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The intern behind Spotify Wrapped was never given her dues

The popular round-up format has become a viral trend marking the end of a year. But many don’t know it was created by an intern in under three months. 

Is it even December if you don’t share your Spotify Wrapped?

The music streaming platform launched Wrapped playlists in 2016, giving users the chance to view a personalised recap of their past year as defined by their listening habits.

The format, though simple, has become a huge success. From celebrities and musicians, to your uncle, best friend, and work colleague, Spotify Wrapped has become an end-of-year ritual.

It’s easy to see why, too. You can tell a lot by a person’s favourite music, and Spotify Wrapped gives everyone a chance to nosey in on their friends’ habits, as well as boast (or cringe) at their own.

In short, Spotify Wrapped has become another fun way of cultivating ourselves online. And with annual updates, the easy-to-share reels and colourful break-downs are fodder for social media posts and sub-reddit debates.

One could go as far to argue that Wrapped has become Spotify’s most successful marketing ploy, with the excitement for ‘Wrapped Day’ encouraging a good portion of users to download the app in the first place.

According to Forbes, more than 60 million users engaged with Wrapped in 2020, and the in-app experience was mentioned over 1.2 million times on Twitter that same year.

Given its popularity, I was surprised to discover that Wrapped as we know it today was actually proposed and designed by an intern in 2019, who oversaw end-to-end development of the format in under three months.

While Spotify has been providing personalised analysis of our yearly listening since 2016, it was Jewel Ham who made it the fun, bite-sized social media behemoth it is now.

But Ham has never been given recognition for her work with the platform – financial or otherwise.

It took the astounding growth of Wrapped in 2020 for Ham to speak out about her involvement.

Taking to Twitter, Ham shared her design concepts for the in-app experience, all created during her three-month internship at Spotify the previous year.

The tweets quickly went viral. With 356.1k likes (and growing), Jewel’s initial designs left netizens confused by her lack of recognition.

‘Don’t work corporate kids’ Ham told her followers.

Speaking to Refinery29 at the end of 2020, Ham explained how inspiration for a new Wrapped format came from her experience as a Spotify user.

‘I was a person that had Spotify and loved Wrapped, but it was just a link they would send at the end of the year […] it was just something that you personally knew about’. Ham wanted it to be a communal experience that fit naturally into the social media landscape.

Refinery’s article gained traction at the time, but now in 2022, with Wrapped bigger than ever, Ham is still struggling for recognition and remains relatively unknown by Wrapped users.

Various media outlets have picked up Jewel’s story to conjure inspiration amongst young entrepreneurs, splicing in lofty Steve Jobs quotes about believing in oneself and following vision.

But it’s ultimately worrying – and unfortunately telling – that Ham’s experience is being used as the blueprint for young success in the tech world.

As a Black woman, Ham is part of the small 1.7% of people who make up the tech workforce in America. That’s against 26.7% of non-Black women.

On top of that, it’s notoriously difficult to land an internship at big companies like Spotify – particularly if you’re a woman of colour.

For those hoping to apply, grandiose demands for ‘big dreams’ ‘creative grit’ and ‘drive’ are marked out as the core requirements for success.

With entry into the tech world existing as such a minefield, Ham’s story is all the more frustrating.

Internships at big firms are hugely romanticised, especially for those in a minority who are seen to have achieved ‘against all odds’, even if their skill makes them undoubtedly worthy of that success.

Such attitudes allow individuals like Ham to be exploited and overlooked. For they imply that involvement in any way is the reward, that entry into these spaces (which are predominantly white and male) is what young creatives should be grateful for. This positions their talent as secondary, and their work up for grabs by higher-ups.

Having played an undeniably integral part in Spotify’s recent success, Ham should – at the very least – have been offered a full-time job at Spotify.

At best, she deserves credit where credit is due.