You may not know this, but if Spotify has been your go-to streaming service for jamming to your favourite tunes during your office commute or while keeping up with the latest fashion trends on Esquire (yes shameful, I know), then you’ve been unknowingly settling for low-quality music this whole time.

Spotify, of course, is aware of this and has been trying to introduce a high-fidelity (HiFi) subscription plan since 2021, despite rumours of them scrapping the idea. However, the plan is finally coming to pass as HiFi streaming is expected to arrive by the end of 2024, joining fellow streaming moguls, Apple Music and Tidal as streaming services that offer a high-quality option.

Amidst the controversy surrounding Spotify's recent price hikes—increasing costs twice a year across all subscription plans (the second hike thankfully sparing Singaporeans), users finally have something to cheer for, right? Well, I have some ill tidings that may convert even the staunchest Spotify apologists. HiFi streaming will be offered as an add-on that costs users at least USD5 more per month on top of their existing plan. This means that if you're currently on the individual plan paying SGD10.98, you might end up forking out SGD17 per month instead.

In contrast, both Apple Music and Tidal offer high-fidelity audio built-in to their streaming services, charging SGD10.98 monthly. Anyone else thinking of jumping ship?


The evolution of music consumption over the past three decades has been a wild ride from questionable downloads to unlimited playlists. Remember when downloading music and burning CDs felt like it took an eternity? 

With internet speeds being what they were back then, patience was indeed a virtue. Today, it’s all about 24/7 access and listening. It’s incredible how fast things can change. 

Amid the rapid rise of AI and the digital age, the tempo of music consumption shows no signs of slowing down. As physical album sales plummet and streaming services take over, where will this relentless progress take us next? 

Rewind the tape

The ’90s was the era of physical albums, which stored about 700 MB worth of audio tracks. Then came MPEG and MP3 formats, where transferring music between devices became as common as burning CDs. MP3s—and the world’s open secret—digital music piracy in the 2000s were the unsung heroes of the time, allowing people to acquire and carry tunes wherever they were. 

That was everyone’s reality before iTunes, where instead of buying a physical album, you can buy music from your computer. Last.fm, SoundCloud and Bandcamp entered the market and offered budding artists a place to share their music with the world. 

But it was Spotify’s arrival on the scene in 2008 that created a seismic shift in music consumption. It’s as if the platform has everything—infinite music to listen to, free and premium account options and an algorithm that seems to know every person’s music taste. Spotify quickly became the go-to destination for music lovers everywhere 

Contemporary perspective


♬ Water - Tyla

Fast forward to today, the dynamics are evolving yet again. Research has shown that Gen Z spends more time streaming music than every other generation, dedicating 40 minutes more than the rest of the population. 

Their eclectic taste spans genres like hip-hop, R&B and alternative rock. Having grown up with the internet as an integral part of their lives, this demographic embraces genre diversity more than any other generation. 

It’s not just the younger audience—older generations are jumping on the bandwagon. Have you ever gone to TikTok, found great music and added it to your Spotify playlist? TikTok has emerged as a place where viral hits can catapult artists to stardom even with just one hit. 

One perfect example is “Driver’s License” by Olivia Rodrigo, which became a massive song on the platform before dominating streaming services and “Water” by Tyla, who is often called a one-hit wonder. 

What’s truly exciting, though, is the rise of DIY music. With a rising preference for fresh beats produced outside established recording studios, aspiring musicians are embracing their creativity like never before. This democratisation of music creation is not just a trend, but a movement reshaping how music can empower and connect people with others on their own terms. 

The rising popularity of home studio

J.Cole waited two hours in the rain outside Jay Z’s studio to give him his mixtape, which the latter casually dismissed. Back in the day, aspiring artists needed to get through the O.Gs to reach the top. 

Gone are the days when success in the music industry depended on securing deals with prestigious labels. That was the reality for many musicians, but the game has changed. Today, indie artists are rewriting the rules. For the first time in many years, a new breed of independent copyright owners is growing and making music from the comforts of their own homes. 

Home studios are all the rage today—with the rise of independent artists, they’re not going anywhere soon. With the advancements in technology and the rising accessibility of tools, artists can craft professional-grade music from the comfort of their own space. 

