Playlists Helped People Express Emotions During Lockdown

A study from the University of York of playlists compiled throughout the pandemic has shown that listeners have a largely upbeat mindset as many have turned to music to beat the lockdown blues.


A press release from the university says that the researchers, from the University’s Digital Creativity Labs and the Department of Music, analysed over 25,000 Spotify playlists to get a better look at the world’s listening habits during the pandemic, with the most frequently included tracks being The Weeknd’s Blinding Lights and Dababy’s ROCKSTAR.


Analysis of the data revealed divides between socially-minded or optimistic playlists created for personal or collective benefit and rather negative and pessimistic descriptions of plague and global disaster.


Listening to music has always been a form of entertainment, and there is research that suggests it might even make you healthier. It can be a source of pleasure and contentment, but there are psychological benefits too. Music can help the mind gather relax, energise the body, and can even help people manage pain.


It won’t be much of a surprise to learn that music can even influence your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, as anyone who’s felt pumped up while listening to their favourite rock album, or been moved to tears by an emotionally heightened live performance can testify. It can be easy to see how music has the power to affect moods and inspire action.


The research was led by Liam Maloney from the University of York’s Department of Music and worked closely with John Gray from Digital Creativity Labs and Katherine O’Neill, PhD Researcher with the York Music Psychology Group.


The team used Spotify’s API (Application Programming Interface), which allowed them to gain access to anonymous user-created playlists, with a total of 2.7 million tracks.


They then examined the structures of the playlists and the audio features of each track selected by users to build the ‘average’ playlist for the pandemic. All playlists included terms relating to the pandemic including coronavirus, lockdown and social distancing.


Liam Maloney explained: “For many listeners, interest in the charts continued uninterrupted whilst others preferred to delve into dark humour and COVID-related jokes.


“Despite the contrasts, the study indicates that listeners were largely attempting to engage with the world in a positive manner through their play-listing behaviours.”


The study also showed that although some users did display discontent, many users voiced defiant or helpful sentiments, using Spotify and playlists to reach out to support others.


Many others used playlists to create a soothing influence to help with mental health issues and frequently shared these playlists with others when needed.


Katherine O’Neill added: “Throughout history, music has been used to improve individual wellbeing during periods of uncertainty and discomfort. With the shadow of COVID-19 causing isolation and disruption, it is possible that music has once again become an important tool to support mental health during difficult times.”


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