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When that chaotic band of protesters, stirrers and self-promoters hit the top of the West Gate Bridge last month, they burst spontaneously, hilariously, into song: Daryl Braithwaite’s super-earnest, very-1990 cover of pop anthem Horses.
Huh? Why this ode to the songwriter’s daughter, whose lyrics reassure her “And if the situation should keep us separated / You know the world won’t fall apart”?
Songs by Powderfinger, Lizzo, Five, Shaggy, Dua Lipa, George Michael and No Doubt were among the final reader-selected playlist. Credit:Publicity; AP; Getty; Fairfax Photographic
But in between guffaws and ivermectin gags, we got it. We’ve been locked down for so long, more days than any other city in the world, depending on how you slice it. And that’s the way it’s gonna be little darlin, for a while yet. We have fallen. Oh Daryl, won’t you pick us up? Pick us up?
This is science. When we find ourselves in times of trouble, ahem, music speaks to us. We’ve seen music used in protest through history, says music psychologist Dr Amanda Krause, from James Cook University.
“I think [the Horses moment] is something about that,” she says. “There is a social, communal element music can get, so it can bring people together… you can create a community.”
Which might explain the flood of passionate responses from The Age and Sydney Morning Herald readers when we asked for a lockdown playlist to get us through these last exasperating weeks to freedom. And here it is, a curated selection of the hundreds of suggestions from more than 200 readers.
And let’s applaud the humour, effort and thought on display. The wisdom and lunacy of crowds.
A playlist that skips from Dua Lipa to Queen, that has us Walking on a Dream and Jumpin, Jumpin on Holiday at the End of the World as We Know It, while admitting that The Nips Are Getting Bigger, is on to something.
We asked for the songs you’ve been listening to on repeat or that you play when you need a lift, but many wanted to send a message, too (though nobody suggested Horses).
These Days turned out nothing like we have planned, as we’re Stuck in the Middle With You, but The Only Way Is Up and I Will Survive. We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place so Let’s Work Together for Freedom.
Via Amyl and the Sniffers, you told us, “Energy, good energy and bad energy / I’ve got plenty of energy”. And via Bad Lip Reading’s Yoda, you complained that, “While you’re lyin’ there screamin’ ‘Come help me please’ / The seagulls, hmm, poke your knees”. Is Premier Daniel Andrews the seagull, or is he Yoda? Something for us all to ponder.
And you don’t have to be on the West Gate to benefit from a lockdown singalong (as James Brown might put it, you can stay on the scene rather than take it to the bridge).
Research has linked music to more than 500 wellbeing benefits. Dr Krause and colleagues found that music listening in lockdown last year was a good predictor for improved life satisfaction (in contrast to watching more TV or movies, associated with lower life satisfaction).
People often interact with media as a coping strategy, the researchers said, and this is especially important during the social isolation and loneliness of lockdown.
“Music functions as a social surrogate,” says Dr Krause. “Even if you’re listening by yourself, the act of music listening can create empathy, can create the idea of you being connected to other people.”
Music lights up the neural pathways that lockdowns left gathering dust, goes the theory. We don’t exactly know why, but the boffins are working on it.
Some readers wanted tracks to “remind me of road trips on a hot day with the music blaring in the car”. So Lonely by The Police, for another reader, “resonates but is also upbeat and fun”.
Some wanted music to help them “drift off and leave my worries” (Kelly Lee Owens’ Inner Song), to “transport me from the stress and the grind of everyday living in lockdown” (One Chance by Kimura Takuya). Others wanted to “dance the lockdown afternoons away” (Love Is All I Got by Feed Me and Crystal Fighters).
Dr Krause has also researched pandemic pop charts. Some previous studies linked deteriorating socio-economic conditions with greater popularity of music lyrics with negative emotional content.
She parsed the lyrics of top-5 charting songs in the UK and US and found “lower satisfaction” compared to the year before. “There was a positive association between economic misery and the number of negatively valenced words” in the lyrics we were playing.
“A lot of people go, ‘OK, I feel sad, I need to listen to happiness’,” Dr Krause says. “It works for some people… but you can also go, ‘I feel really sad or really angry, frustrated’, and I’m going to listen to that angry, frustrated song to vent that emotion, to work through that, in that [musical] space.”
It depends on your personal quirks and circumstances.
”There’s research that shows people who have a ‘ruminative’ personality trait, who keep thinking through things, if they’re in a depressive state and listening to depressive music that might be an unhealthy choice, because you might just get dragged into it further. But for other people it can be a healthy choice because you go OK, I’m going to have that catharsis, vent that frustration and it will make me feel better.
“There’s no perfect song…. But we can manage our emotions through music.”
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