Liz Pelly’s Streambait Pop is a fascinating look at the “Spotify sound” and other changes in pop music brought about by streaming:
The Spotify sound has a few different variations, but essentially it’s a formula. “It has this soft, emo-y, cutesy thing to it,” Matt says. “These days it’s often really minimal and based around just a few simple elements in verses. Often a snap in the verses. And then the choruses sometimes employ vocal samples. It’s usually kind of emo in lyrical nature.” Then there’s also a more electronic, DJ-oriented variation, which is “based around a drop … It’s usually a chilled-out verse with a kind of coo-y vocal. And then it builds up and there’s a drop built around a melody that’s played with a vocal sample.”
The really interesting part to me is how it’s a sound that’s essentially designed to make you forget about it, so that you just keep streaming endlessly:
The chill-hits Spotify sound is a product of playlist logic requiring that one song flows seamlessly into the next, a formula that guarantees a greater number of passive streams. It’s music without much risk—it won’t make you change your mind. At times, these whispery, smaller sounds even recall aspects of ASMR, with its performed intimacy and soothing voices. When everyone wants your attention, it makes sense to find reprieve in stuff that requires very little of it, or that might massage your brain a bit.
After I read this article I went through my Spotify playlists and counted how many of them had the word “chill” in it. Let’s just say I’m too embarrassed to tell you…
But moving on, I think this “inoffensiveness” in music is one of the reasons I’ve started to listen to so many more genres over the past few years. I now like music that feels like it just doesn’t quite sit right. Any artist or band that combines a little discomfort with a lot of skill has my attention. Just one recent example that comes to mind is Double Negative by Low. I still don’t really know what it is. But I know it’s something really special.