Musical Escapism for the Modern-Day Castaway
Originally published June 1, 2020
On with the Show!
COVID-19 has altered every aspect of our existence; whether it is learning new personal and professional skills, or simply trying to grasp the inner workings of self-isolation. Undoubtedly, anxiety and depression are two emotionally induced mental health disorders that are constantly knocking on the doors of our minds. Over such a long period of time, the struggles of staying separated from friends and family makes us the modern-day castaways stranded within the confinements of our homes. How can we diminish such desolation? How do we keep in touch with our sanity? How can we feel inspired during such trying times? As many of us turn to our electronic devices, music becomes another entertainment platform where we can alleviate stress. Like other businesses, the music industry has been hit hard with uncertainty surrounding album releases and the launch of new content. However, music itself is pregnant with an imaginative spirit where we can, for a split second, forget the hardships that countless people around the world are facing. This pandemic is a moment in history where musicians feel even more compelled to connect with their fans from all over. Through social media and online streaming services, music lovers are able to connect with their favorite artists up close and personal from the comforts of their own homes.
The onslaught of the pandemic caused the cancellation of countless world tours, but now artists have discovered that their homes are the ideal venues for live performances. Social media has become that bridge to livestream virtual concerts. A-list musicians including Pink, Chris Martin, John Legend, Elton John, Lady Gaga, Billie Eilish, Keith Urban, Taylor Swift, and many more have hosted virtual concerts from their living rooms while also practicing social distancing. John Legend told the Associated Press how the pandemic has created a new avenue of allowing musicians to connect with their fans while staying safe. Legend said, “I mean, we don’t normally do concerts live from our house in a robe. This is a cool way to connect with people and make them feel some kind of love and intimacy and connection, even though they have to be stuck at home (The Associated Press, p.3).” Legend further describes how numerous people are dealing with immense stress, trauma, and anxiety, and therefore, “a lot of musicians and artists and entertainers are unable to go out and do the thing that we do best, which is perform live at venues with lots of people. So, we’re trying to find ways to stay in touch with people and give them some love (Ibid).” John Legend streamed his almost hour-long concert via Instagram Live. Major publications and companies within the music industry, like Rolling Stone Magazine, are also offering free entertainment that is live streamed via various social media platforms. Rolling Stone launched their new Instagram Live performance series “In My Room” where various musicians and bands will perform their classic hits. New episodes air every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on their IGTV channel (The Associated Press, p.4).
According to Kevin O’ Donnell (Twitter’s head of music partnerships), creativity during the pandemic is going to flourish. O’Donnell mentioned, “We’ve never been in this type of space before, and it’s really incredible to see artists coming together to figure out ways that they can bring joy and comfort and happiness to their fans given this crazy time that we’re living in at the moment (The Associated Press, p.5).” Live streaming and uploading virtual concerts on platforms, like YouTube, have become the new trend to perform. Musicians whose acts have been cancelled, including album releases and launch parties, are now freely broadcasting their music via streaming services. “Latin superstars Juanes and Alejandro Sanz, whose concerts were postponed because of the virus, joined forces for a special streaming jam session in Miami…while Broadway stars are putting on twice-a-day concerts called ‘Stars in the House (The Associated Press p.5-6).’” The diversity amongst various musical genres and aesthetics still resonates during this pandemic. As musicians like John Legend have been working on new music and are set to release their albums in the upcoming months, the pandemic itself has become a moment to creatively express positivity. Music is a creative outlet that cannot be constrained or delimited; and this factor resonates through the mass decision artists have taken towards performing in free virtual concerts. John Legend further mentioned to The Associated Press, “We have to decide as a music community if we’re going to let the fact that we can’t go out and physically promote it stop us from putting it out. And I tend to think we should put stuff out (The Associated Press, p.10) .”
