In yearly recap videos, you — or your friends, cousins, or people you barely know — string together dozens of videos and photos from the past 12 months, often set to the beat of a trending audio track. This new year, they’ve become an online phenomenon, allowing users an outlet to reflect while also generating anxiety and pressure among young people to commodify their lives into viral content. The trend also shows how the content formats and behavior of professional influencers are increasingly being adopted by average users.
“I think this phenomenon strongly relates to the sentiment that, ‘if you didn’t post it, is it even real?’” said Jules Terpak, a content creator who makes videos about digital culture. “People … not only have to document their years for others, but for their future selves to take in the significance of the year.”
Videos including the hashtag #2023recap have amassed a collective 1.6 billion views on TikTok. “2023 recap” was listed as one of the most popular searches on Instagram in the days leading up to New Year’s Eve. Snapchat is incentivizing recap video creation by prompting users to create TikTok-like 2023 recap videos for the app.
“Everyone wants to show their life looking the best that it can,” said Annie Wu Henry, a digital strategist in Philadelphia, “and that now includes … these videos.”
Apps have begun making it easier to package the year into a digestible format for a while now. In 2016, an app called Top Nine went viral, allowing Instagram users to share a grid of their top 9 posts. That same year Spotify introduced Spotify Wrapped, a personalized round up of each user’s listening activity. Strava, a social fitness app, now provides users with an annual report of their fitness activity, and Goodreads, a platform for book lovers, offers a “Year in Books” feature summarizing users’ reading accomplishments. On TikTok, yearly recap videos became popular with high-profile content creators, eventually trickling down to average users.
“You’re getting a recap fed to you in every form of content,” said Arujo.
The ideas that one should romanticize their life, be the main character and treat life like a movie have become commonplace on TikTok. So it’s no surprise that users would begin regurgitating their memories into cinematic highlight reels. “We have democratized being a content creator where now even your aunt is posting an app downloaded slide show of videos that summarized her year,” said Luke Anderson, a producer in Los Angeles.
The rise in 2023 recap videos shows, “the TikTokification of life,” said Kate Lindsay, co-founder of the internet culture newsletter Embedded. “New Year’s is already a reflective time, it’s a time to look back. And now social media takes it to the next level.”
From a technical standpoint, highly produced recap videos are also becoming easier to create. CapCut, a video editing platform owned by ByteDance, provides easily replicable video creation formats that can be directly posted to TikTok, including several 2023 recap templates.
“CapCut templates make it easier to create this content, period,” said Rachel Greenspan, a social media strategist in New York. Lindsay added that there are almost as many viral tutorials teaching users how to create their own 2023 recap videos, as the viral recap videos themselves.
However as year-end recap videos have skyrocketed in popularity, the format has also led to increased pressure among users. Several people on social media told The Post that they felt frustrated and overwhelmed at the prospect of summarizing an entire year into engaging short-form content. Julia Metraux, a journalist in San Francisco said that she created a recap video only to delete it, worrying that the quality wasn’t up to par.
Bryant Rodriguez, a content strategist in Southern California also said he also felt overwhelmed by the trend. After seeing the videos take over his feeds, he considered making his own. “I kept trying to come up with a plan for how to do it,” he said. “It ended up just creating more anxiety.” Rodriguez struggled with who and what to include in his roundup, and worried about offending a friend by leaving someone out. “Last year I didn’t feel this pressure,” he said.
Leo Velazquez, a corporate trainer for an insurance company in Orange County, said that he witnessed a friend having a crisis over his 2023 recap video. His friend posted on Instagram Story saying that it took him 17 edits to create his final 2023 recap video after losing footage in between versions. Velazquez felt like the whole process seemed like too much, and since he hadn’t traveled much in 2023, he didn’t feel like he had any good content. “There’s so much effort into posting these videos,” he said.
Those who did create videos, such as India Daykin, a brand manager in Vancouver, said that they did so mostly as a way to engage in a bit of nostalgia. “Even though these trends are kind of silly, it’s an interesting opportunity to force yourself to reflect on more positive moments throughout your year,” she said.
While most 2023 recap videos are aspirational, filled with videos of partying, adventures, travel, and quality time with friends and loved ones, some TikTok users have leveraged the format to share low points in their lives in the past year, such as dealing with chronic illness or to reflect on the ongoing covid-19 pandemic and the war in the Middle East. “I think with such lows [in 2023], even just surviving gives a bit of nostalgia,” Metraux said.
As the format grows in popularity, meme pages have also begun to create recap videos focused on more outward facing world events. “There’s so much tragedy that happened this year from covid, to the earthquakes in Afghanistan, to the wildfires in Maui, to the situation in Gaza,” said the administrator of the Political Compass, a popular meme page on Instagram. “Literally so much has happened, and it seems like a recap video … is the best way to memorialize it all,”
While CapCut makes creating yearly recap videos easier, Sheel Mohnot, a venture capitalist in San Francisco, said that soon AI tools may allow people to create such videos with the click of a button. He’s surprised that Instagram hadn’t already created an easy way to create recaps. “I feel like Instagram should give you a year in review like Spotify does,” he said.
Others avoided posting their recap content on social media altogether, instead choosing to share highlights from the past year in person with family or a select group of friends. Jordan Lucero, a 17-year-old high school junior in Oklahoma City spent his New Year’s Eve displaying a month by month PowerPoint presentation recapping his past year to a group of friends.
“People want to be more self-aware and reflect on stuff, and a lot of these things just get hidden away in our photo library,” he said. “I think it’s a positive thing to go back and process the year in a fun way.”
Recaps can also provide a useful introduction to someone’s life. Lucero said that his friend had a new boyfriend, and he planned to show their yearly recap on New Year’s Eve. “We have to get him caught up on our lore,” Lucero said.