Reading this Article but You’re in a Springtime Meadow
Virtual experiences in a
locked down world
Text Kate Asquith
Imagine it. The sky is blushed pink with a late summer warmth. The forest is calm, and you could rest here forever upon an old soft blanket, at one with the earth. A bouquet of wildflowers – saffron, orchids and helleborines – lies tucked inside the pages of a dog-eared book. Close by, you can hear the soothing song of a perennial stream, and the hopeful calls of a lovestruck wood pigeon.
Now listen closer. From across the meadow, you hear a haunting tune. Floating, ephemeral. It sounds like the music of a mystical dryad, summoned from the depths of the forest for some otherworldly purpose. It sounds a lot like… Hozier.
Hozier, but you’re actually in your box room, surrounded by concrete; you’re stuck inside and with the overwhelming desire to escape these four walls and frolic about in the nearest green space you can find.
For a lot of people in London this year, whether you’re a student or working from home It’s a pretty relatable feeling. So relatable, in fact, that ‘[song of your choice] but you’re [activity of your choice]’ has become an increasingly popular subgenre of YouTube over the past few years. Users upload lo-fi edits of songs with added sound effects or generous reverb, to create the feeling of listening to a song in a different place or a different time. Maybe you’re in a meadow, a church or a rainstorm. Whatever the circumstances, for those three or four minutes, you’re worlds away from your current reality.
The situations range from the outdoors to the inner city. The trend, which began with more tangible scenarios like ‘but you’re in a swimming pool’, ‘but you’re in the bathroom at a party, or ‘but you’re in an empty arena’, seem to have morphed into more abstract concepts.
‘Unchained Melody’ but you’re dancing with your crush in a dream. ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ but you’re coming back from a funeral. ‘Listen Before I Go’ but you’re on a rooftop taking your final breaths. The edits keep getting more and more existential. ‘Ribs’ by Lorde except you don’t want to grow up. ‘Fine Line’ by Harry Styles but you don’t want to say goodbye. Hozier’s ‘In a Week’ but you're rotting in a field. The scenarios hit hard. After all, who hasn’t felt like rotting in a field before?
One thing they all have in common is the desire for escapism, of feeling one step closer to living within a movie soundtrack. For a society who already spend most of their waking time online, for better or worse, virtual experiences seem like a natural surrogate for real life.
Many economists and psychologists have noted that Millennials and younger consumers prefer to spend their money on experiences rather than things. Generation Z in particular have been dubbed “collectors of experiences” by Joe Cox, engagement director at Barkley. They’re not alone, 76% of us desire experiences over material possessions, according to research conducted by the advertising agency Momentum Worldwide. CEO, Chris Weil, explained that “consumer expectations are transforming experiences into remedies for the challenges we face as a society”.
Right now, those challenges are heaping up faster than ever. A global pandemic, the fight for Black lives and the impending financial crash are located within a society already facing the frustration of Brexit and the climate crisis. Life kinda sucks at the minute. Who wouldn’t want to escape to a forest or a rooftop or a dream state? It’s living without leaving your room.
But it’s not always about escaping real life. Even before the pandemic hit, these edits were reflecting the worst experiences teenagers can go through. The manic euphoria of Mr Brightside is juxtaposed with parents arguing about divorce, being dumped at prom or crying alone. Pumped Up Kicks is, perhaps inevitably, paired time and time again with school shooter scenarios. As horrific as that sounds, these edits have millions of streams and a community of comments sharing people’s real life experiences. The popular joke, “the crying sounds are so realistic I can hear them even when I pause the video!” affirms that these experiences transcend the virtual and resonate strongly with real lives.
What’s especially appealing about these edits is how accessible they are. Fear of missing out or perhaps better known as FOMO, has always wreaked havoc on social media users, but through these edits you can live those aspirational experiences too. It’s no coincidence that the songs feature themes commonly found in coming-of-age movies. Angst, sex, drugs and heartbreak. Right now, teenagers and young adults worldwide are missing out on their youth. We’ve lost time. We’ve lost opportunities. Some of us have lost our friends or family members. Lockdown is a new kind of heartbreak. At least through these songs, you can gain a little something back, even if it’s not real.
Kate Asquith is a London based journalist, to learn more about her work visit her Instagram
Image (right): Dora Carrington, Farm at Watendlath (1921), photograph: Tate