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A brief history of LoFi beats to study and relax with

A flickering image of Lisa Simpson riding her bike with a grainy filter, imitating a damaged VHS home video. An anime girl in headphones, writing in a notebook in a cozy room accompanied by a cat snoozing in the window. Such is the tranquil aesthetic of the world of LoFi Hip Hop, a unique genre of electronic music with acoustic elements and a warm, evocative mood inherent to its sound.

A source of calm soundscapes, LoFi has been described as everything from “A very particular, very millennial breed of simmering downtempo” by Vice’s Luke Winkie to “a creative feat of the Internet age, a punchline, or a meaningless label tacked on to souped-up elevator music” by the Washington Post’s Steven Johnson.

There are even playlists specifically tailored to sitting out quarantine– aptly, “Lofi Beats To Quarantine and Stay Indoors To.” However, one ponders where this uniquely 2010s (and early 2020s) genre originated and has soaked into our daily listening habits.

First, let us consider the composition of the typical lo-fi track. According to Prime Loops, “[LoFi] relies heavily on a simplistic approach, most tracks only feature around four or five instruments or music samples, along with grainy sounds you expect from crackly tape or vinyl records, birdsong and other sound effects.”

There is a substantial connection between Vapourwave and the popularity of LoFi hip-hop; many LoFi  accompanying visuals invoke the same 90’s aesthetics often features in Vapourwave media.

However, Vapourwave usually utilizes harsher, brighter electronic sounds and use specific 80s and 90s aesthetics despite being a genre that was born entirely out of the Internet. Where Vaporwave tends to bring to mind an idealized 80’s depiction of the future, LoFi tends to invoke a cozy, nostalgic mood strictly in the past.

Second, time frame in which the genre became popular (and consequently invoked the ire of its detractors) and the sheer amount of attention and plays came about in the late 2010s. Interestingly, according to The Verge’s Julia Alexander, popular LoFi channel ChilledCow’s “produced one of the longest videos in YouTube history — more than 13,000 hours — and amassed 218 million views in the process” via its famous “Lofi Beats to Study To” (as of February 2020). As Vapourwave was dying down, LoFi sprung up.

Finally, what can we learn from the popularity and progress of such an unassuming branch of the electronic music family tree? For one, that not all success lies in being as flashy and loud as possible; there is a place for the quiet and calming too.  For another, that the experimental can also become wildly popular given the timing and placement–and what else could we call that, but success?

What are your thoughts or criticisms on the rise of LoFi? Let us know in your shares!

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