“Would you be my little quarantine?” // How artists are reacting to COVID-19

Many countries have now been in lockdown for at least a month. ‘Normal life’ has been disrupted beyond recognition as we are forced to adjust to a new kind of normal. While healthcare workers and essential services power on, it has been noted that in these times it is the creative fields we looked to for salvation.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of live events and festivals have been cancelled and/or postponed. From major events like Coachella and Glastonbury, to your local wedding DJs and pub rock cover band, no performing artist has been left unaffected.

Apart from live events, how has  this quarantine period affected creative output? Which artists are singing or rapping about coronavirus? Are artists expressing their loneliness and isolation in relatable ways? Is anyone singing about Tiger King?

Here are a few highlights over the past few weeks that demonstrate the ideas and outlooks pervading through these trying times.

Songs for hope

Asides from collaborative Zoom calls (sometimes with great results, and sometimes with…not so great results), some artists have actually incorporated quarantine into their lyrics to create positive messages of hope for listeners.

Bon Iver // “PDLIF”

Justin Vernon and co. released this track titled “PDLIF”, an acronym for “Please Don’t Live in Fear”. The song was recorded in collaborative isolation with several producers and singer Kacy Hill contributing to it. It was released in support of humanitarian aid organisation Direct Relief.

Vernon sings in his trademark falsetto a reminder to hold onto hope in these dark times, to not let fear of the unknown take over our lives.

Please don’t live in fear
We can’t see from here right now
Send it off from here
And free your mind

 

Twenty One Pilots // “Level of Concern”

The alt-pop duo released this social distancing-themed single also in efforts to raise money for those affected by the quarantine, specifically those who have lost their jobs in the gig economy (Crew Nation – Global Relief Fund For Live Music Crews).

They posted on their website:

Crew members are the backbone of the live music industry, and we hope you’ll join us in supporting them through this temporary intermission until we can once again unite millions around the world through the power of live music.

The music video also emphasises this social isolation with footage of frontman Tyler Joseph self-recording in his studio with the aid of his wife and newborn daughter as lighting crew. Drummer Josh Dun responds in kind with his own footage and drums tracking.

Wonderin’ would you be my little quarantine?
Or is this the way it ends?

 

Ariana Grande & Justin Bieber: “Stuck With U”

Ariana and Justin released this surprise collaboration track in support of the First Responders Children’s Foundation, a group that supports grants and scholarships for children of essential workers during the pandemic. It’s a sweet little jam in 6/8 timing as the two croon their way through lyrics about being stuck together through difficult circumstances.

So, lock the door and throw out the key
Can’t fight this no more, It’s just you and me
And there’s nothin’ I, nothin’ I, I can do
I’m stuck with you, stuck with you, stuck with you

Music Videos

In other songs, artists don’t necessarily sing or rap about quarantine, but definitely have it on their minds during the video production phase.

The Streets ft. Tame Impala: “Call My Phone Thinking I’m Doing Nothing Better”

The UK wordsmith is back! After a ten year hiatus, Mike Skinner aka The Streets have returned with this collab with Kevin Parker aka Tame Impala. It’s his first single from comeback mixtape None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive, which features a stacked line-up of some of the UK’s hottest alt hip-hop acts at the moment.

Each of these artists makes a guest appearance in the video clip in which Skinner calls them from a Nokia 8850 after displaying a message of “Social Distancing”.

 

DaBaby: “Jump”

Following on from his hugely successful 2019, DaBaby released this video for his hype-up track “Jump”, featuring many references to quarantine. He also included the face mask in the artwork for the album.

 

Blink 182: “Happy Days”

In support of #stayhome, blink-182 released this collaborative video for single “Happy Days” lifted from their 2019 album NINE. Coincidentally, the hook features a reference to living in frustration and isolation, a fitting lyric for these times of quarantine.

I wanna feel happy days, happy days
Happy days, happy days
Walls of isolation inside of my pain
And I don’t know if I’m ready to change

 

Rich Brian: Tokyo Drift Freestyle & Bali

On March 19, California became the first state in the US to announce mandatory lockdowns. Rich Brian released a brief quarantine music video filmed on his webcam in his LA home in these early days of social distancing.

