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Nostalgia…and why we love lo-fi music

Updated: Feb 14, 2023

by Ian Sturak

Nostalgia, a mellow and melancholy harkening to a time that’s now passed by, is one of the strongest emotions felt by humans. Its ability to leave one sorrowful, contemplative, and lost in events once thought to be resolved is uniquely powerful; even for the happiest of memories, it can cause blurred and messy emotions to come pouring out. It truly stands as a strange and rather abstract facet of the human experience - that recollection, whether of the very worst or best of times, can cause one to become lost in a tumultuous sea of overwhelming feeling.

Lofi music, a genre of recordings altered to have notes slightly off, tones slightly imperfect, and static scratches placed back into them, perfectly captures the influence of nostalgia on the human psyche. We now live in a world where human recording can be immaculate, notes perfectly captured and then digitally altered to fall exactly where they should be, background noise completely removed. Tracks are made to be, for all intents and purposes, without fault. Even live concerts can be altered as the words leave the mouth of the performer, before they reach the ears of all those in the audience; for a textbook’s definition of imperfection, flaw itself has been eradicated from the face of the music industry. However, for all of this “perfection,” a genre that defines itself as specifically making noise, making disruptions, making slight failures, has done radically well.

Part of this is the memory of older music, certainly. By making contemporary sound feel as if it’s being translated off of the rough vinyl of an old record, one can enjoy both the new music they like listening to while also experiencing the pleasant recollections of past experiences. As our current times treks further and further into the past, more and more do its rough facets smooth over, weathered by the years. The humanizing imperfections of the past erase what we would rather not remember. Lofi music plays into all of this. It creates a feeling of “analog warmth.” It’s difference between the world we see today with all its imperfections, exposed as clearly as a doctor’s office beneath sterile lights, and the warm world we see in the past, lit by a crackling gasoline lamp which throws its comforting hues all around. However, whether this selective remembrance can be called nostalgia is more suspect. Nostalgia is uniquely bittersweet, happiness and sadness, all rolled together into one confusing ball. Analog warmth isn’t like that. It doesn’t bring about thought or complexity, it just evokes the feeling of being immersed in it; it’s happiness without having to actually address the hard parts of the past. In fact, lofi music is most popular with younger generations who don’t even have those memories that they’re recalling, who weren’t alive for the times that the music emulates.

This isn’t to say, however, that lofi operates off of some false nostalgia. Rather, it’s indicative that the feeling evoked by the music is reminiscent of not just a musical past, but individual pasts as well. Listening to modern music is reflective of modern culture - everything that one hears is reflective of an idea of “perfection.” In the same way, listening to factory-perfect music helps to keep that impossible standard permeating the world. Lofi music, however, works in exactly the opposite direction. It’s comforting because of its imperfections. Lofi music is famously popular among students while studying, and its association with those up at 2 A.M., desperately trying to finish some project or another, is no coincidence. It’s attractive to those at their very worst state because it’s uniquely human music - flawed, and accepting that it is that way. It’s a rejection of the standards of the modern world, and because of that it feels like home. It feels like acceptance where everything else has shut one out.

People often define lofi music as popular to listen to merely because its sound is nostalgic for decades gone by. However, to say so is a misinterpretation of why it’s so evocative to listen to. In harkening back to different times, it rejects that need for perfection created by modern norms, and transforms music into a reflection off the human experience - broken, off, and yet beautiful nonetheless.


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