Music

What The Hell Is ‘Escape Room’, The Genre Appearing In Everyone’s Spotify Wrapped

There's a simple but nerdy explanation for the genre being one of your top five.

spotify wrapped escape room 2020 photo

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If you had a casual scroll through any social platform yesterday, chances are you were overwhelmed by people sharing their annual Spotify Wrapped results.

The wildly popular data drop offers listeners the chance to glimpse their most played artists, songs, podcasts, and genres, through to more number-heavy results like hours listened, or whether you were in your favourite bands top 0.001 percent of listeners. There’s so much to wade through, and so many embarrassing insights that need to be explored.

But one of the more puzzling results that emerges every year is the appearance of a genre called ‘Escape Room’ that frequently lands in listener’s top five genres.

It’s not the first time the genre has appeared in Spotify’s end of year lists — people have been questioning it since 2016 — but it never fails to cause confusion at Wrapped time every year.

According to the website Every Noise It Makes — which analyses all 5071 ‘genre-shaped distinctions’ on Spotify in an attempt to map them out in data clouds — the Escape Room genre looks something like this:

escape room spotify

Photo Credit: Every Noise It Makes

You can see artists like Charli XCX, Kim Petras, Kaytranada, SOPHIE, Janelle Monáe, Blood Orange, M.I.A, JPEGMAFIA, Anderson Paak, and Lizzo. It apparently sits fairly close to other genres like “chip hop”, “Australian R&B”, “hyperpop”, and “trap queen”.

spotify escape room photo

Photo Credit: Every Noise It Makes

Which is all well and good, but where on earth did the name come from? And what exactly is it?

In an excellent deep dive back in 2016, writer Cherie Hu uncovered the mysterious origins of the genre, tracing them back to a Spotify ‘Data Alchemist’ called Glenn McDonald, who came up with the name (and also developed the Every Noise It Makes site). According to McDonald, the genre comes not from a particular ‘sound’, but from tracking users listening patterns — making it a ‘genre’ almost entirely defined by the algorithm. Enough people were listening to all of these artists that a genre was created to encompass them all.

“This is one where the genre comes from collective listening patterns, but I made up the name myself, because I couldn’t figure out any existing one to apply,” McDonald told Hu.

“The vibe is kind of an underground-trap/PC-music/indietronic/activist-hip-hop kind of thing, and I thought of “escape room” both for the sense of escaping from trap, and for the ideas of excitement, puzzle-solving and indoorness implied by the actual physical escape-room phenomenon.”

As Hu writes, this idea of Spotify being both an aggregator and a tastemaker has far-reaching consequences. “Genres according to Spotify are not fixed marketing ploys, but rather constantly shifting configurations that everyday users can explore and, by design, even shape themselves,” Hu writes.

Escape Room currently ranks at #161 out of the full list of Spotify genres and micro-genres as listed on Every Noise It Makes. If you’re curious, you can dive into the ‘The Sound Of Escape Room’ playlist below.