One step forward and two steps back: How Covid-19 changed the way I listened

Image Credit: Nurina Iman Nizam

Andrea Andres takes us through her quarantine listening.

In these trying times, I think we’re all seeking out some type of distractions. Our entertainment consumption has shifted to reflect that. Some coped by clocking in 300 hours in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, some binge-watched their favourite shows on Netflix over the span of two days. Some listened to music. It’s very easy to plug your earphones and lose yourself in the rhythm and melody to escape the ennui of quarantine and the dread of the news cycle. It gave me an opportunity to take one step forward and dive into new music and go two steps back and rediscover music that shaped my formative years.

During quarantine, I found myself listening to less music than before. However, this was due to my inability to afford Student Spotify Premium at the time and I couldn’t go back to the Freemium version of the app after having been so spoiled for so long. I relied on Youtube and the web browser of Spotify for my music consumption.

I wasn’t going out of my way to seek out unheard genres and musicians, but stimulation is necessary if you’re surrounded by the same four walls, people, and sights with a government mandate to never leave beyond two kilometres from your house. Music provided that stimulation and scratched that itch to experience something fresh for me. I also looked for tunes in major keys with upbeat tones, but a constant sugary stream of K-pop was not going to suffice by itself. Based on recommendations from friends, Youtube and Spotify, I endeavoured to listen to R&B artists like Summer Walker, Chloe x Halle and Ari Lennox. I think what drew me to them is that R&B is a genre that I was surrounded by and enjoyed listening to as a child; it feels like by rediscovering it again, I have gone full circle. I adore these artists now. 

I also fell in love with the flows and rhymes of Mulatto, BIA, and Flo Milli. If I ever need to feel like a baddie while doing my chores or just a confidence boost during the day, I end up listening to these rappers alongside Megan Thee Stallion. I was exploring music from countries outside the Western hemisphere. While going down a rabbit hole of Tokyo Drift freestyles started by Rich Brian, I discovered the Vietnamese rapper Suboi (already well-known within her home country). She kept my attention with her freestyle about taking care of her baby daughter and using reusable diapers, but what caught me even more off guard is how well Vietnamese sounds while rapping. Going further Southeast to the Philippines, a band that piqued my interest was SB19, a boy band that was trained in Korea. When I was watching a reaction video to these guys, their song Go Up, had no business slapping as hard as it did. I feel like they’re a breath of fresh air in the stale Filipino music industry.

I didn’t expect to enjoy Trixie Mattel’s second surf rock and folk album Barbara, but I did. I had this album on loop for my daily dose of dopamine during lockdown. I especially loved the first half of the album that just channelled a blissful and carefree vibe. It made me feel like I am in a beach teen movie, hanging out with my girls and ogling boys through heart-shaped sunglasses. I couldn’t go to the beach, so this was the closest that I could get to it. ‘Malibu’ and ‘Girl Next Door’ are excellent for daytime bopping.

But if there was one genre that got me through quarantine, it was certainly City Pop; a genre hailing from Japan, lifting its influences from western music. It emerged during the late 1970s, an era where Japan was experiencing major technological advances and being an economic powerhouse to be reckoned with, and their music reflected that. It recently experienced a resurgence because of Youtube’s algorithm recommending Mariya Takeuchi’s ‘Plastic Love’: a quintessential City Pop song, to everyone’s feed. Listening to City Pop was like peering into a little time capsule of hope and boundless optimism. The genre radiates confidence that tomorrow would be a better day than the last. Anri’s 1983 City Pop album Timely!! was another endlessly repeated album alongside Barbara. Like Barbara, this album has a summery feel to it. I didn’t understand a word, but I obsessively listened to tracks like ‘Cats Eye’, ‘Windy Summer’, ‘Shyness Boy’, and its bonus track ‘Remember Summer’ for days on repeat. I didn’t even need to understand its lyrics; the songs’ upbeat, energetic, and punchy aura stood out. They evoked that blissful and easy feeling of just relaxing during Summer with no worries clouding my mind.

It turns out a lot of the hits from the 2000s and 2010 still slap (and are dirtier than I remember).

If I wasn’t listening to unfamiliar music, I was rediscovering hits from the 2000s and early 2010s and reliving my questionable music taste of my early teens. It turns out a lot of the hits from the 2000s and 2010 still slap (and are dirtier than I remember). Some may have aged poorly and are certainly a relic of that time, but listening to Lady Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’, ‘Bad Romance’ and ‘Telephone’ was a nostalgia trip. Above all, hearing the words “Sekai de Ichiban ohime sama” (this translates as “I’m the number one princess of the world”) was when the nostalgia hit me like a brick. Those are the first words of the iconic Vocaloid classic that is ‘World is Mine’, produced by Ryo and performed by Miku Hatsune. Vocaloid is a singing voice synthesizer and a staple of my early teens. Looking back, it is certainly an acquired taste, but I can’t deny that some songs like Gumi’s cover of ‘Candy Candy’ (originally by Kyary Kyary Pamyu Pamyu), Ai Dee produced by Mitchie M and performed Miku Hatsune and Luka Megurine) are a much-needed shot of adrenaline, and their tuning is immaculate.

Music gave me an escape from the hullabaloo of Covid-19 and the stress of trying to complete my thesis so I can graduate. Music provided a solace because it was consistent. The records wouldn’t just deviate out of nowhere, there would be no sudden change of pitch, the melodies would stay the same. Whereas I couldn’t help wondering what another day would bring: a higher number of deaths? Killer hornets from Japan? But music kept me grounded, transported me to places I’ve never been to, and let me reminisce about what felt like better times.