Spotify’s astrology-like Daylists go viral, but the company’s micro-genre mastermind was let go last month

Is it a “fearful vocaloid wednesday morning,” a “yearning cottagecore thursday afternoon,” or perhaps a “heartbroken karaoke friday evening”? That’s up to your Spotify Daylist, an algorithmically generated playlist inspired by your listening habits, which changes several times per day. Yeah, you may not think it’s a “teen angst mallgoth monday morning,” but Spotify knows something you don’t. Why do you always listen to “The Black Parade” on Mondays?

With the sudden uptick in posts about Spotify’s Daylists, you’d think that the feature only just came out, but it actually launched in September. Yet Spotify’s Daylists (and their delightfully bizarre names) have been going viral this week, in part thanks to an “Add Yours” story template on Instagram that says, “Don’t tell me your astrology sign; I want you to go into Spotify, search for your daylist and post the title it gave you.”

The person who made the prompt, Amanita, isn’t a celebrity or influencer — they’re just a person in Los Angeles with about 1,000 followers. But enough people reposted the template that it was shared over 600,000 times as of January 17, Meta told TechCrunch.

Now, according to Spotify, searches for “daylist” on Spotify have spiked nearly 20,000%.

It may not be that interesting to know that someone from your high school that you follow on Instagram is having a “wild west cowboy night,” but the prompt to these posts is perhaps more interesting than the content itself. The Instagram template positions Daylists as a new, more specific form of astrology, which is apt, because astrology and Daylists have the same appeal. They teach us something about ourselves while giving us an easy shorthand to try to make ourselves known to those around us. You’re not an attention-seeker, you’re a Leo. You don’t listen to emo music, you listen to teen angst mallgoth.

It makes sense that Spotify is cashing in on something that feels so parallel to astrology, or other forms of spiritual-adjacent meaning-making. Over the last decade or so, astrology has boomed in popularity among gen Z and millennials. According to an Allied Market Research report from 2021, the astrology industry is worth $12.8 billion, and is estimated to be worth $22.8 billion by 2031. And Sensor Tower, a mobile app intelligence firm, found that the top 10 astrology and zodiac apps grew over 64% to earn more than $40 million in 2019. It’s probably not a coincidence that astrology has become so popular in a time when religious affiliation among young people in the U.S. has declined. If people aren’t asking big questions about life in church or synagogue, they’ll ask those questions somewhere else — and that might happen on social astrology apps like Co-Star, or better yet, via a Spotify algorithm.

Spotify’s hyper-personalized, algorithmic features — from Spotify Wrapped to Daylists — are capitalizing on this same impulse. Instead of helping people discover new music, people are using these features to find themselves, which is why Spotify has consistently added more and more features inspired by divination. Over the last few years, Spotify Wrapped has created horoscope playlists, presented us with a Tarot card to represent our year, and they even once hired a celebrity aura reader, Mystic Michaela, to create color aura readings based on the moods of the genres that a user listened to. This has become so central to Spotify’s branding that the company had an aura photography activation at VidCon in 2022, presumably as a way to impress and build relationships with content creators.

Where does Spotify get all of these hyper-specific musical genres and moods, anyway? As many people on social media have noted, the person who came up with these hyper-specific genres and moods deserves a raise. But there’s a frustrating twist to the story behind these viral Daylists.

If you want to know who categorized so much of Spotify’s catalog into categories like “chill phonk,” “samurai trap” and “post-minimalism,” look no further than Glenn McDonald, the curator of the ever-expansive musical map and database, EveryNoise. Spotify acquired The Echo Nest, where McDonald was working on EveryNoise, in a deal worth over $100 million about ten years ago. Since then, McDonald worked as a “data alchemist” at Spotify, where his unfathomably comprehensive musical databases have powered so many beloved features, which draw from his genre-mapping work (Spotify clarifies that Daylists, specifically, emerged from a Hack Week project).

And then, because we must always be reminded of the harsh reality that corporations care about their bottom line above all else, McDonald was laid off in December, when Spotify cut 17% of its staff. Since McDonald no longer has access to internal Spotify tools, some features that tied into Spotify no longer work, despite outcry from EveryNoise’s community. Even still, Spotify links out to EveryNoise in playlists like The Sound of Everything, which features one song from every genre Spotify tracks (that’s over 6,000).

Spotify’s intensely precise categorizing of music sometimes is the butt of the joke — seriously, what is “egg punk” anyway? But the project behind this whimsical taxonomy was made with deep care and respect for music. And yet, time and time again, Spotify’s corporate leadership proves that it’s not in it for the love of music, nor podcasts. Harsh corporate realities aside, it’s fun to look at our Daylists as they update every few hours and hold up a mirror to our music listening, and by extension, our emotions. But maybe the playlist we need most is “officecore ennui friday.”