This newfound accessibility will continue to empower many artists to embrace their own creativity in the following years. Who knows, it might inspire casual listeners to create their own beats, too. 

The future of learning an instrument

The rise of home studios isn’t just changing how music is made—it’s reigniting the interest in learning musical instruments. Thanks to the digital age, access to music education has never been more democratised. 

From free tutorials on platforms like YouTube to hybrid instruments, anyone can be a musician. Studies may have shown that music-related ability is 50 per cent inherited from a family member. Still, the availability of free resources means anyone can hone their skills if they dedicate enough time and effort to learning.

Musical instruments have also continuously adapted to the technological advancements of artists. Case in point: virtual instruments—powered by artificial intelligence and advanced software—allow individuals to learn a specific instrument and experiment with unlimited possibilities. 

It’s also hard to keep up with the recent otherworldly musical inventions, such as sitars made from golf clubs and miniature synthesisers. Recently, the world’s first Kovar guitar strings were produced. They’re more corrosion-resistant than your typical Titanium string. Kovar is a nickel-cobalt alloy commonly used in the construction industry and has now made its way into the music industry. Will these strings strike a chord with guitarists? Only time will tell. 

Even if you’re not strumming a guitar yourself, the prospect of future instruments looks promising. Picture wearable instruments like bracelets embedded with sensors and hybrid instruments that seamlessly blend digital and acoustic elements. In an AI-dominated era, what better way to appreciate technological advancements than through music? 

Innovations to look out for

As streaming continues to dominate the musical landscape, expect to see even more tailored-fit experiences in the years to come. Much of people’s lives are accompanied by a soundtrack, whether at work, home or play—and it’s not going anywhere. Around 71% of people say music is essential to their mental wellness, and 78% say it helps them relax and cope with stress. Given that, what we can expect is a total blast on hyper-personalisation.

As streaming platforms use artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve recommendations, you can expect more innovations like Spotify’s AI DJ and Daylist in the coming years. Soon enough, systems can analyse beyond your streaming activities, current weather, time of the day and location. 

It’s a bit frightening knowing that AI can soon predict your desires long before you identify the need for it. That future is not impossible, given the rapid advances of AI. One thing’s for sure, though—personalised innovations will quickly rise as CD sales and digital downloads slowly go extinct. 

With the rise of VR and AR technologies, music streaming will become a catalyst for more innovative live music experiences—exclusive live streaming of concerts, DJ sets and virtual series are possibilities of the future. Considering the future 6G, you can look forward to virtual visual streaming—imagine having your favourite artist performing in front of you as their only audience. It’s like having an intimate concert in the comfort of your own home. 

With music playing 24/7, it’s easy to get tired of the same tunes. Talking about music is more than finding new songs to listen to—it’s a way for people to connect. That being said, you can expect to see the emergence of social music streaming, where users can follow friends’ listening activities, share playlists and collaborate on music creation. 

How AI plays in the scene

Future music consumption tools would likely involve a mix of AI-generated and human-created instrumentals, songs and soundscapes. When the song “Heart on My Sleeve,” featuring Drake and the Weeknd’s AI-generated vocals dropped, it immediately went viral. The track was posted on TikTok and streaming services, which racked up 600,000 Spotify streams and 15 million TikTok views before it was removed from all platforms due to copyright violation claims. Despite the controversy, people love it, even going as far as telling AI is terrible, but not until this song dropped.

While some artists feel threatened by AI, others see it as an opportunity to make passive income from other creators producing songs that use their voices. Grimes is the living embodiment of this concept—she released Elf.tech, a platform that allows people to create new songs using her voice. 

If you’ve ever created YouTube videos, you know the struggle of finding royalty-free music. Enter Beatoven and Boomy—platforms that let you generate music and royalty-free tracks with the help of AI. These tools will let you create music based on your chosen genre, energy level and mood. What a way to be your own DJ. 

What the future holds

Looking back on the past, present and future of music consumption, one thing is certain—streaming will remain an unstoppable force. What’s exciting about the future is how people listen to music and the opportunities for music creation as home studios become more popular. 

