If you’ve spent any time on YouTube at all, chances are you’re familiar with the musical phenomenon that is lo-fi hip hop. It’s hard to just shrug it off as a fad when millions of people are listening to playlists curated by Lofi Girl and Bootleg Boy, amongst many others, daily. But what drives this fascination to put on a pair of earphones to listen to grainy, instrumental beats?
We spoke with a few Singaporeans who love chilling to the comforting sounds of lo-fi hip hop to find out why go lo-fi, and why this genre of music is always brought up in conversations about productivity and studying.
The Singapore version of the Lo-fi Girl on the left, TSL’s very own Lo-fi girl on the right
Image credit (left): Lester6793
Lo-fi, or low-fidelity, is the opposite of high-fidelity recordings you’re used to hearing from record labels. Audio glitches like static and the pitter-patter of raindrops are intentional imperfections that give these tunes a more authentic vibe, as though you’re listening to music coming from beyond your walls.
And while you might have only heard of lo-fi music in the past decade or so, it was already being produced back in the 80s. But unlike other rock anthems of that era – think Don’t Stop Believin’ and Beat It – the timelessness of lo-fi music with its soothing qualities can be transplanted into any year and it’ll still sound contemporary.
There’s no saying exactly how lo-fi hip hop beats exploded to become one of the most popular genres of music across millennials and zoomers, but I’d like to think that the accessibility of YouTube music playlists and the increasing amount of time we’re spending at home – no thanks to you, Covid-19 – played a huge part in this aural revolution.
The Singaporeans we spoke to all echoed similar sentiments on why they choose to listen to lo-fi hip hop over mainstream hits:
Fun fact: I wrote this article while listening to this mix from Bootleg Boy on repeat.
You might think hip hop with its high-tempo characteristics is anything but calm and soothing, but lo-fi hip hop slows it down with instrumental tracks for a relaxing soundscape. That’s exactly why people like video producer Dominic Shimizu love the genre.
“It keeps me calm and gets me in the zone of whatever I’m doing, whether it’s cooking, doing chores, or just chilling with a drink in my hand,” Dominic explained. “It’s the kind of music you play in the background when you’re with friends without being distracted.”
You can’t just strip away all the hip-hop though. Too slow and you’d probably start closing your eyes after a food coma; too fast and you’ll be busy tapping your feet to the beat.
We won’t get too much into the science of what makes lo-fi music good for focus, but essentially you want tunes with a steady beat to give your brain just enough simulation. Just stay away from any strong melodies and vocals or lyrics, which brings us to our next point.
There have been one too many occasions where I found myself jamming out and singing along to The Weeknd and Ariana Grande instead of refining an upcoming pitch. That wouldn’t have been a problem if I had just booted up a playlist from Chillhop Music that has no distracting lyrics.
I’m not the only one that feels this way though. TSL’s Group Content Strategist Jessica Lai often has a lo-fi playlist by her side whenever she needs to get in the zone. “Lo-fi beats are upbeat enough to make me not want to snooze like piano instrumentals, yet there are no lyrics that could potentially distract me when I’m WFH and need 1000% concentration,” Jessica said.
Jessica swears by this mix that even has a built-in pomodoro counter for more productive workdays
Another colleague of mine, Ian Ling, also thinks that lo-fi editions of popular tracks like this mix of the most memorable NDP songs did the right thing by doing away with the lyrics and remixing it to sound same-same-but-different to the original versions.
“The newer songs made for really easy listening and great background music since my mind wasn’t raring to sing along to them,” Ian said.
Image credit: Kezia Tan
On a more serious note, there’s no denying that mental health is something that many Singaporeans have been struggling with, even more so ever since the pandemic started and everyone grew more isolated. Some have turned to the mellow melodies of lo-fi to help.
“I like lo-fi because it evokes feelings of nostalgia and melancholy, and as a depressive, I thrive on those emotions,” explained art director Fabian Ong. He’s not wrong: most lo-fi hip hop playlists I’ve listened to have elements of nostalgia like vinyl scratches and muffled voicemail messages layered on top of a Studio Ghibli-esque anime visual.
Fabian’s go-to playlist is this radio from Chillhop Music that plays jazzy lo-fi beats
All these elements when combined together create an aural cocoon that makes you feel cosy and comfy yet bittersweet and pensive. It’s as though you can lean back on your chair and daydream for hours on end.
While lo-fi hip hop isn’t a means to an end when it comes to solving mental health issues, it’s certainly an avenue for those feeling anxious or stressed to seek out some relaxation.
Whether lo-fi hip hop beats is what gets you through a working day, or it’s a medium for you to relieve all that stress that’s been building up, rest assured that you’re not alone. Millions of people are in the same boat, slowly vibing along to the warm, fuzzy tunes that people will remember as the soundtrack of this generation.
But rather than blast your usual playlist from your speakers, we suggest listening to lo-fi hip hop beats with a pair of snug earbuds like the Huawei FreeBuds 4 instead to keep things more personal. Plus, you’ll be able to hear all the perfect imperfections that your laptop speakers might not be able to play.
Those who’re worried about having to fit something inside their ears fret not: the open-fit design of the FreeBuds 4 means that it will sit comfortably and snug outside your ear canal while still providing active noise cancellation, so you can really focus on the music and not the chirping birds that are always outside your window.
BTW: The FreeBuds 4 are the first pair of earbuds designed and equipped with adaptive ear matching technology. This new tech detects your in-ear shape to determine which noise cancellation mode to use so you get the most oomph from the bass.
You can also rest assured that the circular case will be able to fit perfectly in your pockets and bags without creating an unsightly and uncomfortably bulge, unlike other odd-shaped earphone cases we’ve tried in the past. Remember to take it out of your jeans before giving it a wash tough – the earbuds are rated IPX4 which makes them resistant to water splashes, not a tumble in your washing machine.
You can control your music and pick up calls by swiping or tapping on the stem of the FreeBuds 4
If you were ever thinking about bringing them to the library for a good study session once restrictions have lifted, you also won’t have to worry about the battery life. The FreeBuds 4 can play music for up to four hours on a single charge (without noise cancellation), and you only need to charge them in the case for 15 minutes to give it enough juice to go another 2.5 hours.
At just $198 per pair, you won’t have to fork out an arm and a leg just to enjoy some chill music on the FreeBuds 4. And aside from the typical Ceramic White colourway, it also comes in a Silver Frost edition for those who want to stand out from the crowd. But chances are if you’re obsessed with lo-fi hip hop beats like many others, there’s nothing more satisfactory than staring up at the stars by yourself.
You can get the Huawei FreeBuds 4 now at all Huawei Experience Stores, select consumer electronic stores including Best Denki, Challenger, Hachi.tech, Courts, Gain City, Harvey Norman, Sprint-Cass Online and the official Huawei stores on Lazada and Shopee.
This post was brought to you by Huawei.
Photography by Pepita Wauran.
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