To Jam or Not to Jam…
In the tracking week of March 13-19, Variety reported the 7.6% drop in plays (in the United States) on music streaming services including Spotify (Mayfield, 2). The reason for this supposed incongruity is because people are choosing to tune in to viewing services, including watching the daily news, to keep track of COVID-19 updates. Geoff Mayfield from Variety further reports that, “Reality shows have also drawn more eyeballs in recent weeks, as have streaming services like Disney+, Apple TV, Hulu and the omnipresent Netflix, while video streams on YouTube and other outlets rose by 7% (Mayfield, 2).” In connection to this factor, many A-list musicians like Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys, Sam Smith, and Haim have delayed their album releases (Leight, 1-2). With fears of music streaming going down and the inability to promote albums, many artists have delayed releasing new content. Elias Leight from Rolling Stone Magazine mentions the business aspect of this dilemma: “Tens of thousands of new tracks appear on streaming services daily. To rise above the deluge, videos need to be shot months in advance, TV appearances need to be wrangled, streaming service curators courted, press opportunities locked down, tour dates and radio station visits and record store appearances lined up. Without these components, artists risk releasing music to an uninterested, unaware, or simply overwhelmed public. And right now, almost all these profile-raising options are out of reach (Leight, 3).” Furthermore, legacy artists like Alicia Keys are reliant on traditional promotional tactics. Kayode Badmus Wellington (artist manager who previously worked at Epic Records and Pulse Music Group) proclaims, “They depend on an older fanbase that will typically connect with the music through TV, magazines, radio, live concerts–things you have to be present for (Leight, 7).” The definitive emotional burden of launching new music during COVID-19 is the fear of being insensitive while countless people are struggling to survive the pandemic’s devastating effects.
Virtual philanthropic concerts have become the perfect solution to all these proposed quandaries. The “One World: Together at Home Concert” organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) and curated by Lady Gaga, combined visual and sonic creativity as it also raised money for the WHO’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund and other global and local responders (Sullivan p.2). The eight-hour-long virtual concert featured international musicians, artists, and actors; and most importantly, it raised $127 million (Ryan, 7). In between the numerous musical performances, the concert itself raised awareness regarding various socio-economic issues (including the refugee crisis) by inserting news clippings and having short interviews from doctors and healthcare workers. Despite its lengthy timeframe and at times serious discussions about the pandemic’s global impact, the concert removed insecurities surrounding insensitivity. The concert safely brought artists closer to their fans, promoted creativity and philanthropy, and most importantly brought the entire world together to salute all those battling at the frontlines.
Don’t Stop Dancing
The Weeknd and Dua Lipa are two musicians that made the decision of releasing their feature-length albums during COVID-19. With the Weeknd’s enigmatic After Hours slated to release on March 20, top executives at Republic Records were considering delaying the album launch. The Weeknd’s response to this proposed act: “I cut that discussion off right away… Fans had been waiting for the album, and I felt like I had to deliver it. The commercial success is a blessing, especially because the odds were against me: (Music) streaming is down 10%, stores are closed, people can’t go to concerts, but I didn’t care. I knew how important it was to my fans (Aswad, 3).” After the leak of her second feature album Future Nostalgia, Dua Lipa diverted from hesitation and decided to release her album one week early from the original April 3 launch. Like After Hours, Future Nostalgia is the perfect escapist reality the world needs right now. Lipa stated, “I made this album to get away from any pressures and anxieties and opinions from the outside world. Yes, it was made to be listened out in the clubs and at festivals – but at the same time, I wanted to give people some happiness during this time, where they don’t have to think about what’s going on and just shut off and dance (Savage, 2).” After Hours and Future Nostalgia are now subject to immense success and have been listened to on streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, inestimable times. Both artists have actively promoted their music personally in their own ways. Whether it is through virtual Zoom launch parties, Instagram Live chats, posting eerie After Hours promotional photos on Instagram, or even performing “Break my Heart” (from Future Nostalgia) virtually from Lipa’s home studio (in the UK) for “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.” The Weeknd and Dua Lipa have ushered in a tribute where music will be remembered for its escapism, liberation, and togetherness during one of the darkest moments in history.
