Lockdown Listening: Is Coronavirus Changing Our Music Tastes?

I recently submitted my dissertation to complete my final year of university. All whilst sitting in my pyjamas finishing off a bowl of cereal. And bam, just like that, it was over before midday. Now what? This highly anticlimactic moment called for some feel-good tracks to lighten the mood. I found myself listening to all sorts, from the classics like Kool & The Gang’s ‘Celebration’ to old-school R’n’B tracks like ‘All I Do Is Win’ by DJ Khalid. All to get me into a partying mood, which would have been how I’d have spent my evening if I wasn’t forced to leave university because of the ongoing global pandemic.

The classic Friday night predrinks at the flat, followed by a stumble to the club to listen to anything with a thumping beat is a distant memory; throwing shapes on a sticky dance floor with your mates is not currently a celebration option for many final year students across the world. Clubs, bars and pubs are closed until the foreseeable future. We have no other choice but to resort in our own virtual parties, Spotify playlists and live gigs all from the comfort of our bedrooms. With my newfound free time, I began to ponder if lockdown is influencing our music taste? 

The majority of large clubs and bars focus on playing new releases and chart-topping hits that get a crowd going. But with lockdown allowing us to spend time away from this often-repetitive cycle, it’s given us time to delve into what our music tastes really are. It’s easy to get carried away with going along with whatever is played in clubs and bars, while we could be ignoring what we really enjoy, without even knowing it.

I spoke to current and graduate students to find out whether music tastes are being impacted by lockdown and the closure of our much-loved clubs and bars.

Lockdown is a stressful and uncertain time for all. But going back to old artists and songs can give us a sense of comfort, helping us to relive the memories that are held within them. 

Kristine Baekgaard, a third-year student at The London School of Economics said: “I have been circling back to older music that I listened to at various points in my life and rediscovering old music and albums that I used to love.”

“I found out the not-so-surprising news that my top artist in lockdown was definitely me reliving my preteen years listening to One Direction,” said Libby Briggs.

Although the global pandemic has put gigs and festivals on hold, there are several musical positives of the lockdown: the early release of albums and free live stream gigs with artists like Liam Fray from the Courteeners creating an intimacy like no other.

Ellie Masterman who is completing her Masters in Publishing at Oxford Brookes said: “I’ve been going back to old music I loved when I was at school because my favourite band (Stornoway) released a live album from their final tour, so that’s made me feel very nostalgic.”

While we’re all in our feels with old artists, TikTok has plunged sensationally catchy songs into the charts, which many have stayed away from during lockdown.

Natalia Dalentka said: “I’ve been enjoying lots of throwbacks. Sometimes the top list just gets so repetitive and boring.”

“I’ve been listening to more niche summer and hype songs over the charts because I usually only hear ‘up to date’ tracks when I’m driving with the radio on,” said Lewis Goodall, a second-year student at UEA.

Jade Facey said: “My music taste has definitely changed because I don’t listen to any ‘chart music’ anymore. I’ve ended up listening to either alternative music, musical soundtracks or 90s music again. Stuff that makes me happy when I hear it.”

Lockdown may be dull at times but it’s fair to say that most of us will come out with an expanded and open-minded music taste than we could ever imagine as we’re discovering new artists left right and centre.

Olivia Massey who studies English Literature at the University of Reading said: “I’ve been more open to listening to different genres that I may not normally listen to and giving them a go on Spotify, such as alternative rock, contemporary R&B and grime.”

Evie Knapman said: “I’m mainly into alternative/indie, so I’ve been discovering new alternative artists such as Kelly Lee Owens and Indie band, whenyoung.”

With lockdown seeming to be the perfect time to release a new album, many are taking the time to give old and new albums a more careful listen, rather than focusing on singles. Lucy Ellis said: “I normally just stick to the same playlists, but I’m really enjoying listening to albums and paying attention to them while I’m getting ready/walking/cooking.”

The way that we’re listening to songs is also changing. Tim Burgess’s listening parties are slowly becoming the norm, offering us daily doses of the most loved indie and alternative bands, providing our evenings with gig-like real time listening. Eleanor Noyce’s great piece for The Indiependent about Tim’s Twitter listening parties, questions whether it’s the lockdown alternative to live music.

But those who miss their vodka lemonades and WKDs on a messy Wednesday night in the SU have said they’re turning up their club classics and techno remixes in lockdown due to the closure of our dearly missed clubs and bars. Ruth Maycock said: “I’m listening to way more drum and bass than I normally would because I miss clubbing.”

Christina Cotta said: “I think that I am listening to a lot more of the music I would on a night out because I miss going out. I wouldn’t normally listen to a popular artist on a walk but I do now.”

Although us students can’t celebrate our achievements in the way we know best, having time away from the often-repetitive top charts played in clubs and bars has allowed some to uncover new favourites and others to cherish older artists who hold special places in their hearts.

It’s no doubt that lockdown has changed our listening habits, music tastes and helped remind us that we should listen to music that makes us feel happy. But whether lockdown will have a profound, long-term effect on our music tastes after we’re given back a sense of normality, is another question entirely.

Words by Chloe Martin

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