For those not up to speed, this is synthwave:
This is lofi:
As you can see, there are similarities.
Both are ambient, suitable as background music to aid focus.
Both are highly derivative. Synthwave tries so hard to be 80s that the clips imitate VHS, while lofi largely consists of remixed old jazz.
Both are low on emotion and meaning. For example, synthwave often samples the riff from Bette Davis Eyes. That’s a compelling song with an interesting narrative but synthwave strips it down to nothing.
Don’t get me wrong. I listen to both styles myself. The problem is not the music itself but what it represents.
This is lockdown music. It was so even before lockdowns began.
In an age when few pay for music, instead playing a mix in the background on YouTube or Spotify, there’s no livelihood to be found in writing new songs or pioneering new styles. Instead, it makes commercial sense to cheaply repackage existing sounds for maximum views and listens via online platforms.
In addition, there is no longer demand for songs like Bette Davis Eyes. For various reasons.
First, the theme of femme fatales is no longer relevant because we don’t interact with strangers in public anymore, especially not attractive and mesmerizing ladies.
Second, meaningful or attention-grabbing songs distract us from our work. We’re always at home bashing away on our computers and we really need to give our full attention to our task for optimal efficiency. The sooner we finish that bullshit task for work, the sooner we can get back to streaming a Marvel movie.
Third, we don’t want any emotion in our music because our lives are awful and our future seems grim. We want music that softens the boredom and loneliness of being trapped in our four corners all day and all night. It is escapist, bland soma.
Old music makes me sad now. The better it is, the greater the reminder of our decline. I can’t focus on anything while I can hear a classic song.
When we’ve got work to do, synthwave and lofi are fine. Great, in fact. I recommend them.
However, don’t forget about real music. Put aside time to remove all distractions, close your eyes and listen to proper music, just as we should take time to read the classics. Focus on the music. Enjoy it. Let your mind wander and allow the Muses to inspire you if they wish.
There’s a time for focus and there’s a time for dreaming. Don’t neglect the latter. Perhaps while listening to Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto or the Stone Temple Pilots you’ll have a brilliant idea that will help us get out of this mess.
What we need right now is not hard, focused work. What we need are fresh ideas.