COVID-19 may have separated us from our loved ones and have challenged us in unimaginable ways, but the pandemic itself has created expressions of global closeness despite the self-isolation that has made us modern - day castaways. Music has proven to be that platform that continuously entertains us even when our eyes are not glued to a screen. The craft itself has moved artists from all over to innovatively perform and intimately connect with fans on a mass scale that was never achieved before. As we listen and witness to inspiring musical content through virtual concerts, Instagram Live shows, and other livestream platforms, we are reminded to be resilient and hopeful that we will survive and live in a better tomorrow. Thus, whether you are a music lover or not, no misfortune can ever stop you from dancing to the beat of your own rhythm.
Ahlgrim, Callie. April 2020. “Artists are Playing Live Concerts From Their Homes Amid the Coronavirus Outbreak – Here’s How to Watch the Best Ones” in Insider, Insider, New York. Accessed on May 3, 2020. <https://www.insider.com/live-private-concerts-coronavirus-watch-online-music-streaming-2020-3#the-black-pumas-will-perform-a-live-studio-session-on-thursday-2 >
Aswad, Jem. April 2020. “The Weeknd Open Up About His Past, Turning 30 and Getting Vulnerable on ‘After Hours’” in Variety, Variety Media, Los Angeles. Accessed on May 3, 2020. < https://variety.com/2020/music/news/the-weeknd-exclusive-interview-after-hours-1234573754/>
Leight, Elias. March 2020. “They Were Going to be Spring’s Biggest Albums – Until COVID-19 Hit” in Rolling Stone Magazine, Rolling Stone, LLC, New York City. Accessed on May 3, 2020. < https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/album-delays-caused-by-covid-19-973870/>
Mayfield, Geoff. March 2020. “Why Are Music Streams Down if Everyone’s Stuck at Home? Experts Weigh In” in Variety, Variety Media, Los Angeles. Accessed on May 3, 2020.
Ryan, Gary. April 2020. “I Endured Eight Gruelling Hours of Lady Gaga’s ‘One World: Together at Home’ Concert So You Didnd’t Have To” in NME, NME, Southwark. Accessed on April 29, 2020. < https://www.nme.com/reviews/live/lady-gaga-one-world-together-at-home-concert-review-taylor-swift-billie-eilish-2649604>
Savage, Mark. April 2020. “Dua Lipa Interview: How I Released an Album from Lockdown” in BBC News: Entertainment & Arts, BBC, London. Accessed on April 29, 2020.
Sullivan, Rory. April 2020. “Global COoncert Raises More Than $127M For Coronavirus Response Efforts” in CNN Entertainment, CNN, Atlanta. Accessed on April 30, 2020. < https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/19/entertainment/one-world-concert-who-global-citizen-scli-intl/index.html>
The Associated Press. March 2020. “The Show Must Go On: Celebs Perform From Home in Midst of Coronavirus” in NBC Entertainment, NBC, New York. Accessed on May 3, 2020. <https://www.nbcnewyork.com/entertainment/entertainment-news/celebs-perform-from-home-in-midst-of-coronavirus/2332897/ >
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Aanchal Bhattacharya has always been a storyteller her whole life. From indulging in creative writing, to directing short films and fashioning innovative projects, her passion has always driven her to artistically express herself in this ever-changing world. As a third culture kid and an extrovert, Aanchal considers herself a global citizen who loves to interact with people coming from all over. She has a First-Class Joint Honors Degree in History and Religious Studies from McGill University. Aanchal is also a Wasserman Scholar and has a Master’s Degree in Cinema Studies from Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. A great deal of her academic work consists of articulating people of color experiences and the concept of “Otherness” in cinema, television, and public media. She also cares deeply for the environment and animal rights. When she’s not too busy creating or writing, Aanchal loves to kick back with a good novel, listen to some awesome music, and/or watch hours of television shows and movies that spark her intellect. Whether it’s her personal or professional life, inspiration continuously flows through her veins.