Whatever the future holds, remember that consuming music is more than just hitting that play button. It’s also about connecting people. 

Let’s play a game. If you have a Spotify account, log in and search, “sad.” What do you see? My account suggests a myriad of playlists, such as “Sad Crying Mix,” “Lonely Sad Mix,” “Crying Myself To Sleep,” “Sad Bops'' and more—all of which, the streamer claims, were made specifically for me. If it weren't for the surplus of SZA and Frank Ocean music on each tracklist, I’d roll my eyes at the concept.

Alas, the algorithm is correct. It understands exactly what I want to listen to, and it knows what you want to hear, too. To make sure of it, Spotify observes trends in its user's listening habits. This year crying is all the rage—at least, among Gen Z users. According to Spotify’s data, Gen Z’s top searched term globally is simply... “sad.” As a fellow Zoomer, I’ll admit I’ve listened to “Sad Bops'" once or twice but haven’t we all? I thought that was a circumstantial experience, not a plague affecting my entire generation.

Naturally, I had to investigate. To my understanding, Gen Z is doing just fine. We’re tech-savvy, ambitious, politically involved, and frankly, very funny. So what gives? In an effort to understand our love for somber tunes, I spoke with Dr Michael Bonshor, a music psychology expert. This year, Dr Bonshor partnered with Spotify ahead of their Bummer Summer Playlist launch. After analysing their data, he determined that Gen Z often uses sad music to relax. It makes sense, given the general state of the world! Maybe a daily dose of Lana Del Rey can save us all.

Below, Dr Bonshor and I discuss the makings of a sad song, the psychological benefits of listening to sorrowful music, and why we shouldn’t fret over Gen Z’s music preferences.

ESQUIRE: What exactly classifies a song as sad?

Dr Michael Bonshor: The most obvious feature of a sad song is the tempo. It tends to be fairly slow, often between about 60 to 70 beats per minute—like a relaxed heartbeat. Sad songs also tend to be low-intensity. They don't have a lot of changes in volume. They also have a gentle—what I’d call melodic—profile. That means that the tune doesn’t suddenly go incredibly high or incredibly low. It tends to be nice and steady.

The other thing that we notice in sad songs is that the tone of the instruments and the voices tend to be more mellow. The whole effect is relaxing. Sometimes they’re [sung] in a minor key, which people often use when they’re writing sad songs. But the major key, which often sounds a bit brighter, can be used too. The interpretation of sad songs is based on the relationship between the lyrics and the music. The lyrics really make a big difference.

"All week I’ve had ’Someone Like You’ going round and round in my head," says Dr Michael Bonshor. "It just kind of keeps you calm, doesn’t it?"
Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

That makes sense. What sad songs are people resonating with right now?

There are quite a few at the moment. One of the people Spotify has introduced me to is D4VD. He's got a very reflective style. I’ve really enjoyed listening to his song, “Here With Me.” His lyrics speak to the softer feelings and more somber moods that we have from time to time. [He writes] very straightforward lyrics that people can identify with.

I'll have to check it out. Given Spotify’s research, Gen Z seems to be pretty sad—or, at least, unusually interested in sad music. Why?

Well, I don't necessarily think that searching for sad songs means that Gen Z is sad. There are other reasons for listening to sad music—like the beauty in sad songs. You know, the melodies, relaxing rhythm, and so on. But there are a few reasons why Gen Z does it more than any other generation.

First, they've grown up becoming expert users of technology. Their social lives have been created around that. They've used it to explore the world, sort out their problems, and get advice. I also think they’re more aware of their feelings. There seems to be a very empathic feeling amongst Gen Z. And they are, of course, used to customising their listening in a way that previous generations couldn’t. They can tailor their music to their mood, or to support whatever they're doing. That might allow them to be entertained while expressing or releasing their emotions. You can experience catharsis singing along to somebody.

Research shows that Gen Z tends to be very reflective. Like everybody, they want a sense of belonging, so listening to music that reflects their mood isn’t going to stop just because it’s summer.

The catharsis point is interesting. It does seem odd that Gen Z is looking for sad songs in the summer, though.

