The Quarantunes – How Digital Music Platforms are Creating Community through the Pandemic

My blockmates and I found out that we had to vacate Harvard on a Tuesday morning. Our anxiety around Coronavirus had been building in recent weeks, and we knew changes were coming, but we were not prepared by the shock of being abruptly ripped apart in a matter of days. Prior to starting college, I had no idea that it was possible to become so close to strangers so quickly, but now I couldn’t imagine my life without them. 

During difficult moments like these, I, like many others, find a respite in music. The moments that stick out to me the most this semester always involve music. I remember bonding with my friend while watching Bollywood movies and listening to Senorita, a Hindi/Rumba Flamenco fusion. I spent 5 hours rehearsing with the Radcliffe Choral Society every week. And, during our last few days together, my blockmates and I blasted a lot of heartbreak songs, Adele, Fleetwood Mac, and Disney throwbacks over our Alexa speaker. This led to the creation of our very own shared Spotify playlist, titled Eviction Notice, since we were being forced off campus in the span of five days.

As it turns out, my blockmates and I are not unique in using platforms like Spotify to curate “pandemic playlists”. During the past several weeks, Spotify has seen the creation of dozens of coronavirus, quarantine, and Covid-19 playlists, and the creativity is astounding. A couple of notable ones include Quarantine: A Playlist, QuaranTunes, and COVID-19 Quarantine Party which alone has acquired over 400,000 likes to date. These thematic playlists generally include cheeky references to illness or social distancing with the inclusion of songs like “SICKO MODE” by Travis Scott or “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” by The Police. Other users have approached their playlists more by genre: Cuarentena Latina , Quarantine Vibes (Lo-fi music, Electropop) Quaransteen (Country Pop), and QUARANTINE BANGERS (Rap). These different interpretations of quarantine playlists showcase the creativity of quarnatiners to make the most of their situation through humor and grace. 

New data about trends in usage can shed light on the meaning behind these listening patterns. Spotify has interpreted some of the new data around usage habits during the Coronavirus crisis and published their findings on their website. The article How Social Distancing Has Shifted Spotify Streaming describes changing usage patterns have altered in several distinct ways. Listeners have an increased interest in news podcasts, parents are playing music and podcasts for their children, and more people are streaming fitness and health related podcasts (Spotify). In the article Spotify Listeners Are Getting Nostalgic: Behavioral Science Writer David DiSalvo and Cyndi Lauper Share Why, the company found a “54% increase in listeners making nostalgic-themed playlists, as well as an uptick in the share of listening to music from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s (with ’50s music listening increasing the most).” Perhaps this interest in music that connotes nostalgia is related to feeling unable to take part in activities that they used to due to stay at home orders and social distancing measures. To counteract this feeling of isolation, Spotify has promoted their Listening Together campaign as a way to highlight artists and celebrate at home. 

Quarantine has also led to musical creativity and expression through the creation rather than the consumption of music. This trend of increased music creation and consumption through digital platforms as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic is also reflected in the surge in new Coronavirus-related songs. Spotify data analyst Glenn McDonald created the playlist The Sound of the Virus, which pools new tracks written about the pandemic. This playlist has over 2,400 songs and is more than 125 hours long to date. These songs span all genres and geographic areas, but all explore the theme of the pandemic. Artists are creating music of all genres and across cultures, finding ways to turn the loss, fear, pain, and uncertainty of the pandemic into art. The creation of music as an art form is just as much a coping mechanism as listening to it. This platform has created a way for these artists to express their message to a global audience, while connecting listeners around the world.

As we all attempt to find a new sense of normalcy, we continue the age old tradition of building community through music. In the same way that our parents’ generation gifted each other curated mixtapes to share meaningful music, digital platforms allow us to connect to a global audience and spread messages of solidarity, support, and hope.

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