Off the back of a triumphant (enough) first quarter, Spotify is busy this month buffing up its user experience with new features. The music-streaming service recently began testing a homescreen view that puts podcasts front and center, and it’s also played with a subscription plan for couples. Spotify’s latest experiment: An artist-driven behind-the-scenes look at songs — which rivals a feature that it already has in place.
The Storyline feature, first spotted by tech blog Android Police on Monday, takes the form of Instagram-Story-like timed cards that show up underneath the Now Playing screen, onto which artists upload their own text and images. On “Lights On” by Maggie Rogers, pictured above, Rogers shares her personal inspiration for the song’s lyrics. On the Storyline cards for Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker,” the band reveals that it chose to get back together after a hiatus because “it took us filming a documentary to realize that we wanted to make this step and be the Jonas Brothers again.” (The next card says: “Fun fact, Nick can’t whistle.”) Storyline also appears on a handful of Billie Eilish songs at the moment.
In reply to Rolling Stone‘s request for comment, Spotify offered a statement that’s more or less become its refrain for quietly beta-tested features: “We are always testing new ways to create better experiences for more users.” A spokesperson said Storyline has been rolling out to select users in select territories for about two weeks now.
Storyline falls perfectly in line with the music-streaming service’s missive to get closer to artists — Spotify has both direct deals and direct distribution deals with musicians in place, and founder Daniel Ek has regularly emphasized the company’s “artist-first” mentality in interviews, financial filings and press materials — but what’s unusual about the beta-tested feature is that it seems to compete directly with Spotify’s popular Behind the Lyrics feature, which is powered by lyrics company Genius via a partnership the two tech entities struck in early 2016.
The Storyline cards appear directly underneath Behind the Lyrics cards, so that Spotify’s Now Playing screen resembles less of an audio player than a social media page with music at the top (Myspace, anyone?). While Spotify did not comment on whether it is testing Storyline as a Genius replacement, the company has gotten some negative feedback from artists recently on their lack of ability to control the Genius feature — namely, criticism from Paramore’s Hayley Williams on Twitter. But a Genius spokesperson tells Rolling Stone that Genius got in touch with Williams immediately after learning about her tweet, and that “it’s really very rare that an artist has a correction or question about Behind the Lyrics, but when stuff comes up, we‘re always very responsive and open to making improvements.”
By the latest count, Spotify has 217 monthly active users, 100 million of whom are paying a monthly fee for its premium subscription tier.