting to eat him. Later he will go out again, but he will be changed, he will have become different, after being eaten and digested by God. Afterward he will stay near the entrance so that he can gently push all those who come near into the opening.” - Simone Weil “The beauty of the world is the mouth of a labyrinth. The unwary individual who on entering takes a few steps is soon unable to find the opening. Worn out, with nothing to eat or drink, in the dark, separated from his dear ones, and from everything he loves and is accustomed to, he walks on without knowing anything or hoping anything, incapable even of discovering whether he is really going forward or merely turning round on the same spot. But this affliction is as nothing compared with the danger threatening him. For if he does not lose courage, if he goes on walking, it is absolutely certain that he will finally arrive at the center of the labyrinth. And there God is waiting to eat him. Later he will go out again, but he will be changed, he will have become different, after being eaten and digested by God. Afterward he will stay near the entrance so that he can gently push all those who come near into the opening.” - Simone Weil

NON-STOP-POP

Matt Dell on Hyperobjectivity & Spotify

Text: Matt Dell
Artwork: 11v151131_M06

One unsurprising design of Spotify is to soundtrack everyday life. The platform achieves this via a mix of algorithmic recommendations and staff-curated playlists for listeners to access music that matches whatever genre or mood they’re currently feeling. However, behind this hyper-systematized platform of music preferences exists a conversation on hyperobjectivity, a term coined originally by theorist Timothy Morton on ecological and social infrastructures that remain relatively unrecognizable.


Spotify As A Hyperobject
“Hyperobjects stick to you, inside and out: the radiation in my body, the mercury in my blood…they are ‘viscous’ that way, and not just in a physical sense,” wrote Timothy Morton in the first part of his 2018 reader Hyperobjects for Artists. This omnipresent quality comes through Spotify’s experience, which keeps listeners within their comfort zone. The platform provides controlled exposure to music that seeks to eliminate user choice in the process. Morton illustrates hyperobjectivity with global warming as a set of changing environmental conditions best summarized under the term.

Although Spotify is singular and many people interface with it, its impact on consumption and artist production seems more aligned with Morton’s initial definition. One intention of the ‘hyperobject’ term is to group the totalizing effect of various conditions to decide to care and respond. The plurality of social and environmental implications produced via hyperobjects is perhaps more relevant to the term’s significance than merely a descriptive word. Spotify influences consumption, production, and the disparity between music industry giants and independent artists on the already financially unfavorable platform. For example, nearly 99% of artists make only 11$ per month via the service. What has resulted from these algorithmically propagated disparities is a culture of hacking and gross technological intervention. In a Youtube video, a user under the alias of YON describing their Spotify artist account as “meditation audio a diffusion of musical artistry into the role of sound provider. Spotify makes it irrelevant whether you know how to write songs, only if your tracks accrue streams. This is further exemplified in YON’s videos, which describe how to farm streams via spamming the Spotify player via API token generation. Others resort to phone-farming through second-party applications as a means of generating income.

The impact of Spotify spans largely beyond its influence on the way we listen to music. People interact with technology differently because of it, particularly for producing music and earning money. It’s important to stress here that these conditions have arisen from the advent of Spotify, which, although singular in nature, demonstrates an environment that fundamentally alters music production. Although this effect is drastic in that a part of society has learned to uncover the ideals of this platform and exploit them, it’s also non-linear. As previously stated, many artists choose to release on Spotify without considering these algorithms. Most probably don’t. Some disrupt the system entirely.




A Disruptive Hyperpop
Following the release and widespread acclaim of 100 gecs’ 2019 album, Spotify launched Hyperpop, a community playlist alchemized from genre classifications dating back to the mid-2010s. Concurrently, Gen Z musicians on Soundcloud and Spotify began releasing music independently under the hyperpop genre, amassing hundreds of millions of plays in the process. It’s fascinating what follows between the platform, the groups of young musicians, and their collision in 2020.

Ben Dandridge-Lemco reported for the New York Times on early hyperpop artist osquinn’s “Bad Idea” release as a pivotal moment in the movement, which resulted in her on the cover of Spotify’s Hyperpop playlist. The feature represented a shift away from recycling 100 gecs and PC Music releases under the genre name. Dandrige-Lemco continues to describe the magnitude of this change, wherein the playlist began featuring largely independent releases uploaded through music distribution platforms like Distrokid.

At the time of the Times’ report, Spotify’s “Hyperpop” playlist rivaled established playlists’ impact on listeners adding featured songs into their library, a Spotify feature whose interaction determines the success of playlists on its platform. It is important because the “hyperpop” movement effectively disrupted the conditions previously produced by the platform. Instead of hackers garnering massive amounts of streams for revenue and overpopulating the platform, Spotify saw an influx of Gen-Z artists, likely already socialized into the world of Spotify, creating music that overrode the effects its algorithm has on small independent artists. There were entire communities of listeners already engaged with the music movement, and perhaps, a broader audience that hadn’t previously known of the genre.




The State of Making Sound
In the case of Spotify as a hyperobject, we return to its concept of the untouchable yet forceful influence it has over our ability to listen to music. The emergence of the platform has fundamentally changed how artists produce music in an economy that’s increasingly dominated by low-paying stream systems that determine both merit and income.

While it’s hard to gauge hyperpop’s impact beyond a short-lived disruption in its fabric, I’d like to believe it proves of point. Foremost, it raises the possibility of independent music maintaining some influence in the music economy’s end-stages. This complicates the power Spotify might hold as a hyperobject, particularly around whether the conditions it produces are permanent or enduring. When younger artists are socialized to engage with platforms like Spotify, it’s becoming harder to promote disassociating from the platform entirely. At the same time, it might also be incorrect to accept this is when a community of musicians can have such an impact.

The music industry proved to be quick in absorbing this phenomenon. As of now, many of the artists in Dandrige-Lemco’s article have signed to major labels. I’m still hopeful this is just the first of what’s to come.