Featured News Pandemic music struck a darker chord

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Fri, 19 Jan 2024

Pandemic music struck a darker chord

Image: Benjamin Wagner

A new study examining the music people listened to during the pandemic has revealed a taste for more downbeat and darker music – in direct contrast to music recommended to raise the spirits.

James Cook University psychology lecturer Dr Amanda Krause and PhD student Ms Kaila Putter, along with colleagues from The University of Queensland and Curtin University, conducted the study.

Dr Krause said over six separate lockdown periods, Melbourne had cumulatively the world’s longest lockdown in response to COVID-19, totalling over 260 days.

“Lockdown measures required people to remain at home and resulted in people experiencing long periods of social isolation, unprecedented changes to everyday routines, and various psychological challenges such as fear, anxiety, insomnia, irritability and anger,” said Dr Krause.

The team compared a crowd-sourced playlist - produced by a Melbourne newspaper after an appeal to readers for music recommendations to raise spirits during the Australian lockdowns – and chart data on what people were actually listening to.

“We compared the ‘pandemic playlist’ songs to charting songs during the first six months of the pandemic in 2020 and the same period in 2021 with regard to their musical features and lyrical content,” said Dr Krause.

Ms Putter said the findings indicated the songs included in the pandemic playlist differed significantly from the charting songs in 2020 and 2021.

“The playlist songs were higher in energy (relative to 2020 and 2021) and less acoustic (relative to 2021). Additionally, the lyrics of the pandemic playlist songs had significantly more positive words,” said Ms Putter.

She said what people actually listened to in response to the pandemic seems to be darker, uncertain, escapist, and isolated.

“This appears to reflect a preference for mature and meaningful media content when faced with a threat,” said Dr Krause

“It’s possible people’s suggestions for the pandemic playlist reflected the music they expected would improve the mood of others, which may not necessarily have been the music they would select to regulate their own emotions.”

She said the findings broaden understanding of music listening behaviours in response to societal stress.

The study was published in the journal, Music & Science, and is available here.


Dr Amanda Krause
E: amanda.krause1@jcu.edu.au