As far as pop-up music phenomenons go, lo-fi has been one of the most sudden and explosive changes in the music scene in recent memory. Lo-fi beats are relaxed, often monotonous beats that are staggeringly popular on Youtube — in fact, they’ve become a phenomenon. With their ability to lull one into an almost trance-like state, they’re the perfect mixture of nostalgia and comfort — creating background music for an entire generation who didn’t even know we needed it. Often paired with a simple animation or video, lo-fi is known for mashing up music and anime with videos that are perfect to work or study to.
What has made this genre an unexpected breakout success? Some artists attribute its resonance to its ability to evoke a very specific feeling from millennials’ childhoods. “An entire generation of people were influenced by the smooth beats and trippy or relaxing background aesthetic of early 2000’s Adult Swim,” Ryan Celsius, a D.C. based DJ who runs his own suite of lo-fi hip-hop channels, told Vice. “[It] created a cross-section of people that enjoyed both anime and wavy hip-hop beats.” And now, in adulthood, they’re experiencing it again.
And people are responding. One of the most popular videos, called “Lofi hip hop mix – Beats to Relax/Study to”, runs for two full hours — and has nearly 15 million hits on Youtube.
Though the movement has now spread to traditional music sites, it is very much still in its infancy. “Right now I see the lo-fi scene as the wild west in music right now, kind of an anything-goes attitude, my hope is that it will always be like this, but that’s naive to think,” Linathem, a lo-fi artist, explained. “The trend at least for now is soft repetitive music perfect for Youtube streams and Spotify playlist… For me I’ve always had a unique take on lo-fi, I like music that can tell a story without uttering a word. That’s my goal for every beat I release, in addition to collage artwork, I try to deliver an experience with every beat.”
It certainly can tell a story, but no matter how moving it may be, the lyric-less nature makes it the ideal background music — hypnotic, engaging, without ever being overwhelming. The huge response to the calm that it creates speaks to a need that hasn’t been met before. “We didn’t have any other choice really …that’s the thing with D.I.Y,” another lo-fi artist explained. “It’s not a sound you choose because you like it but it’s something that comes out of your soul because it’s the only way you have to do it.” For the people making it and the people listening, it represents not just a want — but a need.
Amidst work and play, side-hustles and stress, souls are crying out for something grounding, soothing, and dependable. Lo-fi is changing the game — and it’s just beginning.