Research shows that Gen Z tends to be very reflective. Like everybody, they want a sense of belonging, so listening to music that reflects their mood isn’t going to stop just because it’s summer. It’s probably a habit that’s trending all year amongst that generation.

Year-round, we can use music to support what we're feeling. If we want to continue feeling a certain way, we can choose songs that reinforce it. If we want to change our mood, then we can use music to change it. too. Again, [listening to] sad songs doesn’t necessarily mean we’re sad. It could also mean that we’re in the mood to relax.

What makes sad music relaxing?

Their slow speed has an effect on our bodies. If we're breathing slowly and deeply, we start to relax. Also, our bodies and our minds are trained to respond to music tempo. We tune into that physically. [Our] breathing slows down, then our heart rate slows down, and we start to feel better. Listening to sad music also releases positive hormones. There’s also research that proves singing and listening to music together releases endorphins. On a streaming service like Spotify, people are aware of what everybody’s listening to and they start to feel part of a community. That adds to the sense of belonging that music can induce. And that in itself, can release oxytocin which is a bonding hormone.

The other thing sad songs can do is release a hormone called prolactin. Prolactin has a very comforting effect. Sometimes, listening to sad music can help our bodies repair themselves—not just emotionally, but physically and psychologically as well.

So, it’s like a form of self-soothing?

It is! It's the sort of thing we do all the time in a way, isn't it?

"There is a difference between listening to sad music because you want to express yourself, and spending too much time focusing on that emotion," says Dr Bonshor
Photo by Filmmagic/Getty Images

Even so, do you think we need to be worried at all about Gen Z’s love of sad music?

No, I don't think so. It shows that they’re reflective. They're using music to support that reflection. And because we know sad music can have positive effects—which most people would not expect—it can only be good for their emotional well-being.


Yeah, I mean as we know, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Gen Z is sad. But if you are sad and start releasing prolactin, it can help you have a good cry. The sort of cry that gets it all out so you can move on, you know? I don’t think there’s anything to worry about.

Is there such thing as listening to too many sad songs?

There is a difference between listening to sad music because you want to express yourself, and spending too much time focusing on that emotion. But most research has shown that listening to sad music actually distracts you. The main research that supports this is a study on flow. Flow is like being in the zone. If you’re experiencing flow, you’re totally absorbed in whatever it is you’re doing.

Listening to music is a big flow activity. It can distract us from our feelings and create a slightly distorted sense of time. For example, if we’re bored and get immersed in music, time appears to move quickly. The more consumed we are by a song, the more focused we are on the musical element—perhaps more than our feelings.

Spotify's data found that people primarily search for sad songs on Wednesdays. Why is that? What's up with Wednesdays?

I suppose if we assume that a lot of people still work Monday through Friday, by the time you get to Wednesday it can feel like a long time [has passed] since the weekend—and you’ve got a long way to go until the next one. Going back to that idea of flow: immersing yourself in an activity, like listening to music, can make that time pass quickly.

What sad music do you listen to when you want to decompress?

I like a wide range of music styles. There are classical tracks that I go to. I’ve got a piece that’s in the middle of a Beethoven Symphony—"Symphony No. 7". [It] seems a bit highbrow, but it sounds like a funeral march. I could listen to it for hours, it’s just so soothing. It calms me right down. In terms of pop songs, it sounds cliché but my go-to is Adele.

Oh, of course!

All week I’ve had “Someone Like You” going round and round in my head. It just kind of keeps you calm, doesn’t it? Yeah I go to Adele, “Make You Feel My Love,” all those things.

Those are some solid scream-sing options.

Exactly. You just don’t get tired of them.

Originally published on Esquire US.

I'm not certain whether James Taylor meant to predict the takeover of artificial intelligence and the death of our collective imagination in his 1970 song “Fire and Rain.” Still, somewhere a music teacher is saying to herself: “Called it.”

