Sponsored content: Everyone loves it! Combining the stuff you enjoy with the pleasure of intimately engaging with brands, sponsored content is like having a cool older brother who hips you to stuff you might never have heard of otherwise, while also suggesting that you buy things from him. It’s a fruitful, giving relationship that’s not technically illegal, and now it’s come to Spotify in the form of sponsored songs—giving free users of the streaming service the incredible music they really need to hear, curated just for them by the people who own it.
As reported by TechCrunch, Spotify has already begun testing putting sponsored songs in free users’ playlists, drawing from the service’s algorithms to match those songs to a listener’s musical tastes. With no visual identifier that they’re sponsored, and just a quick audio intro that says, “Sponsored song,” these songs slot near-seamlessly alongside the music you already like—something labels hope will allow them to become your new favorites, without being colored by any prejudice that comes from knowing they were paid for. It’s the kind of thoughtful gesture typical of sponsored content, though unfortunately, it means you won’t know whom you should send a note of gratitude. Still, buying the artist’s merchandise is really thanks enough.
Spotify has had sponsored playlists since last year, though some have already pointed out that this new arrangement of labels paying to get specific singles placed is really no different from the payola scandals that gripped radio in the early 1960s, leading to Congressional investigations and far-reaching crackdowns on radio stations and DJs that extended well into the 2000s, ruining many careers. But as TechCrunch adds, Spotify marking the songs as sponsored could allow them a technical loophole. And besides, Alan Freed died a broken man many decades ago and what he’ll never know won’t hurt him.
More importantly, Spotify users are allowed to turn off sponsored songs—or more specifically, opt out of hearing them by toggling off the setting in the app. So far, the fact that they’re just added automatically has been met with some pushback online, though this is probably from people who just haven’t heard the right sponsored song yet.
But once those people come around, Spotify hopes to move those sponsored songs out of the testing phase and roll them out everywhere—a crucial part of generating new revenue streams as it pushes to go public, amid staggering operating losses of around $389 million last year. So actually, it seems like maybe sponsored content isn’t about sharing cool stuff at all! Rather, it has the underhanded, selfish objective of trying to keep a company afloat in an intensely competitive media landscape. Gross. Never mind, we hate it now.