A Woke Critique of Spotify?

One day the great moral counsellor Zarathustra was out for a drive in his Maserati with his friend Ziggy. It may come as a surprise to the reader familiar with his exploits that he had such things (friends I mean, not sports cars). But being a person of great integrity, it was quite possible for him in his relationships to maintain a clear distinction between the uneducated masses with whom he had to maintain a critical disposition and moral authority, and his peers who were properly woke and with whom he consequently felt more free to engage with a greater sense of familiarity and let his true self shine through. That is not to say that the critical disposition was abandoned; rather, let us say, that it was allowed to be more mutual.

“Hey dude, what’s the music player like in this whip?” asked Ziggy, leaning over to the console. “I can do that,” intoned Zara (as he was known to Ziggy), putting his hand out swiftly to stop his friend’s outstretched digit getting anywhere near the precious console. “I set up Spotify this morning to be able to play my latest playlist.”

“Cool, bro. Let’s have a listen.”

After a few seconds of fiddling with user menus on the console, a couple of expletives, then a couple of minutes fiddling with his phone followed by a brief further exploration of the console, Zara succeeded and Ziggy was immediately regaled by a loud blast of what sounded to him like a cacophony of accordion music accompanied by much banging of pots and pans and assorted brass instruments providing an instrumental underlay to a small ensemble of gravelly baritone voices chanting a jolly melody with many intonations of “Hey” and “Ya”, all in a very unfamiliar but Slavic-sounding tongue.

“Hey, man, is this Russian or what?”

“Bulgarian, actually.”

“Bulgarian? I had no idea you were into Bulgarian music or even knew anything about it.”

“I’m not and I don’t,” came back the inscrutable reply. Then, by way of explanation after a pause during which Ziggy looked quizzically at him, “It’s the principle of the thing.”

“Oh, and what principle is that?”

At this Ziggy detected a slightly smug look on Zara’s part and guessed that what followed might turn out to be one of his (usually) lengthy discourses. He was right.

“Well, as you know Spotify is a major part of the surveillance capitalist conspiracy to suck the wealth from the poorest in society and line the pockets of the mega-rich with ever-more obscene amounts. And not only that, they are screwing hard-working musicians everywhere by taking the lion’s share of the revenue from the listening audience for themselves.”

“But hasn’t that always been the way the music industry works?”

Zara didn’t even pause to take breath.

“So clearly it would be an injustice against musicians everywhere to assist such an organisation.”

His friend looked guiltily at him. “What, even sharing me gran’s family subscription?”

He received an icy stare in return. “I would never condone the taking out of any subscription.”

Recovering his composure, Ziggy continued. “Ok, so I take it you listen free and have to put up with the ad breaks? I get that. But you still haven’t explained why the Bulgarian music.”

“As I said, it’s the principle. This capitalist behemoth is monetising my time by selling it to advertisers without my consent.”


“So, if I listen only to Bulgarian music, the adverts switch to Bulgarian language after a day. As I can’t understand what they are saying, the advertising is ineffective and the business model is undermined.”

“I see, so you don’t like the Bulgarian music but you listen to it as a device to make a protest against surveillance capitalism?”


Ziggy reflected on this for a moment as Zara nodded contentedly to himself.

“But isn’t that cultural appropriation?”

He could immediately hear the wheels whirring in his companion’s brain, but no reply was forthcoming. Then, after a couple of minutes, Zara stretched over and abruptly switched the music off. As no further comment was offered, Ziggy decided it was best to let the subject rest and they sat in silence for the rest of the journey. He wasn’t altogether sure what to make of the exchange. But clearly he had things to learn still about woke politics; and indeed about Zara.

Disclaimer: references to Zarathustra in the above are an allusion to the eponymous protagonist of Friedrich Nietzche’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” and not to the Iranian religious reformer and prophet, traditionally regarded as the founder of Zoroastrianism.

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By Colin Turfus

Colin Turfus is a quantitative risk manager with 16 years experience in investment banking. He has a PhD in applied mathematics from Cambridge University and has published research in fluid dynamics, astronomy and quantitative finance.

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