That teacher is Miss Molloy—a bowl-cutted, crochet-sweatered, denim-skirted woman of 23 or 53—who taught our third-grade music class. One autumn morning, after we sang “Fire and Rain” off mimeographed lyric sheets, Miss Molloy taught us what the song was about, which was the robot apocalypse. “Suzanne, the plans they made put an end to you” meant she had succumbed to the computer chip in her brain, as had all of humanity. This left Sweet Baby James the last remaining human, with the song he’d written her, but he “just can’t remember who to send it to,” because his own chip had been implanted and the surrender of his own consciousness had begun. Pretty chilling stuff for third graders, but we absorbed it, uncritically.

Fifteen years later, I was in a friend’s dorm room listening to “Fire and Rain,” and I said, “I love this song, as scary as it is.” My friend looked at me with concern. I continued, “With the robots and everything?” And then about four seconds later it hit me: I’m going to have to make up a pseudonym for that teacher, because she absolutely got high.

That assessment stands, but listen: It’s 2023, I have at least three pieces of wearable tech on my body at all times, and AI has come for my job. But the most insidious development is that robots that curate our choices, guiding us on what to read, watch, and listen to. When you open Spotify, dozens of playlists wait for you—none of which you or anyone you know created. We have surrendered our taste to the machine. And what’s worse, we’re starting to forget we lived a different way.

Miss Molloy’s interpretation of “Fire and Rain” is objectively bananapants. But was she wrong about the future?

There's a line in Nick Hornby's novel High Fidelity in which the record-store-owning main character says, “What really matters is what you like, not what you are like.” Twenty-eight years after the release of the book, Spotify has prompted new questions: What do we lose when we stop making our own playlists? If the algorithm decides what we like, then what are we like?

“There’s no way a Spotify playlist is as good as a mixtape, or at least mine aren’t,” Hornby tells me. “Because you had to do things in real time, you had the opportunity to think and hear. You were reminded of a lyric, a beat, a sound that would lead you to the next song.” You had to think about who you were giving it to and how you could change their world. “There’s no construction now. In the digital era, it’s just: Here’s some songs you might like.” What I miss—just enough to remember it, for now—is a well-curated jukebox, the way a dollar-bill-huffing machine with a 100-compact-disc capacity could express the personality of a place. My favourite was at the Boiler Room, a friendly, scruffy gay bar in the East Village. This was the ’90s, and we East Village gays shunned the mainstream, so the selection was just slightly to the left of it: Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Stereolab, Cibo Matto. The exact right soundtrack for a room packed with guys who could fit into X-girl T-shirts. A curatorial ear and a hive mind.

Without curation, everything is also nothing.

I returned to the Boiler Room recently, and as most places have, it’s adopted an Internet-enabled jukebox. Every song that exists on streaming, at your fingertips. But without curation, everything is also nothing. The hive mind breaks down into individual bees. A proper jukebox, like a homemade mixtape, is already largely a memory.

And soon enough it won’t be. It will be a thing you forgot even existed in the first place, like decent mass-produced chocolate, like a flight that doesn’t end with a pitch for a credit card. Like the Boiler Room itself, which is closing later this year.

"The absence of curveballs in algorithmic playlists is noticeable,” Hornby says. “I don’t want something that sounds exactly like what I usually listen to, just like I don’t want recommendations for books in a similar vein to the ones I write.” Right around the time Hornby was writing High Fidelity, the best mixtape I ever got came from a college friend named Brady. It arrived in my P. O. Box just before I graduated and moved to New York City. There were pop songs, left-field disco tracks, and at the end of side 1, “Being Alive,” from Stephen Sondheim’s Company. I’d never heard it and It was a gut punch: the precise sound of my soul as I prepared to start my life. A reminder to be less aloof in the real world than I had been in college. An I see you from someone I didn’t know was watching. A life changer.

The algorithm can’t be Brady. It can give you what it knows you want. But without human insight, it cannot give you what you need. It will not encourage you to evolve, because it cannot work as well if you do. The algorithm can know you. Scarily well. But it cannot love you. Commit an act of rebellion today: Make a playlist for someone. Assemble it with care. Throw in some curveballs. Choose a song or two that will make them feel seen, give it a clever name, text it to the person. Do it right now, before the chip takes hold of your brain.

I want to find Miss Molloy. I want to tell her I remember. All I have to do is find her. Anybody got an extra ticket to Burning Man?

Illustration By Matt Mahurin

Originally published on Esquire US