Spotify for pets and highbrow hounds

If you haven’t heard already, Spotify recently launched a service which creates a playlist for your pet based on their personality traits and your own listening history. After building a picture of your pet’s character by rating them on a continuum of friendly/shy, apathetic/curious and relaxed/energetic, Spotify uses this information to ‘sync with your tastes’.

It is unclear how Spotify’s algorithm determines a pet’s music tastes from the basic information you provide. What is clear though, is that it is assumed that the likes and dislikes of a pet, perhaps even their social class and gender too, will reflect their owner’s. This resonates with the social research that has found that human-animal identities are co-constructed, and in simple terms why pets are often deemed to resemble their owners!

This feature represents a growing trend to anthropomorphise our pets. By attributing them a personality, they are easily woven into the fabric of our families. The pet playlist claims to be individualised and this is reinforced by the option to provide the name and a photograph of your pet. Similarly, the companionship with your animal is likened to a ‘best friend’ which conjures up the image of a reciprocal and emotional attachment and creates scope for such a relationship to be mediated by a shared listening experience.

These pet playlists are intriguing on many levels. For example, a recent Guardian article asks: ‘is it a cynical ploy to get pet owners to spend more time and money on their devices?’ No doubt that once the platform knows you are a pet lover, they can better target you with advertising. But besides the undertones of surveillance and capitalism that this so-called ‘pet tech’ enables, it offers new scope for university students to maintain their identities as pet lovers.

In research that I conducted about university students’ experiences of long distance relationships with their pets, I found that interaction commonly took the form of regular video calls with them and photo updates mediated by a (human) family member. These strategies were a way of staying in touch and checking in on their wellbeing. Despite being a great source of comfort, they could be construed as fleeting encounters of observation. A pet playlist means that your pet can ‘listen’ to the same music as you. It facilitates a shared activity that can be experienced remotely to maintain the bond with a pet whilst living away from them.

After generating a playlist on behalf of my family dog Alfie, I could see that the songs matched my tastes. The problem is that these choices don’t remind me of him or reflect moments shared together, but they do encourage a new activity to enjoy together whilst apart. How can Spotify construct the music tastes of your pet better than you can? Certainly, my research showed that the significance of any dog compared to your own dog is distinct as your relationship with the latter grasps a sense of their biography, personality and preferences in a more nuanced way than the Spotify personality scales can.

It is clear that pets have become consumers of music, some may argue by proxy, and their inclusion in popular culture demands human-animal relations to be adopted as a mainstream lens to help us to understand what it means to be a part of a more-than-human society.

Have you tried the playlist for pets? Does it enhance your identity or relationship with your pet?


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