TIME AFTER TIME

Spotify Listeners Are Getting Nostalgic: Behavioral Science Writer David DiSalvo and Cyndi Lauper Share Why

April 14, 2020

Photo credit: Helen Maybanks

With all the uncertainties of our current climate, music from decades past is striking a particularly strong chord. From April 1–7, we saw a 54% increase in listeners making nostalgic-themed playlists, as well as an uptick in the share of listening to music from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s (with ’50s music listening increasing the most). But what exactly is driving this interest?

For the Record spoke with David DiSalvo, a behavioral science writer and author of What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite, to get his take. “Nostalgia is an extremely powerful force linked to memory,” he noted. “But it has a way of putting a rosier view on our memory. When we smell those chocolate chip cookies, it’s a link to memory that brings us back to a more stable, comfortable place in our lives. We can inhabit it in our minds and feel a level of support that most of us aren’t feeling right now because there is so much instability.”

DiSalvo also explained the powerful role music specifically plays. “Music, like smell, is one of those things with immediate access to that direct, nostalgic memory. It takes you back to that place. For example, everyone can remember the specific song they were listening to during their first kiss.”

Perhaps Spotify listeners are trying to recreate moments from their past to find comfort, calm, and a break from the day-to-day. When making or updating playlists, listeners have been adding plenty of throwbacks—just take a look at the most-added tracks to playlists from each decade:

And they aren’t the only ones feeling the nostalgic vibes. Artists, too, are thinking of days long gone.

We asked Cyndi Lauper, whose upbeat hit Girls Just Want to Have Fun” is one of the most-streamed songs from the ’80s in the past week, for her thoughts on what’s driving folks down memory lane. “Music marks time for me. So when I hear a song, it brings me back to that exact moment in time. It also helps that I have a really good memory, but music has always been such an important part of my life. Like most, I have a soundtrack. Broadway cast recordings of The King & I and Funny Girl bring me back to when I was 5 and just discovering my voice and love for music.”

Cyndi is also featured prominently on All Out 80s, Spotify’s popular throwback playlist with over 7.1 million followers. She thinks there’s a good reason why the playlist is so popular.

“The music of the ’80s was melodic. That was the common thread and why music from the ’80s is so good. I know for me, my intention was to make music that people would want to listen to for years and years, for decades and decades, long after I was gone.” 

Though many listeners have taken to more “chill” music in the past few weeks, there is also something to be said for pausing on the present and getting down with your favorite oldies. According to DiSalvo, “There is a good part of ‘distraction.’ It plays a healthy role in giving us a break, a reset point when we are in deep anxiety and stress.”

Also looking for a break from the moment? Take a listen to some of the most popular tracks streamed by decade April 1–7:

’50s:

“Put Your Head on My Shoulder” – Paul Anka

“Johnny B. Goode” – Chuck Berry

“I Walk the Line” – Johnny Cash

“Dream A Little Dream Of Me” – Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong

’60s:

“Here Comes the Sun” – The Beatles

“Feeling Good” – Nina Simone

(What A) Wonderful World” – Sam Cooke

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell

“Fortunate Son” – Creedence Clearwater Revival

“Brown Eyed Girl” – Van Morrison

“Son Of A Preacher Man” – Dusty Springfield

’70s:

“Don’t Stop Me Now” – Queen

“Hotel California – 2013 Remaster” – Eagles

 “Sweet Home Alabama” – Lynyrd Skynyrd

“Dreams – 2004 Remaster” – Fleetwood Mac

’80s:

“Back in Black” – AC/DC

“Under Pressure – Remastered” – David Bowie, Queen

“Livin’ On A Prayer” – Bon Jovi

“Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) – Remastered” – Eurythmics

“I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me) – Whitney Houston

“Girls Just Want to Have Fun” – Cyndi Lauper

’90s:

“Wonderwall – Remastered” – Oasis

“I Want It That Way” – Backstreet Boys

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” – Nirvana

“Wannabe” – Spice Girls

“…Baby One More Time” – Britney Spears

“No Scrubs” – TLC

 2000s:

“Lose Yourself” – Eminem

“Hey, Soul Sister” – Train

“Mr. Brightside” – The Killers

“Hips Don’t Lie (feat. Wyclef Jean)” – Shakira, Wyclef Jean

“Halo” – Beyoncé 

Podcasts more your thing? Get hooked on a ’90s earworm in the popular Reply All episode “The Case of the Missing Hit.”