Why Dance Music Is Popular During Recessions

Pop

With “Break My Soul” and Honestly, Nevermind, global superstars Beyoncé and Drake are raising pandemic-belabored spirits and inspiring a return to the dance floor. Meanwhile, the Black Eyed Peas are gearing up to drop another album; they kick-started their comeback era by collaborating with Shakira and David Guetta.

Considering the needle is moving toward house and dance music again, some are starting to wonder if the musical climate in 2022 is alluding to an impending economic recession.

After all, high-octane bangers from the likes of BEP, Lady Gaga, Flo Rida and Beyoncé dominated the Billboard Hot 100 year-end chart when we were in the midst of the Great Recession in 2009.

Lil Wayne even explicitly referenced the economy taking a hit (“And honestly, I’m down like the economy…”) on his verse on Jay Sean’s inescapable club anthem ”Down.” The track wound up closing out the Top 20 on the year-end chart.

Vox notes that escapism plays an important role in pop music. A popular song can distract us from what is going on in reality and transport us to a place where our worries fade away.

Guetta and Akon’s “Sexy Chick,” Cascada’s “Evacuate the Dancefloor” and Guetta and Kelly Rowland’s “When Love Takes Over” — all serotonin-boosting, carefree club songs that promote escapism — claimed the top spot on Billboard‘s Hot Dance Airplay chart at some point during the same year.

Eventually, songs such as Lorde’s “Royals” pointed out the inequalities that were heavily emphasized by the recession following economic resurgence. The icy track came out in 2013, marking a darker, more mellow sonic shift for pop in the process.

In the depths of the last recession, however, Afterglow notes that many artists released songs that spoke to a relatable struggle. However, pop’s brightest shining stars delivered the distractions.

Gaga demanded that we “Just Dance” the night away on her smash, music landscape-shifting debut. BEP dropped “I Gotta Feeling” and decreed that “tonight’s gonna be a good night.” Bey settled for nothing less than a diamond ring on “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” Jamie Foxx and T-Pain turned to Henny, Goose and ‘Tron on their booze-addled “Blame It.”

The times were tough, but the radio and the clubs suggested otherwise.

A similar trend occurred during the Great Depression nearly 100 years ago. Hollywood’s movie industry didn’t seem to take a hit. According to NPR, around 80 million people filled movie theater seats at least once a week during a time when budgets were tight.

Music provided similar opportunities for escape. Song titles such as “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries” would seem to be at odds with the times. Vox notes another popular song of the era was called “Pennies From Heaven.” A Spotify playlist that references the era contains “Tin Pan Alley ‘cheer up’ ditties” alongside “hard times blues.”

While the music wasn’t all about having fun, Living History Farm points out that dance floor-friendly genres such as jazz and swing music had a big moment during the late 1920s and 1930s. Years before the Great Recession of the aughts, people turned to dancing when they needed a break from reality.

Now in 2022, people are looking at the flailing economy and current musical releases that throw it back to the early aughts. They’re wondering if what’s popular on the radio is a sign to batten down the hatches and prepare for another recession.

The Washington Post reported on the risk of a recession in 2023 earlier this year. The New York Post noted an expert claimed the U.S. was already in a “soft recession,” while the Deccan Herald alluded to the possibility of avoiding a devastating financial crash.

Now, people on social media are looking to the hits of today for evidence of what to expect. The mood isn’t altogether bleak, though. Our finances might come crashing down around us, but at least the music will slap.

“House/dance music is always popular when the recession is BIG and NASTY,” someone posted earlier this month in a viral tweet that spoke to the masses. It was liked nearly 125,000 times. Meanwhile, a thread on Reddit warned of a recession thanks to the racing beats that are defining popular tracks.

That was the mentality one TikTok user displayed in a viral video they made soundtracked by Flo Rida and Guetta’s soaring 2010 anthem “Club Can’t Handle Me.”

“I know everyone’s worried about the recession or whatever but i personally am very excited for the return of this specific genre of club music,” they wrote over the clip. “The type of music that they only made when the economy was in absolute shambles. Nothing hits like the bangers that were produced when the market was tanking.”

So is Queen Bey’s house banger “Break My Soul” — which comfortably debuted within the Top 20 on the Hot 100, according to Billboard — “an anthem for the Great Resignation,” as CNN hints?

Or is it a warning sign for economic catastrophe looming just around the bend?

We can’t say for sure just yet — but at least the beats will be fat, even if our wallets aren’t.

Songs That Dominated the Billboard Charts

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