Be prepared: platforms like Spotify, Facebook and YouTube might be about to try and ‘make you happy’

Dua Lipa
(Image credit: Christopher Polk / Getty)

It is truly the end of times. Trump, Boris, Brexit and now a pandemic that threatens the world as we know it and the music business we hold dear. 

Streaming platforms have seen to it that the only way that musicians can earn money these days is through playing live and selling merch at gigs - and now even that revenue stream has been taken away. 

But, hang on: what if those same streaming services that have creamed all of the money out of the music business could help by making us all happy?! 

In an article on business site Forbes entitled “Do platforms have a responsibility to increase happiness during pandemics?” writer Paul Armstrong wonders if the big content platforms should do more to help us in this time of crisis. 

After all, he points out, they’ve “been accused of being, doing and allowing many things over the decades that have affected users and the wider population”. 

Bingo. If they can make us angrier, less tolerant and help spread misinformation like some intellectual Covid-19, surely they can use their powers for good too, right?

Sounds good. How could they do this? Well, says Armstrong, “Music makes people happy. Spotify’s playlists have tens of millions of users each week that subscribe to playlists. ‘Today’s Top Hits’ has 25 million alone. Is it prudent for the platform during times of isolation to limit the amount of sadder songs? Should Spotify and Apple Music use their algorithms to increase the mood when possible? 

“Could Dua Lipa on repeat be a prescription?”

Whoa. Back-the-fuck-up, sonny-Jim. Did you just say “Is it prudent for the platform during times of isolation to limit the amount of sadder songs? 


Are you out of your fucking mind? This isn’t how music works, pal. “Hey, I’m feeling down - let’s play something HAPPY!” If there’s one thing guaranteed to make me freak out like a psychotic panda it’s subjecting me to other people’s ideas of ‘happy’ music.

It’s not even a true understanding of the situation to imagine that people think, “Hey, I’m feeling down - I’ll play something sad.” “Sad songs” are not the enemy right now. “Sad songs” are of immense comfort during “times of isolation” and turmoil. “Sad songs” aren’t driving us to despair, they’re acknowledging how we actually feel, they’re giving succour to the downcast and hope for the future: “Sad songs” tell us that there are other people who feel like us. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt like Dua Lipa and I've definitely never felt the need to listen to her.

In fact, I’d go as far as saying that I’m partly prepared for this current shitshow because I’ve spent a lifetime listening to angry, aggressive, frustrated and down-right miserable music.

All this might come as a shock to all you “happy music” lovers. But not to us. We’ve been in training for this. While you were dreaming about hanging out in Club Tropicana we were pogoing, moshing, head-banging and, like, staying-in-our-bedrooms-being-miserable to music that had your number. 

You were dreaming of a future that looked like Love Island, but really you were the kind of people who panic-buy toilet roll and then try to re-sell it on Facebook. (It’s the end of the world as we know it, and we feel fine. How’re you, hun?)

No, we don’t need happy music. We need good music, as always. This is the time to celebrate the great artists we like. The angry and angsty, the lost and the loud, the mad and the miserable. 

Famously, The Smiths wrote Panic - with its “Hang the DJ” chorus - after some cloth-eared Radio 1 DJ decided to cheer up the nation by playing Wham’s I’m Your Man after a news bulletin about the Ethiopian famine. Streaming platforms who tweak their algorithm in the hope of cheering us up could be sending us back to the artists we most love and the formats that made them the most money: CDs and vinyl.

Meanwhile, here’s a playlist I made earlier: Covid 19-related anthems for shut-ins, homeworkers and hypochondriacs. Yup: The Coronavirus is no laughing matter, but every drama needs a soundtrack – and the last thing that soundtrack needs to be is happy.

Tom Poak

Tom Poak has written for the Hull Daily Mail, Esquire, The Big Issue, Total Guitar, Classic Rock, Metal Hammer and more. In a writing career that has spanned decades, he has interviewed Brian May, Brian Cant, and cadged a light off Brian Molko. He has stood on a glacier with Thunder, in a forest by a fjord with Ozzy and Slash, and on the roof of the Houses of Parliament with Thin Lizzy's Scott Gorham (until some nice men with guns came and told them to get down). He has drank with Shane MacGowan, mortally offended Lightning Seed Ian Broudie and been asked if he was homeless by Echo & The Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch.