There’s a relationship forming between musical resurgence & modern technology

By GRACE TOOVEY: Music Columnist

“Why does pop music sound so dancey and retro these days?” is a sentiment that is creeping up across the internet during the pandemic but why the sudden change?

Since the start of 2020, there has been a seismic shift in the way that music is being consumed, as well as the nature of the music being played from the comfort of people’s homes. Notably, music seems to have strayed away from the typical trends of pop artists bearing their souls both musically lyrically and has instead moved towards the epic pop songs reminiscent of decades past.

Not only is the music being released changing, the music being dug out from the back of the metaphorical closet is changing, too. In a surprising twist of events, the charts are seeing a reintroduction of acts such as Fleetwood Mac, with Stevie Nicks joining pop sensation Miley Cyrus on a recent hit reimagining of Edge of Seventeen. Bizarrely, the younger generation have taken to a sudden infatuation with Kate Bush which has seen Wuthering Heights plastered across all social media platforms as though it were fresh out of the studio.

Nostalgia and epic pop music as we once knew it is in vogue: but why?

One thing that surely unites everyone in this current climate is a feeling of uncertainty and stress while a guaranteed tonic for both of these problems is music.

Even before the pandemic, music is a great source of happiness and has been scientifically proven to release dopamine (a chemical in the brain which makes us feel happy) which is potentially in shorter supply when people don’t have access to their usual interests and sources of pleasure hence an increased passion for music.

The value of music for our emotional wellbeing could very well explain why music is becoming increasingly more positive and upbeat – seen through the release of escapist dance-pop music by Lady Gaga, Dua Lipa, Little Mix and many, many more, as well as the growing popularity of K-pop which is also seeing a shift towards retro pop music. People no longer crave emotionally taxing music and as expressed by R&B artist Frank Ocean who said in a recent interview with W Magazine, artists no longer wish to be vulnerable in their music when vulnerability is no longer a choice in a rapidly changing world.

MACKAYAN: MUtations, changing music landscape

This could explain the shift in the tone of pop music but what about the popularity of throwbacks?

In the same way that people long to escape from stress and uncertainty, people seemingly long to escape to times past when certainty was more present in their lives. There’s a lot to be said for a sense of normality in an increasingly abnormal world. Not only this, as Zoe Williams from the Guardian suggested, people are living around “all the music and literature and thought-paraphernalia (they) have carelessly stashed over the past few decades” so many it’s as simple as people finally having the time to listen to what they have missed out on.

There also seems to have been a shift towards more intimate ways of both producing and releasing music. Artists such as Troye Sivan and Charli XCX have been seen to take a more “at home” approach to their recent music releases with Charli’s new album being produced at a rapid pace with little help while Sivan produced visual teasers for his recent album from the comfort of his home using his smartphone. Music is being released without grandeur and flourish but that does not make it any less needed, any less valuable.

Even live performances have a sense of intimacy now that they have migrated from packed stadiums to instagram live where fans have the chance to see their favourite artists perform from kitchens, or bedrooms, the art of pop music being reduced down to its bare bones.

These changes come at very unusual times but will they last?

No changes made within the music industry this year were exactly voluntary but that does not mean to say they will not last. While it is possible that as soon as is safe, music will return to the way it was before and the intimacy recently experienced will once again be lost.

Does this mean that the music itself will return back to its old ways? Or have people had enough of pop artists monetising their woes? Even if contemporary pop reverts back to what we saw before 2020, we won’t necessarily lose the newfound appreciation for the old and the way that artists themselves produce music may change forever and it will definitely be worth paying attention to.

Meet Grace on the Team page & visit the Music Department