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Why Lo-Fi Music Is So Popular

And Rightfully So

By J. P. FrattiniPublished 4 years ago 3 min read

I'm sure when you open up YouTube's homepage, you see a little red "live" marker and an anime thumbnail. Often labeled as "chill beats to study to" or something of that effect. Lo-fi hip-hop instrumentals and other chill-beat styles of music have been all over the place. These playlists and compilations have millions of regular listeners and the artists are becoming just as popular. Heck, the YouTube channel, ChilledCow only posts other people’s music (they haven’t produced any original content) and have over 2 million subscribers as of January 2019. So why are lo-fi/chill-beat tracks so present in the current pop culture?

There are two ways to approach this, and I will do both:

  1. The average consumer's perspective
  2. A music composition/theory perspective

Let's begin:

For many people within my age group (Millennial/Gen-Z), hip-hop is the most popular genre on the charts for us. And many of these instrumentals we find on these playlists provide us with that rhythmic style that is so prominent in our music consumption, as well as providing us with a subtle sound that makes perfect background noise. I know personally, I used to just have reruns of The Office playing in the background when I needed to study. But when I stumbled upon these playlists, I found myself putting on my headphones for when I had to be up until 1 AM doing classwork. And if I’m being completely honest, this isn’t a bad genre to lay back in your bed and smoke a bowl to. What can I say, that pulsing bass drum sits well with indica.

But what is great about the genre is that you don’t need to have your full attention to enjoy it. The subtle sounds that provide the foundation of the genre gives the perfect blend of ambience and presence, you know the music is there and you can easily enjoy it without the sound being distracting from whatever assignment you may be working on. It almost seems to be our generation’s answer to ambient techno music that was pioneered in the 1980s by musicians like Brian Eno (who composed his albums with the intention of the being played as background noise in airports).

Now from a music theory perspective, there are some interesting things happening. Often times, lo-fi beats are written in major keys, leading to a more bright sound. But, those are somewhat counter-acted by the use of maj7 and dom7 chords. For those who may not be too familiar with music mumbo-jumbo, those are chords that are often used in blues and jazz, and it's what gives those genres their distinct sounds. There's a dissonance within the chord progressions, but not too much to where they don't run together like the basic "I–V–vi–IV" formula found in most pop music. That mixture helps keep everything close, without it seeming crowded. The open sound of the chords allows for that ambience to become the focus of the rhythm.

Some great examples of more standard lo-fi include Idealism and Flitz & Suppe. But there are also some more experimental and avant-garde artists such as raspy sage and howiewonder. There are thousands of others, and I highly recommend checking out some playlists and supporting these artists.

The style takes on a plethora of different sounds and influences and its popularity is definitely warranted. I have to attest to that if it was able to get me to look away from the antics of Michael and Dwight.


About the Creator

J. P. Frattini

Culture, music, politics, art. It's all fair game to me

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