 

He then followed it up with a proper single “Bali” featuring Oakland rapper Guapdad 4000. The music video features Brian flying a drone to friends with gimmicky gifts, but has a heartwarming epilogue in which Brian and his friends send money via drone to workers affected by the COVID-19 quarantine – from a food stand, to nurses, to a catering company. It’s a lovely moment that shows once again there is more to Brian than just memes.

 

Going Viral

The internet has connected us all, and certain shared digital experiences has united the world in this unprecedented pandemic. We are all living a black mirror episode, and artists have seen both the dark and the light side of this experience.

Year of the Ox: “Viral”

Rap duo Year of the Ox released this sombre track addressing one of the more serious side-issues to arise during quarantine – rising racism against Asian Americans. The film clip features footage from viral videos in which Asians have been harassed, intimidated or attacked for ‘bringing Coronavirus to the US’. It’s not a pleasant watch and exposes the steady pulse of racial tensions just under the surface of civil society.

The song title uses the triple entendre of ‘viral’, referencing the literal Coronavirus, the viral videos and the central message of the song, in which hate becomes the strongest virus of them all.

They weren’t askin’ for problems, still they looked at ’em awkward
Wearing a mask out of caution, and now look what it cost ’em
And it’s an issue, I know it’s something to iterate
Even if they continue to, Corona doesn’t discriminate
The state of danger is getting drastic, it’s ’bout survival
But hate and anger’s been spreading faster, and now it’s viral

Tellingly, YOX even include a note that bystanders were making coughing noises and offhand comments about them being Asian even during the filming of the music video.

phem & Alison Wonderland: “W.W.C.B.D.”

On a less serious note, up-and-coming indie-alt queer siren phem released this track produced by Alison Wonderland named for the controversial figure from Netflix’s Tiger King. When locked in a room with a S.O. you have issues with, it is perhaps worth pausing and asking yourself…”What would Carole Baskin do?”

But what would Carole Baskin do?
She would prolly murder you
What would Carole Baskin do?
Feed you to the tigers

 

Accidental Anthems

While not written with the intention of becoming quarantine-themed tracks, some songs’ release dates and coincidental lyrics have resulted in them becoming ‘unofficial anthems’ of the time.

Dua Lipa: “Break My heart”

Dua Lipa’s bombshell 80s revival album blitzed the charts and spawned viral video memes. The third single from the album “Break My Heart” became something of an unintentional social distancing anthem with its hook of “I should’ve stayed at home”.

 

Dua has been one of the most prominent pop stars engaging in various livestreams and quarantine-based events. She also made the call-out for fans to send in videos of them covering “Break My Heart” for a compilation video to be released in the near future.

Kid Cudi: “Leader of the Delinquents”

Although released during quarantine, Kid Cudi’s ‘comeback single’ has a long history, with early recordings dating all the way back to 2012. The lyrical references to staying home and making jams while the world ends is simply remarkable coincidence to 2020’s pandemic.

Hello friends, Cudder again
Gotta smack ’em with some shit before the world ends
Same old denims, wore ’em for days
I’m at home makin’ jams in many wonderful ways

 

Rap Punchlines

Lastly, references to “Coronavirus”, “isolation”, “social distancing” are slowly rising as lyrical trends in 2020 rap. Besides Cardi B memes and Corona rap rising from the underground, high profile names such as Trippie Redd and Hopsin have also incorporated some timely references in their artistic output.

Trippie Redd: “KOVID-14 Freestyle”

Move, bitch, you got coronavirus
In the kitchen, whippin’ up that Hannah, no Miley Cyrus
Talk down on gang, I’ll shoot you, but I don’t condone violence

Hopsin: “Covid Mansion”

Now there just ain’t many plans I can move on
All because someone ate bat soup in Wuhan (What?)
Well shit, that’s what I heard
I don’t know what it was mixed with (I don’t know)
But for someone to jeopardize everyone’s life
Man, it must have been fucking delicious (For real)

blackbear: “Heavy”

Stomach feeling weak, you’re always switching up personas
And we been social distancing before there was Corona
Head is spinning every time I see your Range Rover
All the roses dead and then my heart froze over

Turbo, Gunna & Young Thug, : “Quarantine Clean”

Yeah, I’m quarantine clean, so relaxed (Relaxed, yeah)
Got my pillows in my Benz Maybach, uh (Maybach)
Chips Ahoy, I got hoes by the batch (By the batch)
Me and the bros whippin’ Rolls back to back (Back to back)

Kevin Loo

Live, laugh, stare into the existential void, love

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